End this cruel injustice
It was the worst thing
somebody could possibly accuse you of. He said hed rather be up for
murder than something like this because hes so anti-abuse. These words
were spoken last year by Ann Jones, the wife of former Southampton
football manager David Jones. She was describing her husbands reaction to
the multiple allegations of sexual abuse he was facing.
On Tuesday, in a courtroom packed with expectant
journalists, the long nightmare of David Jones, his wife, and their four
children, came to an end. One of Britains most popular football managers
walked out of Liverpool Crown Court an innocent man after all charges
against him were withdrawn.
A week before Joness
trial began, relatively few people understood how any former care worker
could possibly be facing more than twenty counts of physical and sexual
abuse, all of which were false. But, by the time the trial collapsed on
Tuesday, practically every national newspaper knew the explanation. David
Jones was a victim of trawling a new form of police
investigation which has evolved only in the last ten years.
Much credit for bringing
about this transformation in public understanding should go to BBC
journalists David Rose and Gary Horne and their Panorama film In
the name of the children.
In the film, which was
transmitted on the eve of the Jones trial, and in an accompanying article
which was published in this newspaper, Rose reported on the case of Roy
Shuttleworth, a care worker who is serving ten years in prison for crimes
he could not have committed. Shuttleworth too was the victim of a trawling
In such operations police officers deliberately seek
out former residents of care homes and invite them to make complaints.
Some of these complaints are true and have helped convict social workers
who have indeed betrayed the trust placed in them. But there are clear
indications that many of the allegations are false. There is also
compelling evidence, some of it captured on film by Panorama, that
one of the main motives for fabricating allegations of physical and sexual
abuse is money.
After Joness trial collapsed on Tuesday, his
solicitor, Stephen Pollard, said that the prosecution witnesses would have
been utterly discredited if the case had continued. He said that more
witnesses than the defence could possibly use had volunteered to give
evidence that the accusations against Jones had been fabricated in order
to gain compensation.
David Jones was fortunate. As the case of
Shuttleworth shows, other trials where the evidence indicates that the
defendant is innocent have had different outcomes.
To investigate such trials is to enter a grotesque
Alice-in-Wonderland world in which convicted criminals, often with long
records of deception, swear solemn oaths on the Bible and give fabricated
evidence which sends decent men to prison. It is a world in which lies are
ratified by the court and where honest service to other people is
penalised with prison sentences of up to fifteen years. It is a world
where political correctness and the compensation culture have triumphed
Why, if evidence suggests that individual allegations
are fabricated, do juries use them as a basis for convicting? The answer
is simple. In cases where allegations are trawled, juries are not able to
assess individual complaints on their own merits. The whole purpose of
trawling is to try to prove that abuse has taken place not by finding
supporting evidence but by multiplying the number of complaints against a
In fact, the sheer quantity of allegations does not
prove anything. But this method continues to be used because it works; it
usually results in convictions. By launching trawling operations, and
piling up huge numbers of allegations against individual care workers,
police forces have found a way of destroying the presumption of innocence
and obscuring the weakness of individual complaints. Whenever this happens
justice itself will almost inevitably fail.
Without any doubt these operations are dangerous. But
what is truly terrifying is the speed with which they have spread from
police force to police force until, at a cost of hundreds of millions of
pounds, practically the whole country has been covered by a trawling
It should be emphasised once again that some trawled
allegations will lead to the conviction of people who are guilty. But it
is precisely the fact that it has a core of reasonableness that renders
this particular witch-hunt so dangerous, and makes it more likely that
innocent men like David Jones will be stretched on the rack which has been
devised for the guilty.
The other group who are already beginning to suffer
are those who were abused while in care. For, by producing large
numbers of false allegations, trawling operations have debased the entire
currency of complaints. Tragically, real victims may now find that their
truthful testimony is disbelieved.
If the public knew what was going on they
would be appalled, said Merseyside solicitor Chris Saltrese at the
beginning of last week. He is right. Except that he was speaking before
the collapse of the Jones trial on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning the
public did know what was going on. Or at least they were a lot better
This is crucial. One reason why the current
witch-hunt has spread so rapidly and so silently is that all democracies
depend ultimately on journalists to safeguard their essential liberties.
Yet in this case journalists bear the main responsibility for creating a
moral panic around care homes and, until very recently, for keeping both
politicians and the public in the dark about what has really been
Now that the media spotlight on David Jones has at
last illuminated this darkness, it is time for the government to act.
Until now Home Office ministers have responded to complaints about
trawling by saying that operational matters are for chief constables to
decide. But the government did not say that in the Stephen Lawrence
crisis, and it should not say it now.
When the government does intervene, as it surely
must, it should not fall into the trap of blaming the police. Its task
should be not to chastise the police but to rescue them from the folly we
have forced them into.
For the police did not create a moral panic about
sexual abuse in care homes. We did.
By doing so and by placing intolerable pressure on
police forces to investigate non-existent paedophile rings, we have
created a machine for bringing about wrongful convictions. This machine is
now out of control and has already led to the greatest series of
miscarriages of justice in British legal history.
The collapse of the David Jones trial on Tuesday
gives us an opportunity to call this machine to a halt. It is an
opportunity which should not be missed.
The Observer, December 10, 2000