Examination of Witness (Questions 820-839)
MRS CLAIRE CURTIS-THOMAS MP
THURSDAY 20 JUNE 2002
820. Just quickly, on the question of tape-recording all interviews, is not the problem with this is: what happens before the tape goes on? What really matters, in a way, is what happens when the police first walk through the door of the home of the person who was also at the care home at the same time? How do you get round that?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) I think we get round it the same way that we get round it with suspects, where all interactions between the police and the suspect have to be recorded.
821. But, literally, they are doing a dip sample and they have discovered some people who were at the home at the same time as someone who is accused of abuse; is it physically possible, is it legal, actually, to switch on the tape-recorder before you have even knocked on the door of the house?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) I would suggest that these interviews are probably best conducted in something like a rape suite, so inviting people to come in and talk, and explaining why the tape is necessary I think would address those particular concerns. The great problem in 1981 was the perceived expense of introducing this technology; by and large, we have the facilities now to conduct these interviews. And I would extend that facility to prisoners, though I think they should be taken completely out of a prison context and taken somewhere where they feel as if they are going to be treated as a human being and not as a criminal, and the prison is a criminal context, it is not a context where people who have been abused should be interviewed about the most appalling crimes, and, by the way, left. When these interviews are finished, these people are left behind, and there is no sort of swarm of victim support going in there, providing them with psychological services, they just get on with it. I do not think that is the right way to treat these people.
822. Just a general question, if I may. Having spent a lot of your own time on this subject, would you say your view about the possibility of miscarriages of justice is that you are concerned they might have happened, or you are absolutely convinced, down to your marrow, that they have happened?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) I am convinced, down to my marrow, they have happened, yes.
823. Has any alleged victim ever said to you that he, or she, was motivated by the prospect of compensation, in making their complaint?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Do you mean financial compensation?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) No, they have not said that.
825. Or by some other incentive?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Yes, they have said that.
826. What other incentive?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) The words used were, "Think how good it would look, when you come up for parole, if you can say you were sexually abused as a young person; that could be used to describe why you went on subsequently to behave badly. It also might have implications with regard to your requirements to attend a sex offenders treatment programme."
827. So that was somebody who had themselves been convicted of sexual abuse then?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Yes.
828. And was that person saying that they had made it up, or exaggerated it, in order to derive those benefits?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) They said the police said to them, the police had come to them over many, many instances. What is not covered, Bob Woffinden referred to the context in which this evidence is taken, and I think most of us assume that statements are taken from somebody, the police arrive at your door, they ask for a statement, and that is it, really, and they just go away. Well, I have looked for the evidence, and I cannot find the evidence, but I do know that the police will visit somebody half a dozen times, maybe a dozen times, in an attempt to gain from them a statement which stands scrutiny; maybe they have been talking to the CPS and the CPS have said, "No, we really want this, we have got to have that, before you bring it back," because the rejection rate for cases for the CPS is tremendous, whichever authority you look at. And I think that the police will go, and in this particular individual's case they said to him, "We've gained evidence from other people; all we'd like you to do is just endorse it a bit." And he said, "Well, what do you mean by `endorse it a bit'?" "Well, it would help us if you said this, it would help us if you said that." And he said, "Are you sure this guy . . ." "Absolutely; at least four other people have fingered him, and you're just one of the line of succession, so if you could help us it would be enormously helpful." That man subsequently had a statement produced for him, that is another reason why I am in favour of tape-recorded interviews. We should not be surprised when we get corroboration by volume, when we have the same set of police officers interviewing every one of the victims; because, in fact, if they start with an initial complaint, they take that initial complaint and present it to all other complainants. So that is not a terribly difficult task to achieve. So they went to him and said, "You know, you're just going to be there to add a bit of filler." And what happened to this chap was that, when the court proceedings were sent to him, many months after this particular case, he discovered, to his horror, that, in fact, it was his evidence that formed the bedrock of the major conviction; and he was appalled. Not only that, the police had failed to deliver on the benefits that they had described to him, if he actually came up with the goods.
829. Mrs Curtis-Thomas, you replied earlierwe are looking forward rather than back nowtalking about, in future cases, there ought to be recordings; is this audio or is it visual recording, you are saying, of witnesses?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Please forgive me if I am boring, but I have not been able to find any research documentation which compares and contrasts the efficacy and the efficiency of video, as opposed to tape-recording. I think, by and large, tape-recording, because of the cost implications, would be an important first step, and, I think, subsequently, you would have to determine whether or not they were adequate, or whether or not video-recording. You can imagine, with children, why video-recording would be so necessary. I do not know enough about the behaviour or the manifestation of the response that occurs when somebody wants to talk about a sex abuse which occurred when they were five; would it be the same sort of conversation that you might have with a child, for instance, where there was an enormous amount of gesticulation, or just facial expressions, before anything was said. And I think some research would probably illuminate that for you very quickly, and you say, "Well, actually, this man, of 47, does not behave terribly differently from this child of seven, when they are talking about the same things."
830. So audio, yes, and video, possible?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Possible, yes.
831. Looking ahead, we had police witnesses this week, which left me with the impression that they did not anticipate that there would be any more major inquiries of this sort; but, equally, we have had the solicitor, Mr Garsden, whose whole business depends on, as I termed it, a production line of alleged victims.
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) He is on a roll.
