Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)
MR PETER GARSDEN AND MS FRANCES SWAINE
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
400. Can I take you back, Mr Garsden? When we were discussing the validity of the psychological tests a moment ago, you agreed they were not infallible. I have in front of me a transcript of an interview you did with Panorama a while ago. The question put to you was, "So in simple terms the psychologists and the tests they use can establish whether a complainant is telling the truth about whether they were abused or not", and your answer is, "Yes, simply." The next question is, "And the tests can also establish whether the symptoms of that abuse place them in a sort of syndrome, if you like, of the effects of child abuse", and your answer to that is, "Yes." So your position has shifted a wee bit since you did that interview?
(Mr Garsden) I have to say, following that highly prejudicial and completely badly edited programme which was on the television, the purpose of which was not to illustrate what I said but rather show snippets to make me appear to look stupid, I went to see Lesley Cohen and, not only did I do that, I spoke at length to the whole team of psychologists we have, and there are 20 of them, and, quite frankly, opinion on that issue is divided. I would say more of the psychologists than not agreed with me than agreed with Lesley. But it depends on which way you phrase it. If you say, "Is this a lie detector test?" the answer is no, it is not. If you treat it as part of the whole picture and treat it as part of the history that the claimant tells you and test that against the results, then that is a more accurate picture. But it can illustrate, because there are validity questions in these tests, inconsistencies.
401. I do not want to make too much of this, but I am putting it to you that you have changed your position since then because your reply is, "Yes, simply."
(Mr Garsden) Yes, I have indeed.
402. And nobody is alleging you are stupid.
(Mr Garsden) I am very glad this Committee is not.
(Ms Swaine) I could add to that, as far as the psychiatric and psychological reports are concerned, they are the reports on which we will rely on taking cases to court and we will be very well aware those psychologists or psychiatrists will be cross-examined. To a very large extent we have to accept what is given to us in those reports by way of psychometric testing or by way of psychiatric decisions, following an interview which would probably be based on a long statement of what happened and also on the records we have collected together and the psychologists and psychiatrists will look at those. So the psychiatrist in coming to a conclusion in the report is not going to be coming to a conclusion which they do not feel they can substantiate when standing up in front of a judge in court, and very much we have to rely on that. So if they have said, "This person has suffered the abuse they have said in their statement", there is no reason why we should not believe that is validating exactly what we have been told by the client themselves.
Chairman: Thank you.
403. Mr Garsden, you were very dismissive when the Chairman referred to the possibility of false accusations being made. What do you say about the campaign which argues, as you know very forcefully, that most of those who have been sentenced for this crime have been falsely accused and wrongly found guilty? What do you say about the campaign which has been waged for some time now?
(Mr Garsden) It is what I call a pendulum effect. It is a normal reaction to a very pro claims media, and it is only to be expected, and it is only right it has its voice. The fact I dismiss it as being a complete distortion and exaggeration of the truth does not mean it does not have its rightful place in a democracy. I think what you have to do is examine the reality of what happened in the past because what we are doing in this Committee is making the same mistakes that we did 30 years ago.
404. Can I stop you there. The Committee has not actually reached any conclusions yet, so we cannot yet be accused of making mistakes. There will come a time but it has not yet arrived, could I put it to you.
(Mr Garsden) You could put it to me.
405. Do you think, Mr Garsden, we are all so prejudiced that we have made up our minds already before hearing you and other witnesses from both sides?
(Mr Garsden) I think that for this Committee to be hearing evidence there has to be at least a tacit assumption that there are false allegations in our criminal system, because otherwise we would not be spending the money we are spending investigating it in the House of Commons. That is what, I have to say, I have difficulty with. That is what I believe.
406. Are you saying in effect you see no justification for this Committee conducting this inquiry? You are perfectly entitled to that view.
(Mr Garsden) I would be very hesitant to suggest such a thing. I do not want you to try and lull me into being less than respectful to this intelligent collection of Members of Parliament. I believe, as I have already said, that there has to be a full and rigorous investigation of our criminal system, and if there is not, and if it is not seen to be open to criticism, then it might be open to corruption, and that would be the worst thing. I am very much in favour, as I will come on to say, of changes to the system which might improve it.
407. A very diplomatic answer. Mr Garsden, you said in reply to the Chairman about ten minutes ago, if I quote you correctly, that there are people walking around the streets who have committed the most terribleand they are terriblecrimes against children. Would you accept that if that is so, and it may well be so, equally it is monstrous that people have been falsely accused and in some cases imprisoned when they maintain they are totally innocent and may well be so?
(Mr Garsden) It is completely and utterly monstrous, and there is no doubt if that is proven in a court of law they should be entitled to compensation and, moreover, the Criminal Review Committee should overturn their conviction. Yes, absolutely.
408. Does the last part indicate you accept the possibility some have been falsely found guilty and are in prison without having committed any such crime?
(Mr Garsden) It is very difficult for me to answer that question.
