Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 900-919)



  900. But in that case they would say they were not sure?
  (Mr Frampton) Yes.

  901. Do you accept that the suggestion that the police, as a result of their interview techniques, might have generated false memories of abuse in some individuals?
  (Mr Frampton) No.
  (Mr Byrne) That seems rather ludicrous to me, I am sorry.

  902. We have heard evidence of false memory and recovered memory, or different levels of memory, which in some cases are considered to be unreliable. I wonder if you have had experience of this?
  (Mr Byrne) Have you spoken to somebody who has recently started to talk about their childhood experiences? Often that process of uncovering the layers and layers of information that you hold is a fascinating process by itself because you start to explore what has happened for the first time again, as I am saying, and it is only by engaging with survivors of child abuse and people who have experienced child abuse that we are able to understand that. I have never heard of anybody having false memory.
  (Mr Frampton) Can I say this: that there are so many things which you bury when you have been in care. To be treated, as I say, like a potential criminal, where if there is anything that happens you can be moved tomorrow if you do anything wrong, to be treated like that and to shift round different homes, and to be told many times that you are telling lies, even to write things down and be forced to recant them—to go through all that and be told you are a bad person and then to come out of it and try and remember what was real and what was not, you often forget a lot of the things and sometimes you have things in your mind where you almost say "No, those did not happen". They are not false memory syndrome: they are actually burying into the past. When you are given some means of looking at the past, when you can speak to the people in the homes, etc, then you get the chance to say, "Yes, I realise now that did happen: I was there". I got 700 or 900 pages worth of files on my time in care and suddenly I realised some of the things which I had said and which I had done and some of the things which I had been punished for which I had not done. All sorts of things came up like that. So what I am saying to you please is this: accept that it is not false memory syndrome here but buried memory syndrome which you have assisted to bury for yourself, but other people have tried to bury for you by continually questioning your version of the truth.

  903. Perhaps it would be helpful if I read to you briefly the psychiatric terms: "recovered memory" is the emergence of an apparent recollection of childhood sexual abuse of which the individual had no previous knowledge, and the quote from the witness was, "There is no means of determining the factual truth or falsity of recovered memory other than through external evidence". The definition of "false memory" is the recollection of an event which did not occur but the individual subsequently strongly believes it, also called "pseudo memory" or "illusory memory"—these are psychiatric definitions—and "false memory syndrome" is a condition in which the individual's identity and interpersonal relationships are centred around a memory of traumatic experience, which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes, and we have had evidence from other witnesses to this effect. Finally, do you think there is a risk that trawling encourages some survivors, for whatever reason, to exaggerate the nature of their abuse? I suspect you will say no.
  (Mr Byrne) I can say more than no. To stand up in court and relay your account of what has happened to you is an extraordinary process. It is bad enough going to court as a witness, or to be part of that, but to go to court as a victim and a witness to a crime that has been perpetrated to you means you have to talk and be scrutinised to a high degree on the most private, the most intimate experiences of your life. That is why the idea of standing up in court and lying about having been raped as a child is extraordinary to me—absolutely extraordinary. As I said, my experience with Fire in Ice is we have no knowledge of that ever happening, no. To stand up in court and to have to lie and then be cross-examined on that lie would be uncovered, would be seen. It would be too much. A good example is an individual who came to us soon after our project was established who spoke about giving his statement, and it matched as regards the modus operandi of the abuser exactly a statement that was taken 300 miles away in Kent, and he could not believe it was effectively the same abuse going on perpetrated by the same individual but on a boy who is now a man who lives in Kent who was in the same home who shared the same experiences and the same terrors as he did.

  904. Finally, Teresa Reynolds, are you aware of any cases where either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service have increased the charges in the hope of achieving a plea bargain at trial?
  (Ms Reynolds) No. To my knowledge we have not heard of any cases, and this is not just in child abuse cases but in all sexual cases. Very frequently the charges tend to be down-graded in order for there to be a plea of guilty. That sometimes happens. Say, for example, a rape might be down-graded to a sexual assault because there seems to be a greater likelihood of the defendant pleading guilty. We are not aware of the charges being increased.

  Angela Watkinson: That is very helpful, thank you.

