A global village rumour
The Great Children’s
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.’
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.
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.