A police and crime commissioner has warned child abuse investigations must not become damaging witch-hunts like those for communists seen in America under Senator Joe McCarthy.
Investigations into unproven allegations have led to the names of famous people, including the late former Prime Minster Ted Heath, being made public in a bid to encourage victims to come forward.
But Christopher Salmon, police and crime commissioner for Dyfed-Powys Police, said that there was a fine line between encouraging victims of child abuse to speak out and “McCarthyism”.
Many innocent people saw their reputations ruined when they were labelled communists during the atmosphere of paranoia that existed in America in the 50s and which was fuelled by Senator McCarthy and became known as McCarthyism.
In the post on his blog Change the Record, Mr Salmon said the police’s attitude to child abuse had “veered from willful neglect to something close to moral panic”.
He added: “Child abuse is an horrific crime but there is a fine line between encouraging victims to speak out and McCarthyism.
“By the time you realise an organisation is on the side of that line, the damage is already done: the larger the organisation, the longer that realisation takes and the greater the damage.
“We should not want a culture of guilt before innocence any more than one that ignores a victim.”
Five police forces are currently running investigations into allegations against former PM Ted Heath, who died aged 89 in 2005, and the publicity has led to criticism that vague allegations are being allowed to tarnish his reputation.
BBC presenter James Naughtie has warned that “there is a sense of hysteria that’s kind of troubling”.
A nation-wide police investigation into sexual abuse allegations, named Operation Yewtree, was launched in October 2012, following allegations made against deceased presenter Jimmy Savile.
Others who were arrested and convicted as part of the operation included Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter, Max Clifford and Dave Lee Travis.
Cardiff-born Labour peer Lord Janner, 87, who represented Leicester West as an MP for 27 years, has also faced a preliminary court hearing on allegations of sexually abusing nine boys.
Six alleged victims have launched compensation claims against Lord Janner, who was originally deemed to ill from demential to face trial in a decision that was later overturned.
Another investigation into child sex abuse was conducted across 18 children’s homes in North Wales between 1963 and 1992.
In November 2014, John Allen, the owner of several residential homes in the Wrexham area, was given life imprisonment after being convicted on 33 counts of sexual abuse, at Mold Crown Court.