What the Papers Said
Most of the papers made the Waterhouse Report a major item
of news on the front page, as well as giving fuller details inside
and offering editorial views in a leading article. Here is a
selection of the main papers.
The Daily Mail
The front page was headed "BETRAYAL", and
a nice family photograph was bylined "These four brothers
were horrifically abused in care. Two were to die in torment.
Yesterday an inquiry concluded that, in all, 650 children - appallingly
let down by social workers - were victims of Britain's worst-ever
and that 40 of the monsters are still
The paper gave over a further five pages of text to the story.
First, there was a double spread entitled "40 monsters
who must be found", with smaller sections on Sir Robert
Waterhouse, the social services, the police and the recommendations.
Unlike other papers, a story was also made of the influence of
the Chester branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.
The second double spread focused on those who had been abused,
with the headings "A life sentence for the victims",
"My tormented childhood by the boy known as Number 28",
"Unimaginable horrors that were just too much to bear"
and "In my dreams , I hear the screams". The text spoke
in detail of the abuse, and there were photos of the victims,
some of whom had since committed suicide.
The last page was headed "Naming names, the evil men
at the centre of the web of abuse" with a brief account
of Alison Taylor's role as whistleblower.
The main editorial also focused on the Waterhouse Report.
"For two decades, predatory paedophiles
got away with
it because social workers and local politicians were too complacent
and incompetent to notice what was going on.
The children's stories were dismissed
" The Mail concluded
that only time would tell whether Waterhouse's 72 recommendations
would help to protect the vulnerable children in care. "But
how many times have we been here before?"
Altogether a very thorough piece of reporting, with
plenty of detail.
The Daily Star
Under the headline 650 KIDS ABUSED IN CARE HOME SCANDAL
the Daily Star carried a news story on page 8. Complete with
pictures, the article was as long as other news items in the
paper, such as that on the previous page headed GIRL WORE STOCKINGS
FOR SEX WITH HER R.E. TUTOR. There was no mention of the Report
on the front page at all, and the Star does not seem to be given
to offering editorial comment.
All in all, the Star's coverage offered an interesting
comment on the editor's view of the readership's level of interest
in such matters.
The Daily Telegraph
Across the top of its front page, the Telegraph ran
a story headed "Child abuse inquiry reveals systematic state
failure". The headline story was backed by a full double-spread
covering all the main angles, but in particular majoring on an
article about the whistle-blower, Alison Taylor, headed "I
had the proof but they wouldn't listen."
The Telegraph's leader (the third, after ones about Mugabe
and Sinn Fein) took an individual line in three respects. First
it attacked local authority residential care : "Fortunately,
the fashion for consigning children in care to council-run homes
does, finally, appear to be waning, with many more now looked
after by foster-parents." This statement is not only sweeping,
but failed to notice the risk of abuse in foster care as well
as residential care. Secondly, it stated that "what this
sorry affair shows, yet again, is that local authorities are
not, in general, good at looking after the needs of children".
The Report did nothing of the sort; it certainly castigated two
local authorities, but it was not a general report about the
comparative effectiveness of local authority and independently-run
homes or about the system nation-wide. Thirdly, it said that
the Report showed that teenage children do need protection from
older sexual predators, and linked it with the debate on the
age of homosexual consent a week earlier in Parliament.
In summary, the leader missed an opportunity to support
the Report's recommendations about key issues through diversions
Headed "LOST IN CARE", the front page of
the Express was one of the most dramatic, with a picture of Darren
Laverty, one of the victims, as a child, and a supporting bold
statement that "This little boy and hundreds like him were
cruelly abused in children's homes over nearly two decades. Yesterday
a damning report laid bare the full shocking extent of crimes
against the most vulnerable members of our society."
The front page report was carried over onto two clearly laid-out
double spreads The first was entitled "A betrayal of the
most vulnerable" and majored on four case studies of victims
of abuse and a major piece on Alison Taylor, the whistleblower.
In a balanced and forceful piece, she is quoted as saying "Child
abuse is not recognised as being simply part of the spectrum
of human behaviour and therefore a constant and ever-present
threat". The report also quoted the Association of Child
Abuse Lawyers which called for another 80 public inquiries, to
match the current police investigations into abuse.
The second double spread, headed "Exploitation on a wholesale
scale" covered the abusers, the history of events and the
Further coverage included a long leader - the only one that
day, an article by Christian Wolmar on "The culture of apathy
that ruined so many lives", and a cartoon of three staring
teddies, seeing, hearing and speaking no evil.
Christian Wolmar is a Joseph Rowntree Foundation journalism
fellow, writing a book on abuse in children's homes, and his
article covered the other recent cases in Staffordshire, Cleveland,
Orkney, Ayrshire and Leicestershire.