Mr Cameron

  905. I would like to ask a few questions about how survivors of child abuse are treated by the system. We have covered some of this in your answers but what I am looking for are some specific suggestions of things that could be changed in terms of the way things are done. Mr Byrne, what is your view of the way we treat survivors of child abuse and other prosecution witnesses during, firstly, the investigation process and, then, the trial process? Can you try and be specific about things that should be done differently?
  (Mr Byrne) First of all, my opinion is shaped by my experiences of working with 300 men who have experienced on child abuse; I want to make that quite clear. It is not my opinion.

  906. I would like to comment your evidence: it was very good giving us ten survivors who had been abused and going through our questions and answering them. You said we should have spoken to survivors specifically, and I thought reading this and having you here is what we have tried to do.
  (Mr Byrne) I did not do it to impress: I did it because that is the way that the men involved in that project said it should be done, and I am very clearly led by them. At the investigation procedure, it is valuing the experiences of the individuals coming forward—the witnesses and victims to these horrific offences, however long ago they were—and centering an investigation around finding the truth and what happened in those care establishments.

  907. What does that mean in terms of specifics? If you have a police operation where they are knocking on doors of other people who happened to be in the care home at the time the alleged offence is taking place, what should they do differently?
  (Mr Byrne) I would say that before the knock even happens, if the strategic management of the police investigation involves consultation with people who have experienced child abuse to say, "Where did it go wrong?"—not just the systems about why X amount of percentage trials were not worked out but saying, "Let us focus on the human aspect here, that children were abused, and take it back to a more strategic approach so it is focused around how we can best find out what happened in that children's home". That is as much as I can say about that. It is not about locking up abusers and about finding X amount of convictions or witnesses; it is about finding out what happened and how we can improve those homes, and the child care procedure in the system, and how we can create an environment and a culture where victims can come forward with confidence knowing that the system that seeks to investigate the crime is going to be fair for all. That is what we need and it has to involve consultation before the knock on the door happens.

  908. Let us move on to the trial process. What changes, being specific if possible, do you think should be made in terms of the way that survivors of child abuse are treated?
  (Ms Reynolds) Could I speak generally? My colleagues on the panel have more direct experience than I am able to bring today of working directly with survivors of child abuse but I can talk in general terms about the experience of witnesses going through the court process which I think is equally applicable to victims of these crimes. First of all, before they get into the witness box, very often cases will not get that far, either because somebody pleads guilty and mercifully the witness is saved from the ordeal of giving evidence, or if the CPS decide not to take the case forward—for whatever reason. It is extremely important the witness' experience is validated by having an explanation given to them as to why this case is not proceeded with. You have heard today how many of these people simply feel that they are not believed, and to get that far and to go through the process of giving evidence to the police and their getting to the door of the courtroom and then maybe the trial collapses at that point, they may be left feeling that they have not been believed, so it is extremely important that it is explained to them. When they get into the court, I think it is extremely valuable that the new measures under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act of 1999 are coming into practice in July. It is an ordeal giving evidence in court, to be seen by the accused and so on, particularly in relation to children as well as other vulnerable witnesses, and we welcome very much them being able to give their evidence either as pre-recorded evidence in chief, or by video links, live links. There is still sometimes something left to be desired in terms of cross-examination of witnesses. Given that the case comes to court there should be a realistic prospect of conviction but, in cases where there may be very little corroborative evidence, very often the way to avoid a conviction is to discredit the witness, and I think this is, again, an extremely damaging process for a victim to have to go through. They know what happened to them and to be discredited either by saying, "Well, you were partly to blame for this", or "You colluded" or whatever, is very damaging. If there is a conviction or there is a guilty plea there may be a statement in mitigation, and again damage can be caused to victims in those circumstances where the perpetrator may say, "Well, yes, it happened, but it was not all my fault". So that is in the court setting.

  909. Just pausing there, you have not mentioned something that came to our attention which is these courses that are done by some solicitors—preparatory courses, one called "Courtroom Skills for Adults Sexually Abused in Childhood". Have any of the other witnesses come across these sorts of training programmes? Are they valuable?
  (Mr Byrne) No.
  (Mr Frampton) No.

