Some of those caught up in the Cleveland Child Abuse Scandal 20 years ago speak out for the first time.

Reporter Graeme Hetherington follows the stories of one of the many families devastated by the false accusations, a vociferous opponent of the medical establishment, as social services worker at the centre of the storm and a leading medical officer, brought in to try to resolve the child sex abuse crisis.

The family

In 1987, more than a hundred families had 121 children taken into care by Cleveland County Council's social services department and treated in two hospital wards at Middlesbrough General Hospital.

Two paediatricians, doctors Marietta Higgs and Geoffrey Wyatt, used place of safety orders to remove the children for their own protection.

All but 27 would be returned to their families - but not after a long and determined fight.

Selina Allen (not her real name) was nine when she was taken from her family in Middlesbrough by social services. She would not see them again for seven months.

Now 29, the memories are still vivid, but she refuses to allow her anger and the feeling of injustice to affect her.

"It's a determination to show that they have not beaten me and I am not going to let them ruin the rest of my life. They took seven months of my life and I'm not going to let them take the rest it.

"It was cruelty - we received cruelty at the hands of people who were supposed to protect you."

Her father, Matthew, who also had two foster children and two other daughters taken from him after an inaccurate diagnosis by Dr Marietta Higgs, recalls the feeling of absolute powerlessness, a feeling which eased once a pressure group was formed to help families traumatised.

Mr Allen, speaking on BBC Radio 4, said: "Instead of us being on the back foot, we gained confidence and strength from the knowledge that we were not alone.

"And then the power positions changed and suddenly we began to have power - they then had to start justifying their actions - they couldn't continue to adopt a very hoity arrogance."

Northern Regional Director of Health

MEDICAL experts were brought in to try to resolve the failings of the social services system which resulted in the children being taken into care without the chance for parents to have their say.

The Government's current chief medical officer, Liam Dondaldson, was then northern regional director of public health during the judicial inquiry, which changed the face of child protection.

The findings of the Butler-Sloss report formed the basis for the 1991 Children's Act, aimed at preventing such scandals occurring again.

When he started to assess the crisis, he was shocked by the scale of the scandal.

Talking publicly for the first time, he said it was implications about the prevalence of sexual abuse that were so astonishing.

He said: "There was a figure of one in 20 and I remember one of the managers in the health service down in Cleveland saying to me well are they really saying that I can open my upstairs window and look down the street and count 20 houses and say well there is sexual abuse going on in there, there must be because that is the statistic.

"It just didn't seem plausible, so it gave people an excuse to say this is just nonsense, it's not happening."

Mr Donaldson and the chairman of the Regional Health Authority called doctors Marietta Higgs and Geoffrey Wyatt to a meeting after a group of parents started threatening to sue, and MP Stuart Bell was calling for them to be removed.

He said: "They explained that they had relied very heavily on one particular diagnostic test, which was new as far as I was concerned. I put it to them that in any field of medicine a test no matter how accurate it is it will have some margin of error and might be false positives, people who were labelled as having children who are abused, but in fact the test was falsely labelling them even though it may be accurate in other respects."

The pair were banned from working in child protection following the investigation into the scandal.

Hospital Social Services Worker

IT was not only families affected by the fall out of the sex abuse scandal, many health care workers have also been left emotionally scarred.

One social services worker, who did not want to be identified, talked about the shock and confusion created by the sex abuse crisis.

She said: "One Monday it was nine o'clock and the phone rang, I picked it up and it was Dr Geoffrey Wyatt and he said 'right, I want to refer the children from this school. All of them, I want to refer the whole school'.

"I asked why? And he said, 'because they are abusing each other'. I asked him what he wanted us to do, and he said 'bring all the children in'.

"I rang my team manager and said Geoffrey Wyatt had just referred this school, the whole school and he said 'is this a joke?' and I told him it wasn't a joke and he was just speechless."

Not everyone agreed with the diagnosis. In fact, a rift developed in Cleveland between the two doctors and the county's police surgeons - resulting in Cleveland Police refusing to investigate further allegations made by the paediatricians.

Hospital services were stretched to breaking point and many children were held for weeks on end in the two children's hospital wards.

She said: "We couldn't place all these children in care, I mean it was just mind boggling. You clung to the routine, you clung to the system that you had and the only system that you had and you clung to that and did the things you would normally do for child abuse but obviously it was much worse than that.

"It was the route you went down because it was all you could do, we had no precedence. On this scale, there was no precedence."

MP stuart Bell

ONE opponent to the growing scandal in 1987 was Middlesbrough MP Stuart Bell.

He was a pivotal member of a support group formed to help the families affected by the accusations.

Mr Bell campaigned for a judicial inquiry into the actions of the two doctors at the centre of the sex abuse claims and Cleveland County Council's social services department.

Parents were being denied access to their children on the word of doctors Marietta Higgs and Geoffrey Wyatt but, after witnessing first hand the family breakdowns across the town, he challenged their diagnosis.

He said: "The reaction within the families was also very devastating, one woman was told that her child had been abused and, of course, the implication was that the husband had done it and that split the family.

"This particular Friday was very dramatic and from then on my life was taken over completely."

As result of the collapse of the majority of the cases, 121 children were taken into care but 80 per cent were returned to their families. A judicial inquiry was carried out by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.

The report, published after a 74-day hearing at Middlesbrough Town Hall, criticised the work of both doctors and a lack of communication between the agencies involved in child protection.

Sue Richardson, child abuse consultant for Cleveland Council's social services department, was dismissed from her post.