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Cleared: the story of Shieldfield

How our demons fuel witch-hunts

Shieldfield: how did it happen?


The evidence of Professor Barker

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Crusade or witch-hunt?

Do you care to go to jail?

Care goes on trial

A global village rumour

What the BBC did not tell us

Crusade or witch-hunt?

Do you care to go to jail?

End this cruel injustice

The new injustices

Similar fact evidence

Trawling goes on trial


The Cosgrove letter
 

ONE OF THE MOST important documents in the entire Shieldfield case, which would eventually be quoted in its entirety by Mr Justice Eady in his judgment, was a six-page letter written by Patrick Cosgove QC to Brian Scott, the assistant head of legal services at Newcastle City Council.

When the Review Team's report had been published in November 1998, Scott had, as a matter of courtesy, forwarded two copies to Cosgrove who had represented Dawn Reed at the criminal trial. He in turn passed the second copy to Aidan Marron QC who had been Leading Counsel for the Crown. He then read the report himself in its entirety.

When, on 16 November, Patrick Cosgove wrote back to Scott to thank him for sending the copies of the report, the letter which he sent was much more than a formal acknowledgment.

 

The full text of his letter is reproduced here:


__________________________________________________________


                                                                                              
Dear Mr. Scott,
                         
Report: ‘Abuse in Early Years’

Thank you for sending me two copies of the above report. The second I have passed on to Aidan Marron QC, who was Leading Counsel for the Crown in the criminal trial of Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed.

Although I was Leading Counsel for Miss Reed in that trial, I have no continuing professional interest. My continuing interest is in helping to ensure that we can all learn from this case how best to improve the course of justice.

Rightly, there has been much praise of many of the people who were involved in the criminal investigation, such as police officers and social workers. They and others, such as the lawyers in the case, were edging forward in trying to improve their understanding and abilities in these difficult matters. No-one can doubt that the objectives are (a) to protect children, and (b) to do justice by all parties.

I could not agree more with the observation made at the beginning of the Report (page i), namely that: ‘Given the proposed massive expansion nationally of day care provision in early years settings this case raises important lessons for consideration in relation to the delivery of services to young children outside their families.’

It is tragic, therefore, that the Review Team has laboured for so long only to bring forward a report that is fundamentally flawed.

Both academic literature and forensic experience indicate that justice has been hindered by incorrect prejudices that sexual abuse doesn’t happen in the family, or isn’t committed by natural parents, or by women generally, or by a mother, or by caring professionals outside the home. Our increased understanding leads most of us to reject any such prejudices.

Modern prejudices are more likely to be twofold. At one extreme is the prejudgment that complaints of sexual abuse are likely to be the creation of some form of false memory syndrome. At the other extreme is the prejudgment that sexual abuse once suspected is present, and the only difficulty is in obtaining the evidence to prove it.

The Report’s authors implicitly criticise unsolicited correspondents who fall into the trap of the former. There is considerable evidence throughout the Report that they themselves have fallen into the latter prejudgment.

The only safe approach is to keep an open mind in each case, to approach the evidence as objectively as possible in order to discover what it shows. In a free society that is the function of a Court, not the function of investigators, nor of persons with a therapeutic responsibility, nor of teams like the authors of this Report.

It is clear that Professor Davies (see the first paragraph of Appendix 6) has had sight of the Ruling of Mr. Justice Holland in the criminal trial, given on 13th July 1994, but it is not clear whether the authors of the Report have read it.

If they have not done so, they have been grossly negligent. If they have read it, their conduct is disgraceful. Nowhere in the Report is there sufficient reference to the Ruling. That fact and the way in which the Report deals with the issues also dealt with in the Ruling lead to the inevitable misleading, even deception of the Report’s readers.

It should be remembered that Mr. Justice Holland delivered his judgment after careful consideration of the evidence.

The Crown Prosecution Service, no doubt acting on the advice of the police and of counsel, brought forward an indictment based on the six best cases (all of them involving Mr. Lillie and four of them involving Miss Reed) from the point of view of the prosecution. No-one, to my knowledge, has questioned the industry or judgment of the prosecution in this case.

