Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)



  160. Which is across the country?
  (Mr O'Brien) It started in Liverpool but now it is national, yes.

  161. Has FACT established the possibility that perhaps there are one or two firms of solicitors who are specialising in actively seeking out complainants?
  (Mr O'Brien) We have, yes.

David Winnick

  162. It goes without saying, or at least I hope it does, that the House of Commons must always be sympathetic to those who are falsely accused of these monstrous crimes, and I hope that is clearly understood whatever line of questioning we take. None of us would like to be so accused—falsely accused. Do you accept that some teachers and carers in these institutions in which you have been employed, together with your three colleagues, were abusing children or do you think that, apart from one or two cases, it simply never happened?
  (Mr O'Brien) We would never say that it never happened, because we are well aware that abuse does take place, but it is the sheer number of allegations that are being made and the doubt on quite a lot of the allegations that come our way that makes us worried about the validity, if you like, of the allegations. We would never say for one minute that abuse does not happen. That is not what we are there for.

  163. You see, the reason I ask is, what would be the motivation of the police being determined, as it would appear, to carry out these investigations. One can understand the motivation—and other colleagues will ask you these questions—of victims, either for justice, or compensation, or both. Obviously everyone understands that. But if there was no basis that such abuse occurred—leaving aside the fact that you were acquitted—why should the police be so motivated in trying to find out the truth?
  (Mr O'Brien) I think first of all because they believe implicitly that the allegation is true and from that moment onwards their investigation leads in the direction of trying to prove that it is true. What we hope will happen is that compared with the old days—the bad old days, if you like—when no child or adult was believed, we are now in a situation where every allegation is believed. What we would like to see is a situation where the person making the allegation was not disbelieved, and therefore those like the police do not become judgmental in the first instance, but are as objective as possible. From that standpoint, perhaps the investigation can move more smoothly and in a less biased way. So at the moment, because they assume that the person is guilty, they then feel that they must investigate right to the very end and seek as much evidence as possible to show that that person is guilty.

  164. In your written evidence, Mr O'Brien—I note Mr Craig wants to come in—you say the pendulum has swung. There is a feeling—I have already prefaced my question with what I said about being falsely accused of these monstrous crimes—but there is a feeling, and I wonder if you and your colleagues share that, that in the past there has been widespread abuse of children in homes, and not confined to this country but obviously we are dealing with Britain—where in many respects allegations were never taken seriously. The children were not believed. It was said that they made it up. So do you accept that and that, therefore, the pendulum (in your own words) has simply swung the other way?
  (Mr O'Brien) We have no means of knowing whether there was widespread abuse or not. All I would say is, we believe there was abuse, but how widespread it was nobody knows.

  165. From your experience would you say it had been widespread in the sixties and seventies, and that the police, as in the case of the four of you, picked on the wrong people?
  (Mr O'Brien) From my experience there was very little abuse to my knowledge at that time, but I can only speculate. I have no evidence to say that there was widespread abuse. That is the popular feeling now that there was widespread abuse, but I have yet to see evidence of that.
  (Mr Craig) I feel that what is happening now with the proliferation of false allegations and the method of trawling that the police are using is that it actually devalues true allegations. I think that is very, very dangerous and I think we must not lose sight of this. In my particular case I actually agree with Rory, in that I think abuse did take place, but I think it was minimal. Certainly in the seventies and eighties the system was robust. In my case, in a secure unit, we were inspected to death, for want of a better term; Social Services inspectors inspected us; the Educational Authorities inspected us; Health inspected us. Each child who came to us had what was called an independent visitor. They were appointed by the local authority that was responsible for the child, and they actually visited on a regular basis, and even spoke to them on such things as, "Was the food of a satisfactory standard? Did they have any complaints of any nature?" So the systems were in place.

