But the programme did at least one valuable service in revealing further shortcomings of the inquiry held in the late 1990s by Sir Ronald Waterhouse. [Later. You can read his report online.]
There had already been an internal inquiry conducted by Clwyd County Council. According to Newsnight, the findings were so damning that the council insisted all copies were returned to it and pulped. One suspects it would be harder to suppress such a report in the internet age - something for which we should be grateful.
For the Waterhouse Inquiry, the young people making accusations of abuse first made statements and were then questioned on the matters raised in the statements and those alone.
Yet according to more than one of them interviewed for Newsnight, it was made clear to them that there were some things that could not be included in statements, and they included the names of prominent individuals they claimed had abused them.
And this was not the only failing of the Waterhouse Inquiry. As Nick Davies wrote in the Guardian back in 1997:
When the tribunal was established last year, it had been assumed that the press could report its proceedings, using the laws of privilege which allow them to name names from court cases and public hearings without fear of libel actions.
However, Sir Ronald then ruled that the media could not report the name of any living person who was accused or likely to be accused of abusing children in the North Wales homes unless they had previously been convicted of such an offence. Since then he has extended his ruling twice: he has granted anonymity to one man who died 16 years ago and to another who has twice been convicted of sexually assaulting boys from a North Wales home.
Sir Ronald has argued that his ruling will encourage paedophiles to come forward and to give honest evidence without fear of retribution. Critics say that this is unnecessary since he has the power to compel witnesses to attend and that those who have come forward have done so to deny the allegations against them and not to make a clean breast of their alleged offences.
One lawyer who has been involved with the tribunal said he feared that the anonymity ruling was actively discouraging witnesses. “Newspaper readers may well have information of potential value to this tribunal. They may themselves have been the victims of abuse, or they may have worked with the alleged abusers. But if the press is not allowed to inform them of the names of those against whom allegations are made, they will not learn that their information is important. So they will not come forward.”This approach was not unique to Sir Ronald. The lawyer who conducted the inquiry into abuse in Leicestershire children's homes in the 1970s and 1980s conducted most of it in private and refused, beyond a prepared statement, to answer questions about its findings when it was published.
Leicestershire County Council was probably alone, however, in trying to avoid paying compensation to young people who had been abused in its homes by arguing it did not have a duty of care to them.
Later. Further evidence that the Waterhouse Inquiry was flawed.