Of those six, one complainant (identified in the Report as Child F) was taken as a ‘test case’ for preliminary submissions. The details of how this was done are set out clearly in Mr. Justice Holland’s Ruling. The Report’s authors, to be fair, (see pages 148, 225 and 277) also appear to identify this young girl as providing the best evidence in the case.

It is helpful, at this stage, to set out what Mr. Justice Holland said about this child’s evidence. In the following quotation I have quoted the Judge verbatim, except that I have substituted ‘Child F’ for the girl’s real name. The passage is to be found at pages 17 and 18 of the Ruling.

‘It is convenient to start with the Crown’s case against Miss Reed. As to this I do not regard any of the statement as set out by me, as disclosed by the recordings, potentially probative of anything at all against Miss Reed. It affords, in my judgment, no evidence upon which any reasonable jury could convict her upon Count 3.

‘It is true that the second video includes a description of the indecent assault by Miss Reed that is relied upon, but the first and second videos include, effectively, total exculpation of Miss Reed. One of the striking features of both the first and second videos is the insistence with which [Child F] seeks to exculpate her, and the fact that she does so upon her own initiative. Indeed, one of the points made by Mr. Cosgrove in the course of his cross examination of WPC Foster and of Mrs. Lyon is that nobody picked up and sought to examine, in any way, this piece of initiative on the part of [Child F].

‘The statement would only become potentially probative against Miss Reed if the graphic support for her that was initiated by [Child F] herself – and that is seen on videos one and three – is put aside. I can see no basis for doing so. I remind myself that no jury can convict Miss Reed upon Count 3 without being sure and satisfied of her guilt. It is manifest on the evidence of [Child F] (as disclosed in the statement from the three videos) that there could be no basis upon which they could be sure and satisfied. Indeed, there is a rather better basis for being sure and satisfied that she is innocent of that particular charge.

‘Thus, in dealing with Miss Reed, I have no hesitation in ruling that the Crown’s application to adduce that part of the video recordings as making a statement to be relied upon in the furtherance of their prosecution of her fails.’

It may be that the Learned Judge made a slip of the tongue in the second paragraph quoted, and that he meant to refer to the first and third, not the first and second, videos. I rely on my memory for that, and I may be wrong.

In any event, in twenty two years of practice at the bar I have never heard a High Court Judge be so emphatic in an expressed view that the evidence pointed to someone’s innocence, as opposed to it being insufficient to prove his or her guilt.

During the course of the criminal trial, there were groups of people outside the Court protesting on behalf of the children. They had placards saying things like ‘We believe the kids’. On this point at least, Mr. Justice Holland believed Child F. Why are others so reluctant so to do?

The Report gives the clear and unequivocal impression that the criminal case against both Defendants collapsed only because of the difficulties in getting children’s evidence admitted in criminal trials, and that, as a result, two guilty paedophiles have wrongly gone free. The final paragraph of the body of the Report (page 303) is an example of this:

‘Like many of the professionals who we have interviewed we share the distress of parents that the Shieldfield children were not able in the end to receive justice. We find that there was a failure of the adult world to provide the processes, systems and environment to ensure that child victims of assault are not disadvantaged and are regarded as being as entitled to justice as adults.’

Yet we can see from Mr. Justice Holland’s Ruling that the primary reason why the not guilty verdict was entered against Miss Reed was that the evidence of the child pointed to her innocence. Why have the Report’s authors hidden that from their readers? Why have they deceived them into thinking otherwise? Why have they misled opinion formers and
policy makers like the Council and Members of Parliament? Why have they fed the feeding frenzy of the tabloid press?

They should pause in their righteousness and consider these questions. What if Child F is correct? What if Miss Reed is wholly innocent of any abuse? They have purported to find her guilty of a most serious criminal offence, and have done so in direct contravention of their terms of reference (see below), for which there can be no excuse.

Sexual abuse of children is horrendous. Few things approach it for awfulness. One that does is to be wrongly accused of it. There is no justice for abused children if a wrong person is accused, condemned, convicted and punished.

We do not need to look to America, to the Kelly Michael case, for examples of how people can be falsely accused. Close to home there is the ‘Bishop Auckland satanic abuse case’, for example. And we need look no further than Cleveland to see how misplaced zeal can cause a counter-reaction, and confuse the cause of protection of children.

