PRIVATE EYE
  Private Eye, No 1079 2 May - 15 May 2003

            BARKER BIT

FOUND TO BE dishonest by a jury in the Who Wants to be a Millionaire trial, serial cougher Tecwen Whittock did the honourable thing and resigned from his lecturing post at Pontypridd College. Not all dishonest academics fall on their swords, however.

 

Richard Barker, professor of social work at the University of Northumbria was found by a judge to have been maliciously dishonest in a case which wrecked two nursery nurses' lives and careers. Nevertheless, Barker continues to lead a university department and teaches undergraduates to be social workers.


Barker was head of a Newcastle inquiry team which wrongly found Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie guilty of abusing children in their care. Last summer, Mr Justice Eady ruled that Barker, together with his colleagues (social worker Judith Jones, clinical psychologist Jacqui Saradjian and former social services director Roy Wardell) had been deliberately
untruthful in writing the inquiry report. Reed and Lillie each won 200,000, the maximum permitted libel damages.

In his damning judgment Eady said his finding of malice was "unavoidable. The team made a number of claims in the report which they must have known to be false - some of them were blatantly false - which is indefensible. The claims cannot be explained on the basis of incompetence or mere carelessness". He concluded that the four had "consciously...set out to
misrepresent the state of the evidence available".

 

Only at a late stage of the libel trial did it emerge that Barker and co had reached a secret arrangement with the police: in return for getting access to all the videos of the children's interviews, they agreed not to criticise the police or social workers for breaching government guidelines and asking the children countless leading questions. In the final report, Barker actually praised the quality of the interviewing.

 

Barker was repeatedly singled out for criticism by the judge. Eady said that he was struck by Barker's "lack of objectivity and willingness to use his position to bully", which "put not only [Reed and Lillie] in danger, but several other quite innocent people".

Many of these people were represented by UNISON's Kevin Hattam. Barker tried to prevent Hattam from representing his members during the inquiry, considering him unsuitable on the grounds that he, Hattam, believed his members were innocent.

Despite unequivocal condemnation, Barker has neither resigned nor returned the money he was paid for the malicious report (the four authors reeived more than 360,000 between them). In fact he told the Times Higher Educational Supplement that he "cannot accept that I was malicious". The case was  "a clash of two very different systems that use different
language".

That is not how Eady saw it. He said: "I was unable to place reliance upon anything said by Professor Barker", who displayed "a cast of mind closed to all reason, whereby whatever piece of evidence may be produced, however inconsistent with the last, is perceived as supporting the basic unchallengeable datum that abuse occurred. It is not an unfamiliar cast of mind, but it is one not normally associated with university professors".

 

Private Eye, No 1079 2 May - 15 May 2003



 

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