Memorandum submitted by John Pinnington
My name is John Pinnington and I welcome the
opportunity to submit evidence to this enquiry. As a falsely accused
and subsequently dismissed deputy principal of a specialist college,
I hope my personal account will provide the Committee with a better
understanding regarding the nature and consequences of false allegations,
the need for just solutions, improved guidance and better investigative
practice. When looking at whether guidance to the relevant bodies
needs to be revised, I ask that the Committee consider my evidence
in respect of the following:
Single Agency Investigation of Allegations;
Police Disclosures of Soft Information
on CRB Checks.
Also, I hope the Committee's criteria will permit
consideration of my submission concerning:
Absence of Redress for Accused.
In 2005 I was the deputy principal of a college
for autistic young adults aged 16 to 25. Following my transfer
to a new employer, under Transfer of Undertakings Protection of
Employment regulations, I was asked to produce a new Enhanced
Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) certificate. The "discretionary"
section of this new CRB certificate contained details of three
serious allegations of abuse. The wording was shocking and led
directly to my dismissal from post. My union solicitors would
not support me in an action for unfair dismissal. The allegations
made against me were:
1. In 2001 by student X; I was the sixth person
he accused of sexual assault.
2. In 2002 by student Y; the son of close friends
of X's parents.
3. In 2004 by student Z, the brother of student
I have never believed these students were responsible
for the allegations made against me.
1.1 As the parent of a young adult with
severe autism I would like to record my general approval and support
for the attempts made to ensure the safety of all vulnerable members
1.2 As a man falsely accused of sexual abuse,
I would submit that in the rush to protect vulnerable groups from
the perceived threat of abuse, the pendulum has swung too far
in the opposite direction. The lack of an appeal procedure available
for those subjected to false allegations must be addressed to
rectify this imbalance.
1.3 Reading press reports and other stories
in the media, it appears that a very high number of false allegations
are being made against teachers, often involving disputed information
1.4 The evidence I am submitting is personal
to my experiences; however, I believe many of the points will
equally apply to other areas of teaching.
2. THE RECORDING/REPORTING
2.1 Teachers working with students with
learning difficulties and communication problems are subject to
additional issues when faced with a false accusation, as there
will invariably be a third party involved in the recording/reporting
of any such allegation. In other words, it is a parent, carer
or other adult who reports the allegation.
2.2 In my case, no investigation considered the
reliability or integrity of these third parties, let alone the
reliability of the technique by which the young autistic people
were making the allegations.
2.3 Each of the allegations against me was
made using a technique called Facilitated Communication (FC),
a controversial method of communication that has been ruled inadmissible
as evidence in court. On the website of the National Autistic
Society is a discussion of FC and includes the statement: "Dame
Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President of the High Court Family Division,
condemned FC as dangerous and declared that it should not be used
by British courts to support or reject allegations of abuse."
Dame Butler Sloss made this ruling in 2000, before any allegations
were made against me.
2.4 Even if any credence were given in principle
to this method, the protocols established by the National FC Steering
Group were ignored in each instance. All of the allegations FC'd
against me were made with untrained facilitators, and none was
validated by an independent body.
2.5 In Facilitated Communication, a facilitator
(parent, carer, or other adult), supports the hand, wrist or elbow
of the disabled person, in this case the autistic young person,
who then spells out words using a letter board. Practised properly,
and in accordance with the strict protocols drawn up by the National
FC steering group, it can be a valuable tool in the therapeutic
education of a small number of speech-impaired people. Howlin
(1997) reviewed 45 controlled trials of FC (involving 350 subjects),
finding confirmation of independent communication in only 6% of
subjects. In more than 90% of cases the responses were found to
have been influenced by the facilitators rather than the clients.
Crucially, controlled experiments have shown that when different
questions are secretly asked to facilitator and young person,
so each does not know the question put to the other, it is the
question put to the facilitator that is answered. In other words
the facilitator is unconsciously influencing the handicapped person.
In cases of abuse allegation, this immediately raises the question
of what is in the facilitator's mind.
2.6 In the case of the second allegation
against me, by Y, it was his untrained mother that facilitated.
This was shortly after the parents of X had informed her of the
2.7 Despite FC being declared dangerously
unreliable, and despite the failures in the techniques used when
allegations were made against me, these allegations were subsequently
treated as fact by Social Services and all attempts to challenge
their validity were ignored
2.8 Just as X had withdrawn allegations
against five other people, so his allegation against me was withdrawn
less than a month after being made. I only discovered this six
years later. Oxfordshire Social Services (OSS) had kept this information
secret. I learnt about it after making a complaint to the Information
Commissioner regarding OSS when they failed to respond to my request
for information. An internal memo disclosed to me had recommended
keeping this withdrawal on a "need to know" basis; however,
OSS have stated in written replies, that all parties were informed.