Mr Watson

  166. Mr Craig, you said that trawling can devalue genuine cases of abuse, but from your experience what do you think are the main dangers arising out of police trawling for evidence other than that?
  (Mr Craig) I think—and again I agree with Rory—the problem is, and I think maybe it is, a case of police training in this regard. However, I think the police honestly start from the premise that abuse did take place and it is their job to find it. Of course, when interviewing myself and other colleagues, `We would be lying, wouldn't we,' if you start from the premise. In my case we were going back 25 years. There is no evidence. The building has actually been demolished so it is very difficult to go back to the building. Some of the statements spoke as if this was an open establishment. In fact, there were locked doors everywhere. The children could not go from one end of the building to the other without a member of staff actually opening that door, but some of the statements of some of the witnesses were saying they were able to do this. Well, not only did the police not check this up, but they were not able to check this up.

  167. Mr O'Brien, do you have anything to add?
  (Mr O'Brien) I would agree with everything that Mr Craig says. I come from a different background. I have never worked in a care home, nor in a secure unit, although the pupils in the school might have thought they were in a secure unit! So I have not seen that side of it at all. But I would agree with everything he says, certainly.
  (Dr Reeves) May I just put a word in there on the question about the contra-indications for trawling, what is wrong with it? If it is a wholesale trawl, quite apart from the fact that it can produce false allegations and accuse falsely, and condemn falsely, which is a serious problem, it can, as in my instance, have a devastating effect on those actually involved in the trial procedure. There was no child protection that was served by putting the witnesses who appeared in my trial through the ordeal. In fact one of the most painful things for me in court was to see these young people that I had cared for being totally demolished in the interests of exculpating me in a process that I was caught up in and helpless to control. I think that is a very serious concern in terms of the wider concern of child protection. Thirdly, I would say that it actually devalues the legal process. In terms of the effect on people, the number of people who know of cases who are not only members of the family who said, "That person could not have done it," but who are distantly related, who write to you, MPs, who are appalled at the thought that in this country, with its respect for law and assumptions that they have had, seem to be totally undermined and leaves them absolutely appalled with the state of justice in this country. I think this is something that this Committee ought, quite independently of the issue of child abuse, look at very seriously.

  168. Do you think there are any circumstances where trawling can lead to justice in a case, or do you think trawling is a bad thing?
  (Dr Reeves) Can I respond on that? I feel that in my case the first time round, as I explained, I felt that the police did a necessary, you could call it, "trawl". They looked to see and to identify all the pupils that this child had mentioned as witnesses, or caught up in this. They went and interviewed them.


  169. That is the difficulty, is it not?
  (Dr Reeves) That is perfectly legitimate. That is doing police work. They sought to corroborate from leads that were given by the primary complainant. That seems to me to be perfectly acceptable. It may be uncomfortable. It may have a lot of negative effects, but that seems to be a necessary procedure and quite acceptable. It is the total `putting the net in and see who we can drag up' which is unacceptable.

  Mrs Dean: Could I ask you in turn the next question, perhaps starting with Dr Reeves. Was compensation a driving factor in motivating any of the complainants and, if so, do you have any evidence?

  Chairman: Motivated by allegations against you.

Mrs Dean

  170. Sorry, yes. Allegations against you in particular, given all that has happened?
  (Dr Reeves) I do not think it was in my case compensation, if you talk about money compensation. I think there were compensatory gains for some people in the widest sense. If you were a prisoner, to be seen as a victim rather than a bad lad is a very considerable gain in the prison confraternity. I think that compensation was not a primary factor, and I think there are more important factors that one should be concerned about.


