Trawling goes on trial
ON THURSDAY 14 SEPTEMBER 1995, a very unusual meeting took place in the Methodist church hall in Congleton, Cheshire. It was called at the request of Cheshire police, who had arranged for all parents with sons in the local Boys’ Brigade to be contacted. Many of these boys had recently returned from the summer camp organised by two Brigade officers, Brian Hudson and Danny Smith.
Yet although both Hudson and Smith were regular worshippers at the chapel, neither was present that evening. They were in prison. At 7am on 21 July, just as he was about to drive the children to camp at St Ives, in Cornwall, Hudson was arrested. He just had time to make a telephone call to Smith, who then spent the rest of the morning desperately trying to find another driver. Then, at midday, he too was arrested. The boys’ summer camp had to be delayed, before going ahead without them.
Two years earlier, Cheshire police had launched a full-scale investigation into Danesford Community Home, run by the Methodist charity, National Children’s Homes (NCH), where both Hudson and Smith had been employed as full-time care workers. The police had traced and interviewed former pupils. In the process, they had collected a number of allegations of sexual abuse against Hudson and Smith, which led to their arrests.
The police now turned their attention to the Boys’ Brigade where, they felt, there would surely be further complaints.
At the meeting in Congleton, police officers asked parents among the 40-50 people present at the meeting to talk to their sons in order to establish if anything had happened to them. “I suppose you could say the police were only doing their job”, said Judith Talbot, one of the parents, “but that’s being charitable. They would talk about ‘Hudson’, calling him by just his surname, and immediately follow it with references to paedophiles. They never actually said that Brian and Danny were paedophiles, but they certainly managed to imply it.”
“The one thing that stuck in my mind”, explained Keitha Short, another parent, “was when they said, ‘You think you know them, but do you?’”
When police mentioned that disabled children might be targeted by paedophiles, Judith Talbot felt that they were referring to her own son, Adrian (who had been born with a brain tumour). She angrily stood up. “I said that as far as I was concerned, Adrian had had a great deal of help and support from both Brian and Danny, and that he’d benefited from it enormously. I said that I was extremely grateful, and had no worries whatsoever.”
Many of those present were taken aback by the attitude of the police. As responsible parents, they had already spoken to their children and been reassured that nothing was amiss. There was also great respect in the community for Hudson and Smith. The mood of the meeting became increasingly tense.
From the point of view of the police, and the social worker accompanying them, the meeting had not gone according to plan. At the end, they invited parents to take away two leaflets. “One was a garish pink leaflet about sexual abuse,’ recalled David Short. “We were told to read it and think about what we had seen and heard and what we knew about Danny and Brian.”
This leaflet, “Coping With Sexual Abuse”, was published by Cheshire County Council. Many parents were shocked to discover that it contained a section on how to claim from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. It specifically explained that ‘You are still able to get compensation even if the person who assaulted you is found not guilty’. [our italics]
“I think it’s a terrible piece of paper to hand out”, said David Short. “It implies that you can get compensation if you make a complaint, whether the person complained about is innocent or not. For some people, that’s almost an invitation.”
After the meeting, not a single allegation was forthcoming against either Smith or Hudson but, undeterred, the police proceeded with the case against them.
In the north-west, some 40 men have been charged with serious offences. (25 have been charged in Cheshire alone.) Nearly all have been convicted, and sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment.
Over one-third of Britain’s police forces are currently [ie in May 1998]
engaged in major investigations into abuse. In January 1998, Greater
Manchester Police revealed that they had opened an inquiry into abuse
allegations, some dating back more than 40 years, in seven children’s
homes. The total cost of these investigations and legal proceedings
already runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. No other country has
experienced anything like it.
But this is a long way from the horrifying picture which the media now regularly presents to the public. For so numerous are the allegations gathered in recent years that many people now believe “children’s homes” are synonymous with abuse and that, in recent times, it was the norm rather than the exception for residential workers to engage in the sexual abuse of those in their care.
This view of children’s homes first began to emerge in about 1990, just as allegations of the satanic abuse of children – in Nottingham, Rochdale, the Orkneys and elsewhere – were beginning to be discredited. Some of those who had been zealous in their pursuit of satanic cults were now forced to adapt their beliefs. The term “satanic abuse” gradually lost ground as the majority of those working in the field began to favour the more guarded phrase. “organised abuse”.
The use of this term was encouraged both by the British Association of Social Workers and the Department of Health. “By using a neutral term,” wrote Jean La Fontaine, professor of social anthropology at the London School of Economics, “both organisations hoped to avoid a damaging split between those who believed the allegations of ‘satanic’ or ‘ritual’ abuse and those who did not.” At the same time that this change of terminology was adopted alarming rumours about “organised” abuse in children’s homes began to circulate and were endorsed by a number of child protection professionals. Alongside the discredited theory of satanic abuse there thus grew up the belief that children’s home’s had actually been taken over by paedophile rings.
The first two major care-home investigations were those of Ralph Morris at Castle Hill school in Ludlow, Shropshire by West Mercia police, and of Frank Beck by Leicestershire police. Morris ran a private school and as soon as his affairs were subject to scrutiny his credibility evaporated because he had made any number of false claims and dealt dishonestly with the local authorities.