My employers, my college and Andrew Newland, an independent investigator,
(see below) refute this claim.
2.9 Following my repeated requests, OSS
finally commissioned Andrew Newland to conduct a review of my
complaints. One of his findings concluded that the allegations
had been made through third parties using a method of communication
known to be untrustworthy. OSS did not accept this or any of the
3.1 Following the publication in 2000 by
the Department of Health, No Secrets: Guidance on developing
and implementing multi-agency policies and procedures to protect
vulnerable adults from abuse, my local County Council, Oxfordshire,
set up a multi-agency Oxfordshire Adult Protection Committee (OAPC).
3.2 The Committee comprised representatives from:
Thames Valley Police; Oxfordshire Primary Care Trusts; Oxfordshire
Mental Health Trust; Oxfordshire John Radcliffe Hospitals Trust;
Oxfordshire Learning Disability Trust and The National Care Standards
3.3 Individual members of this committee
passed on damaging material about me to other agencies who then
accepted it as true, even though the full committee had not verified
3.4 Without the scrutiny of an OAPC governing
body, the representative police officer was able to bring the
third allegation to the attention of the OAPC, then, using his
position on that committee, to provide a report to his own chief
constable. This essentially circular presentation of the facts
and allegations, gave the report a veneer of breadth and integrity
that it did not deserve.
3.5 I have been unable to establish who
is responsible for monitoring or investigating any complaints
levelled at this committee and John Howell, my MP, is currently
trying to obtain this information for me.
4. SINGLE AGENCY
4.1 Oxfordshire Social Services (OSS) at
no time conducted an investigation into any of the allegations
against me, as in the direct sense I was not their employee. They
did however produce a dossier of "evidence" for my employers
to consider regarding the first allegation. My employers' conclusions
resulted in them returning me to work, having found the allegations
"not capable of belief".
4.2 The dossier stated that the decision by the
police not to proceed against me "should not be taken as
justification for assuming that the alleged behaviour has either
not happened or is acceptable". Nowhere in the dossier was
there any acknowledgement that I might be innocent, although the
OSS officer who compiled the dossier had full knowledge that X
had withdrawn his allegation against me.
4.3 This was the first time OSS had responded
pro-actively into allegations by X. Previously they had failed
to involve the police or request employers to investigate the
five other serious allegations made by X against family members
and privately employed carers.
4.4 Neither I, nor any member of staff,
was invited to submit any information or comments to the content
of the dossier.
4.5 I complained to OSS about their handling
of the issue, and then, following their own, in-house investigation
of themselves, to the Local Government Ombudsman.
4.6 The Ombudsman would not investigate
my complaint, as I was "neither service user or carer".
4.7 Because OSS procedures have no exit
strategy, a point recognised in the Newland review, once they
adopt a position in relation to an allegation, they have no means
of modifying that position.
4.8 When an "independent" review
is undertaken, the department being investigated has the final
say on whether to accept or reject any findings. In my case there
were three such independent investigations, two by my employersthe
college where I worked and the supporting charity, and the Newland
review. All supported me; none was accepted by OSS.
4.9 The first and second allegations were
reported to Thames Valley Police (TVP). I was eliminated from
the first investigation, and the second was recorded as "inconclusive
4.10 Following the second investigation
I challenged the investigating officer's actions, and this led
to the Police Complaints Authority upholding four of my complaints:
Failure in Duty (poor and slow investigation);
Failure in Duty (*Items were not
submitted for examination);
Failure in Duty (No investigation
of the [X and Y] link); and
Failure in Duty (knowingly using
an unacceptable method of communication).
4.11 I was denied access to all information
regarding the third allegation until the police were forced to
disclose it to my solicitor prior to the Judicial Review undertaken
4.12 OSS cited this third allegation as
grounds for insisting that my employers produce a risk assessment
as to my suitability to continue working; they also advised that
my employers should ask me to resign my post.
4.13 In 2003 a document, Allegations
of abuse by people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Guidelines
for Investigating Police Officers, was produced following
consultations between TVP, my employers, the Children in Touch
charity, and two eminent child psychologists. This document was
the outcome of a meeting that had been convened in response to
the mishandled Y investigation in 2002.
4.14 These guidelines, which included contact
details of a countywide "expert panel who can be called upon
to advise on allegations made by people with [Autistic Spectrum
Disorder]", were accepted and agreed by TVP.
4.15 When considering the Z allegation,
TVP disregarded the county panel. Instead, their representative
officer on the OAPC approached a registered Home Office intermediary
on behalf of the committee. He later used her personal opinions
as part of the report he submitted to the Chief Constable in connection
with my CRB application.
4.16 Part of this report suggested that
when taken alone, none of the allegations was credible, but when
viewed as a body of evidence they achieved greater credibility.