  910. There is a danger I suppose that, if there were people falsely claiming child abuse in search of compensation, this would help polish them up for the courtroom, but it is interesting that none of you mentioned that this was a good thing to help victims.
  (Ms Reynolds) One of the things the Witness Service offers, and we are very open about, is we do provide prospective witnesses with information about what is going to happen, but it absolutely is not coaching the witnesses. It is about bringing them into a courtroom, saying "The judge sits here, the magistrate sits there, the jury sits there"—whatever, so it is explaining what is going to happen to enable them to give their best evidence, but it absolutely is not coaching them on what to say or when to say it, simply to answer the questions truthfully when they are put before them.
  (Mr Byrne) The testimony of one specific Fire in Ice member who we worked with is that the whole system, the whole way that he was cross-examined and the whole trial was seen as being there for the barristers to have a bit of a point-scoring exercise, and feeling quite miffed about the fact that it was not about the offence that had been committed against him—it was almost like, "We will play games here", and I would fear that any kind of coaching a witness in that respect would be a reflection of that because if you are fighting a system that does not recognise the importance of what has happened to the individual, and you are playing a game that the barristers are in charge of and that the judge allows to go on where you are allowed to be cross-examined on your adult life when you were abused as an innocent child, that is completely ridiculous. What you have done after your abuse has got no bearing on the fact that, as an innocent child, you experienced child abuse and it just seems to want to discredit, and become a point-scoring exercise.

  911. There was one case in a "Panorama" programme where they discussed a particular person who had a previous conviction of an attempt to defraud the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Would you accept that something like that should be brought out in cross-examination in a trial?
  (Mr Byrne) Does that mean that he was not abused as a child?

  912. No, but it is a fact that should be taken into account.
  (Mr Byrne) But it does not mean he was not abused as a child. We are talking about getting to the truth of it and barristers scoring points off one another does not get us to the truth.

  913. This is a broader subject but the point I was making is that, in cross-examination, you have to allow the defendant to have someone put their case for them. That is the only point that is being made.
  (Mr Byrne) I am not denying that.

  914. Your point that nothing that happens to someone after they are abused is relevant is perhaps going a bit far.
  (Mr Byrne) You can have that opinion.

  915. You would be happy with that? Even if this person was convicted of fraudulently pursuing compensation claims, for instance, that would not bother you?
  (Mr Byrne) As long as the system meant that that appearance in court was able to look at what happened to that man or that women when they were 8, 9, 10, 11 years old, as long as the evidence is built around that and it is properly investigated and tried, then I cannot see the significance. In a way, adult life reflects your childhood experiences a great deal and a lot of the guys we have been working with have been severely punished because of the traumatic effects that have followed on. They feel they have been pushed down a road they did not want to go down and that is where Fire in Ice comes in, saying, "Let's work positively to rebuild these lives", because often the trial is reflected in that. So my answer is so long as the trial is focused on the child abuse.

  916. I would like to move on to the support that survivors are given after the trial. Again, being as specific as you can, is there sufficient post-trial support available? I read in some of the evidence that a high proportion of survivors contemplate suicide around the time of the trial because of the things we are talking about. What specifically would you change in terms of support for survivors post-trial?
  (Mr Byrne) Giving them choice, a range of options post-trial, after it is all over. Again, on reflection of working with individuals, they initially feel elated. If they get a conviction—"Yes, it is finally over"—and they then realise they have to go back to work. If it has been a high profile case with the cameras whirring around and the media speculating over certain issues and it suddenly breaks up after the end, how does that man get back into a life where he can lead a positive life in his own community and become part of it and have rewarding experiences for the rest of his life despite what has happened to him, and that is where a range of services needs to be available at the point when the trial ends, and Fire in Ice provides a tiny part of that in Merseyside.