409. Do you accept the possibility?
(Mr Garsden) I accept the possibility that in some cases some of the witnesses in a-multi-witness, multi-claimant prosecution mayand I have no evidence this is the case myselfhave either exaggerated or invented allegations. But I have no evidence of that. I am simply listening to and reading the evidence that has been submitted previously to this Committee, because I have no first hand knowledge of it myself. I do not believe there is one person who is sitting there in prison who is blameless and has not committed any act of abuse; no I do not. I think what you have to do is look at the motivation for the organisations of which you speak. They are largely motivated by the friends and relatives. Most of the MPs who have received letters from the falsely accused persons have not received them from the victims, but have received them from the wives, husbands or partners of those who are sitting there in prison. I think you have to look at that quite carefully to see behind and what the motivation might be. If you take as an example the Panorama programme which Mr Mullin referred to, in that programme the accused never made an appearance, he was never interviewed, he never appeared, his family did but he did not. I make no comment at all about his case because we act for the victims, or we co-ordinate the claims of the victims, and it would be totally wrong of me to do so. If you ask me what I thought of the organisationsand in fact there is a preface to the press release which announced this inquiry which said you were going to be very careful about that sort of thing and rightly soI am only saying to you, be careful, be suspicious, be as rigorous and critical of me as you are of them and treat us even-handedly, and I am sure you will.
David Winnick: We will do our best. Mr Garsden, you said that the people who are running the campaign are motivated because they are the partners or close relatives of those in prison. What about the motives of those who made the programme, In the Name of the Father? Are you saying that because they are not related presumably to any one in prison, and you are not suggesting that, that those responsible for that Panorama programme, which most of us have seen very recently because there was a special showing put on, were simply deceived? That here were intelligent people, presumably, who have been around in the media for some years, have quite a high reputation for their integrity, and simply in that case were misled?
Chairman: The film, incidentally, is called In the Name of the Children.
410. In the Name of the Children, I apologise.
(Mr Garsden) You are talking about the Panorama programme rather than the previous fictitious play?
Chairman: Yes, exactly.
411. I was confusing it with the name of the film.
(Mr Garsden) I must say when I saw that programme I was surprised. I think, frankly, the mood of Panorama has changed over the years. I would equate it with the Rough Justice series, which I found far more convincing and far better, for the simple reason that in those programmes the investigators and the researchers had unearthed new evidence, and when listening to the evidence before this Committee that is what the Criminal Review Committee are looking for, new evidence. Because new evidence came forward which was not before the trial, it made wholly convincing television and it led in many cases to those convictions being overturned. Unfortunately, the Panorama programme did not produce anything which had not been paraded before the Crown Court over a long period of time and before the appeal court, yet what we were being asked to do was have trial by television. That, to me, is usurping the function of the judiciary and therefore I would criticise it for that reason. That is only my personal view. I am not a TV critic, I am a recipient of some quite clever editing, and I am not the most objective of people but you asked me and therefore I answered your question.
David Winnick: Investigative journalism can be dismissed in the way you did. When I mistakenly referred to the programme as In the Name of the Father of course that was a film based on a case of miscarriage of justice but which had nothing of course to do with abuse of children. Thank you for your answer.
412. Could I check that I heard right. You said, not one person who is sitting in a prison cell who has been convicted in one of these cases is blameless. Did you just say that?
(Mr Garsden) I think I probably did, yes.
413. I understood you to say earlier that you accepted that some could be.
(Mr Garsden) I may have said some could be.
414. You said they were a very small number but
(Mr Garsden) You are asking me to be judge, jury, prosecution and defence counsel.
415. I am just asking you to consider
(Mr Garsden) I am not. I am a lawyer who receives instructions to pursue compensation claims. I am perhaps making the mistake of straying outside the ambit of my expertise. If you ask me what I believe, I do not believe that there are people sitting in prison cells who are wholly blameless. They may be not as blameful as they have been found by the courts to be, but I do not believe they are blameless. I think you have to look at the statistics, and I quoted them in my paper, for the St George's case, that is the case involving David Jones, who was never convicted and was told he was leaving the court with not one stain on his character, or words to that effect. That was a home where at least three years ago the statistics I got from Operation Care were that there were 89 alleged abusers and 125 victims. Those are staggering statistics, are they not?
416. You are talking about allegations rather than proved cases, of course.
(Mr Garsden) Yes.
417. Mr Garsden, the Association's website advertises a course called "Courtroom Skills for Adults who have been Sexually Abused in Childhood"?
(Mr Garsden) Yes.
418. Bearing in mind that witnesses are required to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, why do they need to be coached?
(Mr Garsden) I think you are probably asking the wrong person, for the simple reason that is not my course. I have tried hard to justify psychometric tests so far and I am not sure I can fall into the same trap of trying to justify a course that is not of my making. I will try and I will do my best. The system of criminal justice for the victims of abuse is abusive in itself. It triggers the victim into recovered memory, flashbacks and all the worst symptoms of abuse. What we should be doing as a society is minimising that as far as possible. The process of preparing a witness for court is not what you understand as coaching, I do not think. The police do it before a rape victim goes into court; quite a lot of work is done to prepare a witness for a very unpleasant and psychologically-damaging experience. That is all we are advocating really. What I am advocating, as I will come on to say, is equality of treatment for witnesses in abuse trials and rape trials, and equality of treatment for adult survivors of abuse and child survivors of abuse, because psychologically in many ways they are very similar and they do not have the protection of the law that they deserve.
419. Are you still a member of the Association which you founded?
(Mr Garsden) I am. I run the website, I maintain it, I created it and continue to do so.