832. I could not possibly comment. But where do you see it; do you think the police are right, that there will not be any more of these big cases, or do you think Mr Garsden is right, that there will be a continuous stream of allegations?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Well there are, because of the take-up in various parts of the country. I know Mr Garsden is looking south, so he is looking at all those police authorities where there has not been a lot of activity, where there may be some cases that have been prosecuted over a number of years which are now coming to fruition, Leicester, I think, is one, where we are beginning to see people being convicted. But, of course, once people are convicted, up come the compensation claims.
833. So we, as a Committee, then need to proceed on the basis that this is not the end but there may be a continuation. That being the case, what changes would you like made in the way the Crown Prosecution Service handles such cases, the Crown Prosecution Service, not the police?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Quite frankly, I am staggered at the number of cases that are presented to the CPS for their consideration, which subsequently are rejected. There is a significant degree of reference in the new Police Reform Bill, in fact, to, the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1993 was talking about inter-agency working; the Auld report talks about bringing the CPS far closer to the police, in order to improve the effectiveness of the whole proceedings, in fact, including allowing the CPS to decide the charge which should be placed on an individual. I do not know enough to be able to comment about whether or not that is a constructive step forward, but I do know that the CPS's work could be made much easier if the quality of the product that they received was of a sufficient standard in the first place. Many cases, some of the witnesses you have heard before you, many of these cases are passed forward because of the two conditions that the CPS has, public interest and balance of probability; and Bob Woffinden, in fact, talked about a third one, determining what was the possibility of a crime having taken place, in the first place. And I would agree with extending the CPS terms of reference, for their decision-making, in these cases, to be extended to include that.
834. Would that not lead to more prosecutions, not fewer?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) It might lead to more robust prosecutions, because, of course, the CPS send many to court, but many come back. There was a report about the Crown Prosecution Service, the 1998 report, I cannot remember who wrote it now, but in that report there was reference to the number of cases discontinued; the statistical number in these discontinued is no different from any other cases, but there were probably far fewer cases discontinued, as the quality of the product coming out of the CPS was a bit better. And, therefore, I would argue, if the quality going in was a bit better perhaps the chances of getting more convictions when you did take these cases to court, and they are going to court on the presumption there is a case to answer, would be improved.
835. So, therefore, there would be more convictions?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Yes, there would be, there would be more convictions, but one would hope that the people who were responsible for scrutinising the evidence had more time to do so. When I had a look at the number of people working in the CPS, from 1998 through to the present day, I worked out that senior officials, or senior lawyers, within the CPS, might have maybe a day to look at these cases, they were incredibly stretched for time, and probably had to accept what they were seeing, without having the opportunity to scrutinise what they were seeing, and to have passed them on. And then they get to court and some of them are discontinued, because clearly they failed, in the mind of the judge, and some are accepted because that scrutiny is not conducted by the defence.
836. But those people who go to court and are found guilty are found guilty by a jury?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) They are; but I think that is because, there has been reference here made to the inadequacy of the representation that some people receive. I have dealt with more cases, I have to tell you, than I feel comfortable with, where people, people like us, a knock at the door, you have been working for 30 years, you have done absolutely nothing, you have speeded once in your life, rashly, when you were 19, a knock comes at the door, "You've had these allegations made against you." These people are not significantly professional, they may just be a head of a care home, or maybe a head of a unit, and they go down to their solicitor, the only solicitor that they know is the one that conveyed their house for them, or maybe the one that dealt with their will, and then this person takes up this case. And they are reassured by this individual, who is not a criminal specialist at all, that there is absolutely no case to answer, because there is no evidence against them; you know, "This guy has made this allegation, it is 20 years ago, you've got nothing to worry about, he's got absolutely nothing." The next thing they see is their customers when they are just disappearing down the dock for 14 years; goodbye.
837. Are you suggesting then that the Crown Prosecution Service should discount quantity, volume, in the complaints, and that each complaint should be dealt with individually before the court?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Yes; absolutely. Absolutely.
838. Do you think there needs to be any change in the appeals process or the working of the Criminal Cases Review Commission?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Yes. Of course, many of these cases will get to appeal because there is absolutely no new evidence for these individuals to support their cases. But I have this, of course; the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice led to the construction of the CCRC, and it was given a very broad term of reference. And I have been speaking to the CCRC about whether or not their terms of reference would allow them to look at these cases, or perhaps a collection of these cases, and just look at the processes employed in these cases and look at how efficacious and efficient those processes are; and their response is, yes, there is nothing within their terms of reference to preclude them from doing that. And, therefore, I feel far more confident that even, I mean, that is precisely why they were set up, so that if people could not have recourse through a conventional appeal there was still a structure available which, if they were minded to undertake an investigation, would undertake an investigation; and certainly I would hope that there might be some endorsement that the Criminal Cases Review Commission should look at a collection of these cases.
839. My final question. We have had evidence from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority vis-a"-vis the civil claims, and, indeed, the Chairman referred to this two sessions back, I recall, so, in your mind, are there ways in which the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority could operate more effectively on these claims so that perhaps the civil cases do not need to be proceeded with?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) I think Howard Webber is doing a pretty good job, actually. I have met him on many occasions and I think he is absolutely perfect for this role; he is not a "cut and thrust" sort of chap, he is very objective. I think he has steered this particular organisation to a position where it is the envy of the world. I think that also has to do with our attitude about victims and awarding them.