Anver Sheikh: the prospect of freedom

Wednesday, 4 February  2004

IN MAY 2002
Anver Daud Sheikh, a Yorkshireman whose parents came from Pakistan, found himself in York Crown Court facing allegations that he had sexually abused two boys who had been in his care in a children's home more than twenty years previously.

There was no evidence other than the testimony of the two men who made the allegations. But nor, twenty years after the alleged incidents, was Sheikh able to produce an adequate defence. Like countless other care workers trapped by similar retrospective allegations all he could say was that the offences alleged against him had never happened.

The jury, faced by two highly prejudicial complaints, one of which was an allegation of buggery, declined to believe him. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years.

Since then, however, as Bob Woffinden reported in the Times last year, one former resident of the same home, who had himself made an allegation and then retracted it, made a new statement. He said that the complainants 'were racist and saw [Sheikh] as a "Paki bastard"'. The witness added, in words almost identical to those which have been used by many many others who have been caught up in police trawling operations: 'It was easy to make the allegations . . . the officers kept encouraging us.'

Having made this statement, however, the man subsequently retracted it. Although this might have dashed Sheikh's hopes for a successful appeal, his solicitors still believe that when his appeal is heard on Thursday, his conviction will be overturned. 

For the main evidence on which the appeal will be based will not be the police malpractice alleged by the witness who retracted. It will be another example of malpractice unearthed by Mark Newby, the solicitor to whom Sheikh turned after he had been convicted.

What Newby discovered when he examined the trial papers was that the full records of the home in question had never been obtained by the Crown. It was therefore clear that nobody, including the police, had ever taken the trouble to check whether the dates given at the trial for when Sheikh worked at the home were actually correct.

The first complainant had located his allegation quite specifically. He had described an incident involving another resident, 'Pete'. At this point he had already been at the home for some time. It was he said, soon after this incident that Mr Sheikh had started abusing him.

Mark Newby approached the branch of Catholic Social Services who had run the home and asked to see the full records. They showed that Anver Sheikh had stopped working at the the home soon after the first complainant had arrived in August 1980; the two had overlapped only by some four weeks. More importantly still the records clearly showed that 'Pete' had not arrived at the home until 1981, several months after Sheik had left. It was therefore apparent that the allegation which the first complainant had made could not be true.

Of his own re-investigation of the case, Mark Newby says: 'It was quick and simple. In our view the police had failed to investigate the allegations of abuse from former residents impartially. This is a very grave and fundamental error by the police and we will be calling for a thorough review of how the investigation took place.'

For solicitor Mark Newby the Sheikh appeal is but one of many similarly disturbing cases he is currently dealing with. As director of the newly formed Historical Abuse Appeal Panel, a group solicitors specialising in appealing wrongful abuse convictions and defending people falsely accused of abuse, he is receiving as many as three or four new cases every day.

In an encouraging development the Historical Abuse Appeal Panel has recently reached an agreement with the Legal Services Commission for the funding of individual appeals by case contracts.  In a separate development, the Panel has also entered into cooperation with the Criminal Cases Review Commission over investigations into care home cases.

Although the Appeal Panel has only been in existence for a little over three months, it already has 120 cases on its books. Many of these are domestic or family cases. But at least 40% are care home cases. The path which Anver Sheikh will tread on Thursday is one which many more wrongly convicted care workers are hoping to follow in the coming months and years.

BBC Radio 4's Today programme is planning an item on this story which may  be broadcast on the morning of Friday 5 February (not Thursday as previously reported).

Richard Webster, 2004


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