The editorial was the hardest-hitting of the national papers,
pointing out that after all the abuse and the cover-ups, the
Inquiry, despite its £13 million costs and 500,000 word
Report, failed to identify the names of those responsible, other
than those convicted. It described this as "a betrayal of
the high hopes that the full story would be told and the guilty
All in all, the Express reporting and commentary was
very thorough, and is to be commended to anyone wanting to get
the full facts in a single paper.
The Financial Times
Of the serious papers, the FT paid less attention
to Waterhouse than any of the others. In common with the Daily
Star, it made no mention on the front page, and carried the story
on page 4, under the heading "Abuse scandal sparks care
shake-up". Understandably for the FT, there was a subheading
"Insurers expected to settle claims of more than 100 victims",
reporting that claims might amount to £1.5 million and
pointing out that the insurance company involved, Zurich Municipal,
was exonerated from the allegation of attempting to pressurise
Clwyd County Council not to publish the findings of earlier reports.
The FT was the only broadsheet which carried no editorial on
the subject, so presumably all those city types who rely on it
to be able to comment have no opinion.
The possible take-over of Courtaulds, the Zimbabwe referendum
and the possibility of China joining the G8 were all more important.
Guardian covered the story very thoroughly, both in
the paper and on its website, mentioned above. First, there was
a brief front page story, entitled "Hunt for 24 care workers
in child abuse scandal", which outlined the contents of
Next there was a double spread, including photographs. The
key areas covered were the children's homes, headed "Refuges
that turned into purgatory", the impact on the victims,
with the headings "Haunted mother's legacy of fear and loathing",
"Recalling life in the Colditz of care", and "I
just hope this will protect future generations in care".
A useful section gave questions and answers about the Report.
Further on, there was an article by Christian Wolmar, a journalism
research fellow, who pointed out that until twenty years ago,
nearly all residential childcare workers were women, and that
by contrast with the pattern of child abuse in the wider community,
which consists mainly of men abusing girls, the pattern in residential
care is primarily of men abusing boys. He argued against any
knee-jerk reaction, and suggested that a sober analysis was needed
of residential child care, taking account of other factors, such
as poor educational achievements.
The Guardian devoted its first leader to the Report and commented
at length. The article summarises the report, noting that "The
system was devoid of leadership, management or planning. No part
of it escapes censure - social services, councillors, police
or the Welsh Office." It notes the lack of impact of the
earlier reports and comments that Waterhouse is exceptionally
weak in defending the decision not to publish the Jillings Report.
"He's no champion of the public right to know" said
the leader, but then "Waterhouse has cleared the air."
Finally, there are comments on the cost of the Inquiry against
the poor investment in better services, on the improvements which
the Government has in hand and on Alison Taylor's comment that
child abuse is not going to disappear.
The front page story is slightly off-beat, focusing
on the human impact of the abuse without reporting directly on
the publication of the Report. Next to a picture of a man sitting
on a stump by the sea, there is the headline "He will never
forgive. Or forget. For Zak, a victim of our worst child-abuse
scandal, sorry is not enough". The item mentions the Report
in the context of the effects of abuse on Zak.
On the next two pages, the Report is covered in detail. With
pictures of the Inquiry team, Alison Taylor and the homes where
the abuse happened, the text deals with the report's contents,
Alison Taylor's role, the impact on Darren Laverty, one of the
victims, and the views of child protection organisations.
The Independent devoted its first leader to the Report, recording
the cove-up and the process by which the Inquiry was established,
giving itself a pat on the back for publishing the findings of
an earlier report which led William Hague to set up the Waterhouse
Inquiry. The leader spoke of the ignorance of senior managers,
with paedophiles operating unpunished, and concluded "But
this is not just a problem for Wales. Across Britain, vulnerable
children are in danger. Those dangers need to be confronted head
The Mirror went to town on the story. Under a banner
headline "DAMNED" there was a picture of Darren Laverty,
one of the victims, and subheads "*Systematic sex assaults
over 20yrs * 650 victims who will never forget * Fears it could
be tip of the iceberg", and a picture of Lost in Care. This
was followed by the full story on pages 4 and 5 with the viewpoints
of victims, a piece about the whistle-blower (unfortunately headed
"The informer"), details of the abusers and appropriate
pictures. This was followed up by a long article on page 6 by
Brian Reade, spelling out graphically the stories of Steve Messham,
one of the victims. There is an editorial on the same page, arguing
that the catalogue of abuse was hard to understand until one
realised that the children had been "brushed aside"
by society, and that it must never happen again.
The reporting throughout appeared to be thorough, accurate
and balanced, a good example of direct tabloid writing.
The Sun's front page was halved between a story about
Gazza and the banner headline "I NAILED CHILD SEX PERVERTS",
with the subheading, "Brave Alison exposed abuse scandal".
After a few further words on the front page, there is a double
spread inside under the title "THE LOST CHILDREN SUFFERED
20 YEARS OF ABUSE". The story of Alison Taylor, the whistleblower
continues, two thirds of a page is given to four abusers and
Steve Messham's story as a victim is told under the heading "MONSTERS
STOLE MY CHILDHOOD".