In court, my barrister pointed out that "three times nothing
4.17 Shortly after TVP informed me of a
third allegation against me, Abingdon and Witney College, our
franchising college, produced an internal memo marking me as a
"High Risk" based on "a presumption of guilt"
5. POLICE DISCLOSURES
5.1 The Chief Constable or officer appointed
to complete a CRB disclosure bases his decision on information
put before him: he does not investigate, he simply assesses. This
information does not have to be hard evidence.
5.2 In my case the information presented was
mainly in the form of a report produced by the OAPC police representative,
who was also the commanding officer of the policeman disciplined
following the Y investigation. This report was partial, distorted
and subjective, yet was unable to be challenged at the Judicial
Review, as this looked at whether the inclusion of the allegations
was fair based on the information available to the presiding officer.
5.3 The inclusion of not only unsubstantiated,
but completely false allegations in the discretionary information
section of my new CRB led to me being dismissed from post, as
my new employers insisted on a "clean" CRB.
5.4 As a legal precedent has now been set
by a Judicial Review that sanctioned the inclusion of this type
of information, it is highly unlikely that anyone else will be
granted leave to challenge allegations included on a CRB.
5.5 Lord Justice Richards in his judgement
stated "The legislation imposes a relatively low threshold
for disclosure in the certificate in order to enable an employer
to make a properly informed decision. But it is important that
employers understand how low that threshold is and the responsibility
that it places in practice upon them. A properly informed decision
requires consideration not only of the information disclosed in
the certificate but also of any additional information or explanation
that the employee may provide". Whilst this ruling clearly
states what an employer should do, it also implies their actions
will follow these criteria. Current experience shows that most
employers presented with hitherto unknown revelations, cover their
backs by regarding the disclosed information as information the
police believe they needed to know.
5.6 The continued inclusion of such unsubstantiated
information will contribute to a collapse of the support network
and place severe limitations within education recruitment. There
is already evidence that men are withdrawing from professional
or voluntary roles which expose them to the possibility of false
allegation. Civil society is threatened when the balance between
protection and safety against truth and justice swings too far
6. ABSENCE OF
6.1 Once an allegation has been made it
can never be expunged, it can only be challenged.
6.2 It would appear that if, as in my case, an
individual continues to protest his innocence and does not let
the matter drop, he is branded a serial complainant. When my Local
Councillor and my former MP Boris Johnson approached OSS on my
behalf they were first told of the number of complaints I had
made, then subsequently misled regarding their content.
6.3 Now, any questions I raise with either
the TVP or OSS appear tainted by the fact that I have challenged
them in the past and have robustly denied their findings. Indeed,
it would seem that my persistent fight for justice has compromised
my credibility with these organizations.
6.4 Whilst it might be assumed that victims
of false allegations are able to pursue those responsible through
the courts for libel, in fact, such action is rarely covered by
a trade union's legal brief and this, coupled with the absence
of Legal Aid, renders this course of action beyond the means of
7.1 Once a teacher is acknowledged as the
subject of an allegation, gossip and rumour can inflame the situation
making it more likely that further allegations will follow. This
factor needs to be considered by employers before suspending those
accused and thereby legitimising a possibly spurious allegation.
7.2 William Blackstone (1723-1780) in his Commentaries
famously stated "Better that 10 guilty persons escape than
that one innocent suffer". It appears that the current policy
relating to those who have been falsely accused reverses this
principle. The policy now appears to be that it is better one
hundred innocent teachers be dismissed, than one possibly guilty
teacher remain employed. This view is acknowledged in the OSS
legal team's advice, where they state it would be preferable to
be defending a claim for over zealous actions against me, rather
than face a public enquiry for failing their clients.
7.3 This utilitarian policy not only fails
those who have been falsely accused, it also fails those who need
protection by implying that current procedures are foolproof.
7.4 It is essential that all allegations
be taken seriously. This also means that they must be seen for
what they are, a possibility, and that BEFORE deciding on any
course of action, ALL available evidence from both sides should
be weighed carefully.
7.5 This is not the case at the moment when
dealing with those people with communication difficulties. The
current approach in this area puts a disproportionately high value
on the fact that an allegation has been made, rather than its
content or the manner and context of its making. Thus, "taking
an allegation seriously", is tantamount to believing it to
be true, rather than testing it.
7.6 There is a need for an independent body;
responsible for investigating false allegations when they arise,
as they invariably will, in the current climate. This body must
also be able to recommend what action should be taken regarding
the accuser/reporter, if they are adjudged to have made false
7.7 Much of the interpretation, application
and enforcement of child/vulnerable adult protection policy is
currently carried out by unelected, and in many cases, unaccountable
agencies. The quality of these agencies' findings needs monitoring,
as their consequences can be far reaching.
I would like to express my thanks to Boris Johnson,
John Howell MP and Tony Crabbe, my local county councilor; who
have supported me in my attempts to achieve justice.