Submitted by UNISON (CA 192)
UNISON is Britain's largest trade union with 1.3 million members in Local Government, Police, Health, Education, Police Civilian staff, the voluntary sector and utilities. We provide legal assistance to members in work related matters and have provided representation to members facing criminal charges in cases of abuse in children's homes.
1. UNISON believes that "trawling" is a dangerous method to use whilst investigating child abuse cases. We believe that if an allegation is made leading to a proper investigation then the complainant would be able to direct the police to appropriate witnesses without the need for "trawling". Our experience in the child abuse cases we have been involved with is that a large numbers of individuals have worked in the children's home and inviting all those individuals to pass comment on an allegation inevitably leads to unreliable evidence. We believe that the use of "trawling" does produce evidence which cannot be relied on safely in a Court of Law.
2. Quite understandably there is huge public pressure to secure a conviction where allegations of child abuse have been made. This inevitably puts the Prosecution Service in a position where they feel that they should proceed with a prosecution where evidence is unreliable or insufficient.
3. There is a risk that the advertisement of prospective awards of compensation in child abuse cases encourages people to come forward with fabricated allegations. Very sadly this is an issue which may well be relevant here given that often those who have come through children's homes will often have experienced many traumatic events in their life and perhaps also take the view that the levels of compensation available from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority or through civil action would make a significant difference to their lives. While clearly most allegations of child abuse will not be affected by this issue, it is a risk which those working in this field must be aware of.
4. We believe there is weakness in the current law on "similar fact" evidence. We believe that the law as it stands presents a very real possibility that there will be wrongful convictions. UNISON already has extensive experience of situations where people who have faced allegations which have not proceeded through the courts or alternatively have led to acquittal still have to live with the consequences of such serious allegations ever having been made.
5. We do not believe that there should be a time limit in terms of the number of years since the alleged offence took place on prosecution. As we have indicated above however, we believe that where there is sufficient evidence to proceed with criminal charges then such charges should be brought.