Published on June 8th, 2011 | by admin0
Sir Ronald Waterhouse
Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who died on May 8, his 85th birthday, was a High Court judge from 1978 until 1996 and then spent the first three years of his retirement conducting the harrowing inquiry into the systematic abuse of children in care in north Wales.
Previously a stylish and incisive advocate, on the bench Waterhouse was noted for his calmness and his efficiency at getting to the point and boiling down the evidence to its essentials. Patient and conscientious, he invariably made those who appeared before him feel that they had received a fair hearing — none more so than the comedian Ken Dodd, at whose trial for alleged tax evasion Waterhouse presided in 1989.
The Dodd case produced several memorable revelations, including the fact that the comedian kept very little money in his bank account, but had £336,000 in cash stashed in suitcases in his attic. When asked by Waterhouse: “What does £100,000 in a suitcase feel like?” Dodd replied: “The notes are very light, M’Lord.”
Dodd was represented by George Carman, the most sought-after defence counsel of his day, who famously told the jury in his closing speech: “Some accountants are comedians … but comedians are never accountants.”
For his own part, Dodd could not resist interspersing his evidence with snatches of his inimitable banter, and on several occasions Waterhouse rebuked him for his flippancy. Dodd could have no complaint about the judge’s summing-up, however. As well as repeating the tributes from fellow comedians Eric Sykes and Roy Hudd, and mentioning Dodd’s work for various charities, Waterhouse reminded the jury of “the abundant evidence of his good character and of other idiosyncrasies relevant to his defence”. The comedian was sensationally acquitted.
The north Wales child abuse inquiry, from 1996 until 2000, drew on all Waterhouse’s experience as a family division judge and his earlier background in criminal law. It sat for 203 days, and Waterhouse was obliged to sift through some 10,000 children’s files, and to hear evidence from more than 150 victims of abuse at 40 children’s homes.
Witnesses repeatedly broke down as they told how they had been raped, beaten and bullied by their carers — both male and female. Children, some as young as 10, had been forced to lick the shoes of their attackers or cut grass with nail scissors. Those who complained had had their home leave cancelled, suffered more beatings or had been transferred to even harsher homes.
Waterhouse kept handwritten notes throughout, and at the end of each day produced a meticulously detailed résumé of the evidence, which he eventually incorporated in his outstanding report, Lost in Care, which took him a year to write and ran to more than 1,000 pages. This deeply disturbing document was presented to Parliament in 2000, and revealed 20 years of sustained physical, sexual and psychological abuse of some of society’s most vulnerable children — who had supposedly been under the care of the state.
Among Waterhouse’s recommendations, all of which were implemented, were for a Children’s Commissioner for Wales, children’s complaints officers for every social services authority, and clearer whistle-blowing procedures.
One of five children, Ronald Gough Waterhouse was born on May 8 1926 at Holywell, a Welsh-speaking town near the Dee estuary in Flintshire, where his father, a prominent figure in local Liberal politics, owned a textile mill. After Holywell Grammar School, Ronald joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1944 to train as a pilot, while also doing a short course at St John’s, Cambridge.
After demobilisation in 1948 he went back up to St John’s to read Law as a MacMahon Scholar. As president of the Cambridge Union, he organised a boat race on the Cam against the Oxford Union, which was captained by Godfrey Smith and coxed by Robin Day, both of whom became great friends. The two crews rowed in dinner jackets, stopped halfway for a glass of sherry and finished in a pre-agreed dead heat.
Waterhouse was called to the Bar by Middle Temple as a Harmsworth Scholar in 1952, along with Robin Day, whose television career he subsequently helped launch by directing him towards an advertisement for ITN newscasters.
Waterhouse, meanwhile, joined chambers at Farrar’s Building in the Temple, where his pupil masters were John Brightman, the future Law Lord, and William Mars-Jones, later a High Court judge. In due course, he established a busy mixed common law practice in London and on the Wales and Chester Circuit. In the 1959 general election he unsuccessfully contested West Flintshire for Labour; he had been a Liberal at university.
In 1966 he was junior counsel to the Aberfan inquiry, and junior prosecuting counsel (led by the Attorney General, Sir Elwyn Jones) at the trial of the moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, at Chester Assizes. He also read Private Eye for libel, and acted in a number of defamation cases. He served as deputy chairman of the Cheshire Quarter Sessions (1964-71) and of the Flintshire Quarter Sessions (1966-71). He took Silk in 1969.
In 1970-71 Waterhouse chaired a committee of inquiry to review the government’s policy and precautions against rabies, after two cases of the disease were identified in Britain. His report recommended stringent control of the import of cats and dogs to prevent the introduction of the disease from the Continent.
On his appointment as a High Court judge in 1978, Waterhouse initially sat in the Family Division before transferring to the Queen’s Bench Division in 1988. His other high-profile cases included the 1993 trial of Derek Hatton and the 1991 libel trial in which the actor William Roache won £50,000 damages over allegations in the Sun that he was as boring as his screen persona on Coronation Street, Ken Barlow, and hated by his television colleagues. The Court of Appeal, however, later overturned Waterhouse’s ruling that Roache was entitled to the costs because his award did not exceed the amount the Sun had offered to settle the case before it came to court.
Away from the law, Waterhouse enjoyed music and reading. As president of the International Eisteddfod from 1994 to 1997 he pulled off the notable coup of luring Luciano Pavarotti to Llangollen after marching to the front of a queue of people waiting to see the tenor after a performance in Birmingham.
From 2000 until 2005 Waterhouse served as chairman of the Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting, which was designed to arrive at a compromise on hunting with dogs. He did not hunt, shoot or fish himself, but accepted the post, he said, because “the case of cruelty in relation to hunting has not been made, and to deprive people of a legitimate activity that has existed for several hundred years without justification that it is cruel is offensive to my sense of liberty of the subject”.
He was knighted in 1978 and appointed GBE in 2002.
A charming, gregarious character, Waterhouse had a wide circle of friends in many walks of life.
He married, in 1960, Sarah Ingram, with whom he had a son and two daughters.