  171. Tell us what they are before we move on.
  (Dr Reeves) I think that I would use the term "impressionability". If you look at the sort of people who are abused, and you look from the outside, and you say, "Why did they allow that to happen? How could it have happened that they actually got drawn in and sometimes seem to collude with it," the answer is, quite rightly, that these are vulnerable people and they are easily led. If they are easily led by abusers, they are certainly easily led by policemen. I think that that factor has to be taken into account, that they are extremely impressionable and that if they have had disadvantaged backgrounds and the policeman comes and says, "You were at so-and-so. Was so-and-so the head of your school, or was so-and-so at that school," where you are conducting an abuse investigation, you have to be pretty strong«minded to say, "Go away. It is a load of rubbish. I don't want to know." You have to really be much more strong minded than can unfortunately be expected of many people who have had a lifetime in care. Also, the other factor—if I may just quickly add that—that if somebody comes and says, "You were in care," for many people who are in care as children, that is something which is a stigma for them, rightly or wrongly. It is not something they like to talk about, and it is certainly not something their families like to acknowledge as having happened to their child. If a child then says, "No, this did not happen to me," it can so easily seem as if that child is saying, "Not only it did not happen, but everything about the care and the fact that I was in care was good." So I think that is a factor that actually sometimes predisposes young people to acknowledge or assent to the proposition that abuse has taken place.
  (Mr O'Brien) As I said earlier, I do not think financial compensation was a motivating factor. Compensation of, possibly, revenge because of the circumstance of the death of this particular old boy of the school—possibly, but I can only speculate on that. We know that the police did because we had used evidence from their notebooks during my trial had at least mentioned the word compensation in the notebook, whether they said that to the people they were trawling. But what is interesting in my case is that the police were not trawling the former residents of care homes. They were trawling ordinary, if I can use that word, ex-pupils, and the result was almost nil. So the trawling did not really work in that particular case, which is interesting and does pose other questions. But I have no evidence at all that money, in that sense, was a motivating factor.

  172. The organisation which you chair, is there evidence of that would you say?
  (Mr O'Brien) It is very difficult to find the evidence that compensation is the reason because sometimes the claims are only made after the trial so there is nothing before the trial to show us that. If the person is found guilty, obviously compensation is what follows. All I would say is, there is no need for anybody to mention the word compensation. We live in a compensation culture. So it would be understandable if those who needed money and saw an opportunity to get money fairly easy were to take this opportunity. But again, it is very difficult to find any evidence of that. I do not know whether Phil has anything to add on that from a FACT point of view.
  (Mr Fiddler) In my own case, I think compensation was the key factor. All three of my complainants in the three trials denied putting claims in for compensation, but my legal team had access to the dates of when the compensation actually went through to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (as it was at the time). Also in the case of the two young men who made allegations against me, they have also made allegations against other men and helped to have them convicted. I understand that they have been paid out compensation because of those other trials. So with regard to the care home, certainly on Merseyside and most certainly in North Wales and South Wales, I would say compensation has a lot to do with it. One of the problems we find ourselves facing on Merseyside is that some of the young men and women who were brought up in care were brought up in care for living a life of crime, and they still do live a life of crime, they want to come and help but it is a Catch 22 situation. They would help, but they feel that because they still live that lifestyle, or even if they do not live that lifestyle, they would be put under pressure. Certain of those are not children any more—adults who were brought up in care—have indicated to me that police officers on Merseyside did mention compensation to them. In fact one police officer from the Cheshire force in a trial in February, in Warrington, admitted that he mentioned compensation to a complainant, but added he only did that after he had taken a statement. I cannot understand why compensation needs to be mentioned by the police at all. Another thing that I believe the police were guilty of was mentioning names of complainants and showing photographs of members of staff who worked in care homes. The police argue that they do not do that, or they do not do that any more; but there are other ways to put the names of my colleagues and other care staff into the frame, and that is simply by asking, "Who took you camping? Who took you swimming?"—and that kind of thing.

Mrs Dean

  173. Mr Craig?
  (Mr Craig) I think the lure of compensation was a factor in my case. My two accusers unfortunately have been in and out of prison all their lives. One of the two individuals is currently incarcerated in Broadmoor Secure Psychiatric Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and the other accuser, I am pretty sure, has received compensation from complaints when he was in a children's home before he came to the Secure Unit. I have to say, it is not as simple as compensation. One of my colleagues talked about vulnerable individuals and I think that there are other compensations for them. I think that they receive a lot of attention for making such an allegation. They become the victim, whereas all of their lives they have been the perpetrator. They also can in some cases point to this alleged abuse as being the reason that they have had such miserable lives.