The message of the editorial is simple and clear. Headed "Lone
voice" it reports that only Alison Taylor spoke out and
was sacked. It concludes "The least we can do for the victims
is hunt these fiends down and bring them to justice. Then throw
away the key."
A modest front page story, headed "youngsters
in care still at risk, says abuse report", was followed
inside the paper by a thorough two-page spread covering all the
main points. Half a page was given over to Alison Taylor, the
whistle-blower, and coverage was given to Steve Messham (one
of the victims of abuse), Sir Ronald Waterhouse ("Investigator
fitted the bill") and a piece quoting the Report about the
absence of a conspiracy (which interestingly pictured a Private
Eye report from 1996 entitled "Suffer the Little Children").
The Times was the only paper to give a full account of the
parliamentary debate, mainly referring to the announcement of
the Report's publication in the Commons, but also mentioning
The Times made the Report the subject of its main leader,
headed "Avoidable abuse" and subheaded "Waterhouse's
report must not join its predecessors on the shelf." The
leader underlined the main messages of the Report, and emphasised
that there were still weaknesses in the system. Proper qualifications
were needed and the recommended pay review needed to be "on
the top of Alan Milburn's in-tray". Children's commissioners
and complaints officers were welcomed for urgent action, as "a
signal that [the children's] voices will never again be disregarded
in such a casual fashion".
The Yorkshire Post
As a regional paper, the Yorkshire Post understandably
limited news coverage to a modest article on an inside page covering
the main points in outline, with a graphic picture of Steve Messham,
one of the victims, tearing up a placard. This is followed by
a whole-page article by Sheena Hastings, headed "Suffering
in silence", and covering the views of representatives of
the NSPCC and the Children's Society in the area , among others,
and descriptions of the measures being taken to improve standards
in children's homes where, in the words of Roger Thompson "There
have been seismic shifts in the way homes are run".
The leader moved from horror at the abuse to a condemnation
of residential care, and thence to a call for more adoption and
a slating of social workers who could halt the tortuous procedures
at any time through subjective judgements about the weight of
It is a pity that such an important subject as the Waterhouse
Report can be diverted into such trivia.
The Waterhouse Report throws up a lot
of issues, which will need to be debated for some time to come.
Here is the opportunity for readers to contribute ideas and views.
* The Financial Cost
The Waterhouse Report cost £13.5 million to produce,
and this figure presumably does not include the cost of the six
previous inquiries. Nor will it cover the money spent on reporters
and observers attending the inquiry, civil servant time spent
on preparing reactions, and so on. A further amount of £1.5
million is anticipated as the cost of insurance claims. Then
there are all the costs of the court cases against the offenders,
of keeping them in prison and of their likely reduced productivity
on being discharged. The economic spin-offs of events such as
this are extensive.
Proper investment in the training and management of the services
in the first place could have saved a lot of money, as well as
preventing the suffering of the 650 victims.
** Listening to Survivors
With such a large group of people who were victims of abuse
in the homes in North Wales, there is an unprecedented opportunity
to learn from people who have been through the hell of having
no-one who will listen and take complaints seriously. The Waterhouse
recommendations for a Children's Commissioner for Wales and for
Complaints Officers in every authority are excellent, and overdue,
but is there more we can learn? What would have made the difference
as far as the victims were concerned? What more can we do now
to make amends? - we can't undo the past, but there may be ways
in which the experience can be used positively, at least to prevent
*** Did Waterhouse get it Right?
One of the tests of a Report which deals with conflicting
views is to gauge the complaints about its fairness.
In the case of the Waterhouse Report, the Bryn Estyn staff
support group complained about "trial by ambush" alleging
that the Report "made a mockery of the British judiciary's
reputation for fair play.
The Treasury team appeared to
have no interest in presenting the evidence in a fair and balanced
manner. Instead, complainants' evidence was led sympathetically
(even when such evidence was clearly fanciful) while alleged
abusers were often subjected to hostile
On the other side, it was alleged that former victims had
been grilled when giving evidence, while the abusers had not
been asked obvious questions and had been let off lightly.
On balance, these conflicting observations suggest that the
Report must have been taking a middle line. However, it is possible
to have a bad report which satisfies no-one. The real test will
be the conclusions reached by the time the Report has been read
thoroughly, digested and talked about. It will have been successful
if the general conclusion is that it got the measure of the abuse,
described and analysed it well, and came up with helpful and
**** Alison Taylor
The only person to come out of the whole saga with a really
positive image is Alison Taylor, who blew the whistle, not only
once but time and again. She went to the top to make her points.
She gathered information systematically. She sacrificed her career
when the authorities disliked what she was saying.
Understandably, her story has been seized upon in one newspaper
after another, each with lengthy interviews or quotations. This
is a subject which has the type of scandal on which tabloid journalism
can thrive, but in all the papers which quote her, Alison offered
balanced, insightful remarks, making telling points in a straightforward
way and providing factual information.
She deserves every credit.