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Introduction: the story of the story

Chapter One

The Newspaper

Related essays

‘Unbalanced and misleading’: Richard Scorer on The Secret of Bryn Estyn




Comment is free: Brendan O'Neill on our paedophile panic


Readers' reviews


Mark Smith reviews The Secret of Bryn Estyn in Child Abuse Review PDF




The Secret of Bryn Estyn

The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt



The Orwell Press
Hardcover 2005
Paperback 26 January 2009

IN 1991 RUMOURS BEGAN to circulate in North Wales that Bryn Estyn, a home for adolescent boys on the outskirts of Wrexham, was the centre of a paedophile ring. A massive police investigation was launched which, over the next ten years, spread to care homes throughout Britain. Thousands were accused, hundreds arrested, and the prisons began to fill up with convicted care workers. Some of these pleaded guilty for the simple reason that they were guilty. But the majority continue to protest their innocence to this day. In this book Richard Webster examines how a number of genuine cases of sexual abuse became the basis for an extraordinary collective fantasy and how rumours of a non-existent paedophile ring shattered the lives of hundreds of innocent care workers and their families.

‘This is an extraordinary book … gripping and coherent ... a major achievement ... Webster has admirably succeeded in what the police … and two successive [inquiries] failed to do: discover what really happened.’ Professor Jean La Fontaine, Evening Standard

‘This is a tragic story. I am in no doubt at all that a whole new genre of miscarriages of justice has arisen from the over-enthusiastic pursuit of allegations of abuse - some of which date back several decades. Richard Webster has done us all a service by documenting so meticulously what went wrong in this seminal case.’ Chris Mullin MP

‘courageous...fearless...so closely and cogently argued that it demands attention’ Gerald Haigh, Times Educational Supplement

‘I was one of those people who, until I read this book, believed what the press had told me about the North Wales scandal . . . I can remember how shocked we all were about what the [Tribunal] report contained … This book has made the scales fall from my eyes … It is a book of national importance.’
Earl Howe, Shadow health minister

‘... meticulous and admirable ...’ Tanya Luhrman. Times Literary Supplement

‘It’s a story that has everything: personal animus, fantasy, intrigue, alleged Masonic conspiracy, bizarre sex acts and courtroom drama ... This is brilliant stuff. It is fair, measured and brave. Webster does not deny abuse – only that it was endemic in residential care. This book should be read by ... anyone interested in the human condition.’ Mark Smith, Child Abuse Review

The Secret of Bryn Estyn is simply a marvellous book ...It is thorough, well balanced and as compellingly written as a mystery novel.’Professor Mary de Young

‘In his massively researched, compelling recent book The Secret of Bryn Estyn, about the notorious North Wales child abuse scandal, Richard Webster demolishes the belief that there was a vast conspiracy of sexual corruption in Welsh care homes in the 1980s ...’Leo McKinstry, Spectator

‘It is unarguable that Webster has a powerful case. The book will make uncomfortable reading for all those involved in investigating these cases, from police and lawyers to journalists and judges. Webster's forensic skill ... could well have been used by all of them, too. . . [His] detailed exposition of how the “scandal” unfolded, despite scant hard evidence, should be required reading for newsdesks. ’ Christian Wolmar, The Oldie

‘Webster's book ... uses hard evidence, much of it released for the first time during Waterhouse, to chart the genesis of a modern witch-hunt ... He investigates the accusations that led to the imprisonment of some of the most notorious offenders such as Peter Howarth, and demonstrates why they were false; he reveals the failings of the criminal justice system and offers remedies; exposes the key figures behind the scare, and puts the propensity for witch-hunting in its cultural, sociological and historical context.’
Simon Caldwell, Catholic Herald


'T has got hold of the book before me and is well into it. He says it’s gripping and frightening and obviously courageous. Will read it ASAP myself! Good luck.'  A

'I have completed reading your brilliant book and am going to read it again . . .  It’s an astonishing book.'  S

'I do hope someone has the courage to run reviews. Have you had any personal threats? I thought it was an impressive and scholarly book, very badly needed. I literally felt ill on reading about some of the outcomes.'  Professor X

'I have just finished reading it. Absolutely superb, I shall now read it again. What a masterly job you have done!'  E

'The book is excellent!  I must say I had assumed it would be very informative but rather like a text book. Not at all. I found it compelling reading and difficult to put down. Well done and thank you.'  J

'Thought I'd let you know that I was not really looking forward to reading 700 odd "dry, dusty" pages. But last night I couldn't put the book down till 2.30am and was again reading it at 6am!!  Riveting stuff.'   R
''We are back from holiday in Spain [and] we took the Bryn Estyn book with us. S. was quiet for four days. He just couldn't put it down! Unbelievable yet horribly believable ... I am sorry that we haven't read it before but it came at a time when things were pretty awful ... We knew we would have space in October. I hate flying, but the return journey wasn't long enough I just want to read it in every spare moment.'

'This is a book that MUST be read and I would hope that it will feature in libraries and discussions in the National Police College, Bramshill, Police Training Centres, universities, law schools, Houses of Parliament, social services departments etc etc. . . .   . I feel that in writing this book you have performed a valuable public service. I wish it booming sales.'  R

'Your book has altered my perceptions. I was awed by the sustained level force of your argument - and I enjoyed it . . . It’s a great book'   B

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