  174. Did any of you feel that the volume of allegations appear to strengthen the case against you?
  (Mr Craig) I know of a case—I will not mention where and I will not mention the name—but a colleague who I have only spoken to over the phone and communicated via the Internet, but he was a head teacher. He has been to Crown Court twice. On the last occasion, when he went to Crown Court he had 98 charges. He said that he was disappointed he did not have 100. He was found not guilty on all 98 charges. It is almost unbelievable. He is a free man. He has lost his job. He is fighting to get his job back as a head teacher and failing at the moment.
  (Dr Reeves) I think clearly the volume speaks volumes for a jury. It is what, in the lack of other evidence, is virtually everything the prosecution has to rely on—the assumption that if there are 20-odd people, saying the same thing they cannot all be telling whoppers. Yes.
  (Mr O'Brien) I was actually going to say more or less the same thing. From the other point of view to us, it is evidence of collusion, of course, the fact that what they are saying is similar, so it depends which angle you are coming in on.


  175. But even with that allegation—the evidence of collusion—it obviously becomes more difficult to sustain the charge of collusion, the more people who are involved. They cannot all have got together in a large room, you might say.
  (Dr Reeves) It raises questions, if it is collusion, of how the collusion comes about, not whether or not there is collusion. It raises questions about what other explanation there could be than that it did happen, which points to the procedures of garnering the information and collating it for the prosecution.
  (Mr Craig) It is interesting you should say, Mr Mullin, that you cannot get all of these potential accusers in the same room. David Rose wrote an article about a year ago in which he described how a solicitor advertised for accusers, and they met in a large room in a hotel in the South of England. That was a classic case of collusion. The solicitor there . . . . Are we allowed to name the solicitor?

  176. I do not see why not.
  (Mr Craig) Well, according to Mr Rose (and I understand he has not been sued), the solicitor was a lady called Penny Ayles and she conducted a meeting in a hotel in Devon whereby she informed potential accusers (who, incidentally, had their own web site called "Survivors of . . ." and named the school), informed those present, that they could receive tens of thousands of pounds for allegations of buggery, but only single figures for mere physical assault.

  Chairman: I want to move on now to what we are going to do in the future. As I said at the outset, we have all grasped there is a problem. What we want to know is what we are going to do about it, and our time is limited.

Bridget Prentice

  177. Looking to the future, what part of the current system would each of you want to change? What recommendation would you make to this Committee for change, right through from investigation to prosecution and trial?
  (Mr O'Brien) Anonymity, number one and, very importantly, because one's career can be totally ruined by mere allegation. Secondly, accountability of the accuser so that the person accused has an opportunity very early on in the system to challenge what he or she has been accused of. At the moment there is no chance to rebut anything until it gets to court, by which time a lot of damage has been done. So a situation where, in whatever format, but perhaps before a Magistrate, with both sides represented and with all agencies represented, the allegation is thoroughly aired at that stage, and with accessibility to all the information that the police have at that stage. They tend to drip-feed information as the investigation proceeds. If at this stage they could divulge all the information they have, it could be tested. Above all, as I have mentioned already, there should be the feeling that when somebody makes an allegation, that person must not be dismissed but that person must not be disbelieved either, so that the investigating bodies can remain as open as possible and as objective as possible. But really we are looking for all the information to be disclosed as quickly as possible. Finally, and importantly, when it gets to the interview stage of those making allegations, that those are recorded so that there is no possibility of allegations of any sort being made against anyone. In other words, everything is there to be seen.

  178. Would you include in that taping interviews between police and witnesses?
  (Mr O'Brien) I would. I would.
  (Mr Craig) I think also time scale. I think we have to look at this seriously. I know of colleagues who have been suspended two and a half to three years. That is completely unacceptable. That ruins lives and it ruins families. The psychological pressure of that is devastating.

  179. Do you have any idea as to what time scale you think it ought to be?
  (Mr Craig) Certainly in education, I think Mr Blunkett was saying that if an allegation is made against a teacher there is a fast track system, and I think we are looking at about three months. I do not know in terms of the type of investigations we are talking about—I do not think that is realistic. But certainly I think it should be done and dusted one way or the other in less than a year.


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