The Times
Educational Supplement


Career fallout from a legal blast 1

Terry Philpot

Published: 18 October 2002

It is not often that I agree with Richard Webster's views about child abuse but his call for Richard Barker, who led the Shieldfield inquiry, to resign from Northumbria University or be dismissed deserves the fullest support ("Why he must go", THES , October 11).

Webster does not mention, however, Barker's view, as reported in the same issue ("Was it a mistake or malice?") that the judgment against him and fellow defendants in July's libel action implies that the inquiries of the sort his team conducted might in future only be done by lawyers used to the court room.

Dozens of child abuse inquiries have been chaired by people from a variety of backgrounds, including distinguished lawyers such as Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and (now) Judge Stephen Sedley. They have not conducted their inquiries in the manner of "the court room", unless one counts a detailed concern for evidence.

Where inquiries have not had a lawyer as chairperson - and most have not - they invariably had a lawyer as part of the team. Shieldfield did not, but surely Barker, as chairperson, could have asked for one? One virtue of lawyers is a regard for the facts.

People should not shy away from conducting inquiries because of what happened to Barker and his team. There is a firm emphasis in child abuse investigations by social workers that children should be listened to. Ironically, in this case when some children said what the inquiry apparently did not want to hear - that they had not been abused - they were not listened to.

The fault lies not in the inquiry system but in the way it was conducted.

Barker says: "This case isn't really about me, it is about all the trauma that so many families have been through over so many years." This is misleading. It could imply that there was the widespread abuse that the inquiry claimed but for which a criminal trial found no evidence.

In fact, the initial investigations and trial created trauma but the way that Barker's inquiry dealt with its task only added to that. Instead of self-serving statements, he would be better advised to apologise to those families and to the two workers whose lives have been ruined.

Terry Philpot
Limpsfield, Surrey

Career fallout from a legal blast 2

Pamela Briggs

Published: 18 October 2002

I am a colleague of Richard Barker, although I do not know him personally. I do, however, know something about the psychology of child testimony, having published in that area. I cannot agree with the argument of Richard Webster who insists that Barker be dismissed. Barker is criticised for the way he gained access to video footage of child testimony in the Shieldfield inquiry.

The criminal court ruled this video evidence inadmissible. Surely the police are partly to blame for not releasing key video evidence unless given certain assurances? And was not the greater crime, then, that of the child interviewers, who should have used appropriate methods?

Pamela Briggs
Chair of applied cognitive psychology
Northumbria University

Career fallout from a legal blast 3

Richard Osborne

Published: 18 October 2002

Richard Barker's claim that he lost his libel case because of a clash between two different systems that use different languages is self-serving humbug. The trial was about a clash not of systems and languages but of truth and falsehood. It is certainly not the case, as said in the interview, that the videotaped evidence of the children "while taken seriously by the review team, was dismissed by the court".

The review team gave scant attention to the videos. Barker said in his witness statement that they "did not have much evidential value one way or the other". It was the court that meticulously examined the videos and concluded that they provided evidence that the children had been pressured, coaxed and led by anxious adults.

Richard Osborne
S. J. Cornish Solicitors for Newcastle nursery nurses
Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed

Do the decent thing

Published: 25 October 2002

Richard Barker cites two reasons why he should be allowed to carry on in his post as professor of social work at Northumbria University: that he is a successful academic and has colleagues' support ("Was it a mistake or was it malice?", THES , October 11).

How can someone who has been shown, in the very activities in which he is meant to have expertise and generate trust, to be entirely lacking in professional judgement and integrity be considered successful? How can the sympathy inevitably felt by colleagues for someone in his plight be mistaken by him for a vote of confidence?

Barker should do the decent thing and resign. If not, his institution must come to his aid - and to its own - and do it for him.

Howard Moss
School of European Languages
University of Wales Swansea