It may be that the Report’s authors will claim that they could not refer to the Judge’s Ruling because of their Terms of Reference, particularly term 1A (at page 5): ‘it should be noted, however, that the Review cannot make any finding on matters dealt with by the Criminal Court.’ If so, that claim would be specious.

In apparent disobedience of that term of reference, the Report does make findings on matters dealt with by the Crown Court, and does so in direct contradiction to the findings made by the Court, although the Report’s authors do not have the candour to draw that to the attention of their readers. A classic example is to be found at page 148:

‘During September a child who had previously been at the nursery began to disclose abuse by Chris Lillie and Dawn Reed. The child, child F, was medically examined and clear physical evidence of sexual abuse followed. Over three video interviews, she detailed abuse of herself and other children by Chris Lillie, to a lesser extent by Dawn Reed, and she also mentioned other nursery staff’s names. Her testimony in these videos, which we have seen, is extremely powerful and provided persuasive evidence of her abuse in the nursery and elsewhere.’

In at least one other respect there is a material contradiction between the conclusions drawn by Mr. Justice Holland and the Report’s authors, and, once again, they do not draw it to the attention of their readers. This concerns the existence or otherwise of any corroborative evidence.  I quote (again verbatim) from page 8 of the Judge’s ruling:

‘. . save to the extent that the physical findings corroborate the fact of physical interference in the case of certain of the children and save to the extent that one child might provide ‘similar fact’ support for one or more of the other children, there is no corroboration of the allegations that are made. Indeed, to the extent that the children have provided detail as to venue and as to the circumstances of various incidents, no support has emerged for their contentions, despite extensive enquiries to see whether any corroborative evidence is available.’

The Learned Judge also gives significant details of the ages of the six ‘indictment children’ at various stages. Had they been included in the report, which they weren’t, readers would have been able to make their own assessments in the light of the valuable research reviews contributed by Professors Bull and Davies.

There are other elements of the Report which give rise to concern, but the ones canvassed above are particularly grave. The flaws are such that they must bring the reliability and integrity of the whole of the Report into dispute. This is a great pity, as it may well be that many of its insights and judgments have value. It would be a mistake to place reliance upon it, however, as (to adapt a line of the Report at page 130): ‘Thus, if the [authors] were wrong with one thing they could be wrong and unreliable about everything  else.’

It would be wrong to pretend that any one of us has the answers to what happened, and what went wrong. That is why people were looking forward  to the publication of the Report in the hope that it would give an indication of the best way forward. It is a matter of great disappointment that it does not.

What the Report does highlight is how many of the problems are not to do with the children or their accuracy or reliability, but with the adults, not least in their interpretation of what the child is trying to say. It is clear that that interpretation is not always as objective as the children and those caring for them have a right to expect.

One further area is of continuing concern. The parents of the children have suffered much anguish. The Report finds that children were subject to abuse by a paedophile group and were filmed for pornographic purposes. Given the other flaws in the Report, it would be foolish to rely upon these findings. They may or may not be true. If not true, the authors of the Report are guilty of unnecessarily causing yet more pain to the parents.

It is to be hoped that such a dangerous document does not have a lasting influence.

I appreciate that the Council is now in an impossible position, having agreed to publish the report without any amendments. I do ask, however, that a copy of Mr. Justice Holland’s Ruling (amended only by removing identification of the children) be appended to every copy of the Report that is published or distributed. In this way, readers will have a more balanced picture.

I have yet to decide to whom I will send a copy of this letter, but I would be grateful if you would draw it to the attention, at least, of the appropriate chief officers, the chairs of the relevant committees and to the Leader of the Council.

Within the constraints of time, I would be willing to expand upon any of the points raised, preferably in a face to face meeting.

Yours sincerely,


Patrick Cosgrove QC

__________________________________________________________

Patrick Cosgrove’s letter, written by a barrister who had no continuing professional interest in the case, was remarkable enough. What is even more remarkable is that the prosecution barrister, Aidan Marron QC, who had also read the report, asked if he could countersign this letter and associate himself with its contents.

Yet although, in December 1998, Patrick Cosgrove explicitly gave Newcastle City Council permission to make his letter public, they did not do so.

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© Richard Webster, 2002

www.richardwebster.net

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