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The Cleveland child abuse scandal refers to a 1987 wave of suspected child sexual abuse cases in Cleveland, England.


At this time, the county of Cleveland, established in 1974, included three main towns: Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.[1] In 1996 the former county was broken into four local authorities with only one retaining, in part, the name of Cleveland.[1]


In the years prior to the scandal, levels of reported child abuse in the Cleveland area were consistent with those of other parts of the United Kingdom.[1] However, in 1987, during the period of February to July, many children living in Cleveland were removed from their homes by social service agencies and diagnosed as sexually abused.[2] The 121 diagnoses were made by two paediatricians at a Middlesbrough hospital, Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt, using a "controversial diagnostic practice" called reflex anal dilation.[2] When there were not enough foster homes in which to place the allegedly abused children, social services began to house the children in a ward at the local hospital.[1]

Later, the test being used to establish child abuse was contested by the area police surgeon and cooperation between the social workers, police and hospital doctors involved in diagnosis began to disintegrate.[1] In addition, there was public concern regarding the practices being used by the local social service agency, such as the removal of children from their homes in the middle of the night.[1] In May 1987, parents marched from the hospital where their children were being held to the local newspaper. The resulting media coverage caused the social service agency's practices to receive public scrutiny and criticism.[1] In response, the Butler-Sloss report was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Social Services in July 1987 and published in 1988.[2] The report was led by Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and it concluded that most of the diagnoses were incorrect.[2] As a result, 94 of the 121 children were returned to their homes.[2][3]

On 14 October 1991, the Children Act was implemented in full as a result of the Cleveland child abuse scandal[4] and other child related events that preceded it.[1] A TV documentary called The Death of Childhood was broadcast in 1997 and alleged that "independent experts under the guidance of the Department of Health later found that at least 70 per cent of the diagnoses" were correct.[5] According to the documentary, two years after the scandal a number of children were again referred to social services and determined to be at risk for child abuse.[5] In February 2007, the Chief Medical Officer, who was the regional medical officer at the time of the scandal, admitted that "mistakes were made". [6] A few days later, two of the children who had been the focus of the scandal asked the Middlesbrough police for an investigation of their 1987 experience.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Charles, Pragnell. "The Cleveland Sexual Abuse Scandal". Children Webmag. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "20 years on from the Cleveland Child Sex Abuse Scandal". GazetteLive. 8 July 2008. 
  3. ^ Staff writer, The Cleveland Report digest by Robert Shaw, Children Webmag 2011, accessed July 17, 2014
  4. ^ Pragnall, Charles (December 13, 2014). "Torn from their mothers' arms What are social workers for? Charles Pragnell considers some disturbing cases". The Independent. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Streeter, Michael (May 26, 1997). "Child abuse scandal resurfaces". The Independent. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Staff Writer (February 24, 2007). "The women who went through an ordeal beyond belief". Daily Mail. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 


  • Bell, Stuart (1988). When Salem Came to the Boro, The True Story of the Cleveland Child Abuse Crisis

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleveland_child_abuse_scandal — Please support Wikipedia.
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The Death of Childhood Part 3.

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22 news items

Daily Mail

Daily Mail
Sun, 18 Oct 2015 02:45:19 -0700

Experts say it has uncomfortable echoes of a previously discredited technique called 'recovered memory therapy', which played a part in false abuse cases such as the Cleveland child abuse scandal in 1987 and the Orkney satanic ritual case in 1991.

The Sunday Times

The Sunday Times
Sat, 08 Aug 2015 08:27:17 -0700

Most British readers will know of this moral panic from what came to be called the Cleveland child abuse scandal of 1987, where well over 100 children were unjustly taken from their families and put into care, based on the claims of a consultant called ...

Evening Standard

Evening Standard
Wed, 09 Jul 2014 05:19:04 -0700

It was Elizabeth Butler-Sloss who coined the famous phrase “listen to the children” in her 1988 report on the Cleveland child abuse scandal. That inquiry examined the hugely controversial diagnosis by two paediatricians of the sexual abuse of 125 ...

The Guardian

The Guardian
Mon, 07 Jul 2014 00:30:36 -0700

From the 1957 global definition: "Social work tries to contribute towards greater harmony in society". Photograph: Alamy. Monday 7 July 2014 03.30 EDT Last modified on Thursday 20 November 2014 06.30 EST. Share on Facebook · Share on Twitter · Share ...


Tue, 16 Oct 2012 09:36:48 -0700

Bell will be remembered on Teesside for his trenchant campaigning on behalf of the parents of 121 children taken into care over six weeks during what became known as the Cleveland child abuse scandal. He resigned from the front bench in 1987 to ...

Spectator.co.uk (blog)

Spectator.co.uk (blog)
Fri, 09 Nov 2012 03:54:58 -0800

He also played a major role in rubbishing the child protection regime in the Cleveland Child Abuse scandal. He may have been justified, but the point was that he used the press relentlessly when he could not have known the truth. He also lived in ...


Mon, 26 Mar 2012 10:26:00 -0700

After the 1987 election, Newton was confronted by the Cleveland child abuse scandal, in which 121 children were taken into care after paediatricians claimed to find evidence of sexual abuse. He set up a public inquiry under Mrs Justice Butler-Sloss ...


Tue, 23 Oct 2012 12:10:24 -0700

Folklore suggests, a quarter of a century on, that the Cleveland child abuse scandal was a saga of wronged parents and rogue doctors. That is too simplistic. As a young reporter, I sat in front rooms on a Middlesbrough estate and listened to adults ...

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