BBC gets sex abuse gag overturned

The BBC had a blanket anonymity order for a sex abuse inquiry overturned, 11 months after the case began.

Following the BBC’s challenge, Children’s Commissioner for Wales Peter Clarke withdrew an order made to cover an inquiry into the alleged sexual abuse of young boys by John Owen between 1974 and 1991.

Owen, a former drama teacher and Welsh television scriptwriter, committed suicide while awaiting trial in September 2001.

Under the order, Clarke held the power to determine that all witnesses in the inquiry should have the right to remain anonymous.

But the BBC disputed this by citing its right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights, and the right to fully report matters that were in the public interest.

Catrin Evans, the corporation’s solicitor, asserted that the right to anonymity afforded to Owen’s former pupils should not be extended to all witnesses in the inquiry, to allow the possibility of naming school governors, teachers and education officials.

The lawyers of at least two witnesses had argued that disclosure of their clients’ identities would damage their reputations, but Evans countered that there was “no justification at all for treating those who may be criticised with kid gloves”.

She insisted the former pupils’ rights to anonymity were not in dispute and were already protected by existing legislation. The inquiry, which heard from alleged victims on Wednesday, continues.

By Wale Azeez

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