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Excerpt


Care goes on trial
 

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The Great Children’s

Home Panic

 

by RICHARD WEBSTER

_________________________________


  

The Orwell Press,

Paperback Original, pp. 70, 1998

 

 

 

DURING THE LAST TEN years an entirely new kind of police investigation has evolved. Conducted on a massive scale at huge public expense, its main aim has been to gather retrospective allegations of sexual abuse against care workers. Thousands of such allegations have now been collected and slowly but surely our prisons are filling up with care workers who have been convicted as a result.

Have we at last faced up to a horrifying reality? Or have we unleashed a witch-hunt which is unable to discriminate between those who are guilty and those who are innocent, and which is, because of the huge power of individual police forces, already out of control?

 

*

 

Published in 1998, The Great Children’s Home Panic was the first book to raise serious questions about a kind of police operation which has used up hundreds of millions of pounds of public money and resulted in allegations being trawled by the police against thousands of former care workers and teachers.

 

To mark its publication I wrote, together with the investigative journalist Bob Woffinden, an article for Guardian Weekend, ‘Abuse in the balance’, which focused on the cases of four innocent victims of trawling Terry Hoskin, Brian Hudson, Danny Smith and Roy Shuttleworth. In this article we wrote that ‘The evidence now emerging suggests that retrospective investigations into care homes have led to the gravest series of miscarriages of justice in modern British history.’

 

Bob Woffinden has since written about police trawling in other articles, including Unsafe convictions and Trawling goes on trial, but who pays the price?

 

Some two years ago, after reading The Great Children's Home Panic, the journalist David Rose became interested in the problem of police trawling. Together with producer Gary Horne, he mounted a full scale investigation into the case of Roy Shuttleworth. This led to the making of a BBC Panorama film, In the name of the children, shown in November 2000, which established beyond reasonable doubt that Shuttleworth could not have committed the offences he was convicted of and that all eight of the men who made allegations against him in his criminal trial had fabricated their complaints. The transcript of this programme, the responses of viewers , and the Observer article which David Rose and Gary Horne wrote about the case are all available online.

 

David Rose has since written an Observer­­ news story about trawling and an in-depth investigation of the case of Brian Ely.

 

Following the transmission of the Panorama programme, and the acquittal of former Southampton football manager David Jones, who had faced a number of trawled allegations, Merseyside MP Claire Curtis-Thomas took a special interest in the problem of police trawling. She eventually became chair of an all-party committee looking into false allegations. Among the members of this committee are former Crosby MP Baroness Shirley Williams, and Earl Howe, who initiated a House of Lords debate on false allegations which took place in October 2001.


As a result of gathering pressure, including that exerted by the grass-roots campaigning organisation F.A.C.T. (False Allegations Against Carers and Teachers), the issue of police trawling was, after twelve long years, placed on a real political agenda.

In January 2002 the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of Chris Mullin MP, announced a full-scale
inquiry into the practice of police trawling. David Rose, Bob Woffinden and I were invited to give evidence to the first session of this inquiry which took place on 14 May 2002. Details of subsequent sessions can be found on the Home Affairs Committee website.

At the beginning of April 2002 the spectacular collapse of Operation Rose, the massive trawling operation conducted by police in the north east, added to the growing disquiet about such investigations.

Some observers, including lawyers, believe that nationally as many as a hundred completely innocent men, and at least two women, have been convicted in the last ten years and are serving sentences of up to fifteen years. These miscarriages of justice are the result of police methods which have themselves evolved in response to a number of highly dangerous developments in the law. 


 

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