  917. What sort of services, again being specific? Specifically what is it that this person, who has been through a harrowing trial where the child abuser has been convicted but it has been very traumatic, needs that they do not get now?
  (Ms Stone) Can I comment from our point of view for children and adults with learning disabilities? We work very closely with an organisation called Respond which is an organisation that provides therapeutic and counselling support services to vulnerable adults and children with learning disabilities. Their organisation, like many charities working in this field, operates on a shoestring and is in desperate need of support because the demands on the service are increasing and the funds that support that work are not increasing in line with that. Just to go back to my colleague's point about the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act and the special measures there, I am sure that colleagues from the police force would talk about the limitations on funding and resources to enable them to put those special measures into place, so that intimidated witnesses such as the people Matthew and Phil work with and know are able to give their evidence in a way that enables them to give their best evidence, to make sure that the truth is heard during the trial. From our point of view, we would want to see that the special measures now on the statute books are properly funded and resourced and that the support for the people in terms of therapeutic support and counselling enables them to come to terms with their trauma or to live their lives after those events. In addition, there should be consultation with all the other groups who work with victims and survivors to make sure that the support that is available is the best possible support for these people.

  918. In the chain I missed those victims that might be in prison at the time they make their complaint. What support is offered to them currently and what should be available?
  (Mr Byrne) When Fire in Ice was established we got a lot of contact from men currently serving prison sentences who were giving their evidence and wanted some kind of support to come to terms with it. Prisons today are endeavouring to turn out individuals who will not re-offend—that is the idea of prisons I hope—as well as punishing. Part of that process, especially when dealing with inmates who have a drug conviction, is to ensure that when they leave prison they are no longer addicted to the drug that is causing the crime, and again that is admirable, but what is happening in prisons is that there is no sense of cohesive counselling and support services that deal specifically with inmates who have experienced child abuse. There is a ragbag of services within each prison depending on where that prison is at individually, but there is not anything co-ordinated by area. We have been negotiating with the north west area prison service and they say we are welcome to come into our prisons—good idea; those disclosing child abuse who want support—yes, come in and talk to them, and with some feedback and after talking to us and engaging with us on a very personal level the inmate feels better and is better able to deal with the system he or she is in. But it is just lucky if that prisoner happens to be in HMP Liverpool or Garth, where we work. We try to engage our service in whichever prisons the inmates are in, but there needs to be a prison service because, if you think about the vulnerability of the inmates we work with, they are specifically vulnerable because they are also inside and that makes them especially vulnerable, and we do not want to go in there with sledge hammer and start to cause problems with the rehabilitation process, so we are very careful. But the services are so needed. It goes back to Kathryn's money point and investing the money in those services that seek to support and empower people who have experienced child abuse to lead more rewarding lives after the trial is over, including those in prison or those less advantaged.
  (Ms Reynolds) In terms of support after the trial, victim support can offer support although in this area it is not necessarily specialist, but again the witness service could put somebody in touch with the local victim support scheme who would either help directly or put them personally in touch with specialist organisations, so we would act as a kind of gatekeeper, if you like, to support and would be able to do that. You were asking about support afterwards and one of the things that victim support also offers in very practical terms is help with compensation claims, which has been touched on very briefly.

  Chairman: Mr Winnick is going to ask specifically about compensation.

David Winnick

  919. No one disputes that the matter we are considering, sexual abuse of children, is a monstrous crime—that is not, as I understand it, in dispute by any of the witnesses that have given evidence—but our job, as you will appreciate, is to probe the witnesses from both sides of the arguments we have heard. The allegation has been made to us that much of the motivation in making allegations of sexual abuse which occurred in children's homes, allegedly at least some years ago, is purely financial: that people are coming to court telling the police in the first instance because they are motivated not by any desire of justice or truth but simply by a desire to get as much money as possible out of the system. What would you say to that allegation?
  (Mr Frampton) Can I say that in your testimonies you noted that far more of these cases are being settled in court rather than with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, and you may think that is because people want an extra 10,000 that they might win if they go to court but, in our experience, people go to court because they want justice; they want the issue settled. The issue of compensation is minor: 20,000 is not going to resolve your life. It is often means tested anyway so you are not going to see it; you have to put it away in a special trust fund to protect it, maybe have it for your children later. All it is is a little apology from society for what has happened, for all that you have been through. Once people decide they are going to raise this issue, they do not think, "This is a quick way of earning 20,000" because it is not a quick way, as we know. An easier way would be to go to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, and why do they not go? Because they want justice. As soon as they have been prepared to consider this issue they are burning with anger. What is the point of sending off a form somewhere? They want someone to advocate for them, so I know of cases where people say, "No, I do not want compensation".


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