The Beck case was different. Beck, a Liberal Democrat councillor and a prominent local figure, was the first fully-qualified child-care worker ever employed by Leicestershire social services. He held positions of considerable trust. In 1989, however, a few well-placed people became convinced that a paedophile ring was being operated in the county’s children’s homes, and that this might involve not only sexual abuse but also murder and the production of ‘snuff’ films. Although no evidence for such a ring was ever found, Leicestershire police collected a large number of allegations against Beck. In November 1991, he was found guilty on a total of 17 charges of indecent assault, buggery and rape, as well as actual bodily harm.
This was the turning-point. To those undertaking investigations, it was the awful confirmation of all the rumours and anxieties that were circulating. Those training police officers and social workers in child protection work could say to their audience: look at Frank Beck. He didn’t appear dangerous, everyone had complete trust in him and there was at the outset no evidence at all that he was a paedophile. Yet he ended up with five life terms.
In the aftermath of the Ralph Morris case, Shropshire County Council published a report referring to “organised institutional abuse. In fact the Castle Hill investigation had involved only a single care worker and had yielded no evidence of any organised abuse. In this atmosphere, the rooting out of organised institutional abuse became a priority. A number of major inquiries were launched, including those in North Wales, Cheshire and Merseyside.
The task which had faced the police from the outset was to develop a form of investigation which would be successful in securing convictions, despite the evidential difficulties. Since sexual abuse is, almost invariably, an unwitnessed crime, and since abuse which is alleged to have happened a long time ago will not be susceptible to confirmation by medical evidence, retrospective prosecutions for abuse used to have little chance of success.
In 1991 however, just before the trial of Frank Beck, a new legal ruling made it easier to present allegations from different complainants in the same trial. In a case known as the Director of Public Prosecutions v P, the House of Lords lowered the threshold for the admissibility of “similar fact” evidence by dispensing with the legal requirement for “striking similarities”. This effectively removed the safeguard against convictions being obtained merely by advancing a sufficiently large number of uncorroborated allegations.
Once these new judicial conditions emerged, a certain kind of police procedure was almost inevitably indicated. An initial allegation was unlikely to lead, as in an ordinary investigation, to the arrest and questioning of the suspect; rather the allegation would be treated as a signal to interview other possible complainants to establish whether there were further allegations. The most extensive police investigations into care homes set out to contact all adults who had been in care during a particular period.
Such “trawling” operations constitute, in terms of the history of policing, an extraordinary innovation. The startling nature of their departure from standard police procedure was perhaps best summed up by a senior officer from the north-west, who pointed out that these investigations used “the reverse of normal police methods”. He went on to explain that, as a rule, the police begin with a crime and set out to find who has committed it. In the case of retrospective investigations into care homes, they begin with a suspect and then try out to find out whether he has committed any crimes. When asked how this could be achieved, the officer replied that corroboration was “generally done by volume”. The principle relied on was, in effect, that of “corroboration by quantity”.
This turning upside-down of normal police methods has far-reaching implications. Police forces normally spend their time collecting evidence in relation to crimes whose reality no one doubts; they embark on retrospective care home inquiries without knowing whether the crimes they are investigating have taken place at all.
Most lay observers assume that abuse inquiries are launched only in response to a large number of spontaneous complaints. In reality, the opposite is true. The overwhelming majority of the allegations which emerge in these investigations are not made spontaneously but are collected by police officers who are actively seeking complaints.
In many cases the police make their first contact with former care home residents by literally knocking on their door. They may ask specifically whether they have any complaints about their time in care, or whether they were ever abused. Sometimes officers will follow up this initial visit, during which their readiness to receive allegations is often apparent, with a second a few days later. They will then take a statement. Frequently, witnesses who have said at first that they have no complaints make allegations during this second visit. Such contradictory testimony is usually treated as a sign that the alleged abuse was real, but that the witness was initially inhibited because of fear or embarrassment.
Police officers can also make use of local and national news media to publicise investigations which have been launched. These police forays are essentially begging-bowl operations, in which they attempt to alleviate the poverty of the original evidence against a suspect by collecting large numbers of allegations which might not otherwise have been made.
In other investigations the initial contact with witnesses is made by means of a letter in which they are invited to complain about abuse they may have suffered. In September 1997, the following letter was sent to former residents of one school:
I am the senior investigating officer of the above operation which is currently investigating allegations of child abuse reported to have taken place within a number of residential establishments in the Merseyside area.
I am aware from records provided to me that in times past you have been a resident at St Georges/Clarence House School in Formby, whilst in the care of a local authority. I am concerned that there is a possibility that such abuse may have taken place whilst you were in residence there.
If you have any information or if we can help with any complaint you may have, please respond by completing and returning the attached slip using the enclosed pre-paid envelope or by contacting a member of my staff using the above telephone number.
MAY I TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY OF ASSURING YOU THAT ANY INFORMATION GIVEN OR COMPLAINT MADE WILL BE TREATED IN THE STRICTEST CONFIDENCE.
Any operation in which police officers actively seek allegations against a specific suspect or institution is intrinsically dangerous. The care home investigations, however, are doubly dangerous because they involve a particular pool of witnesses.
Although these witnesses are generally referred to as former residents of children’s homes, they are not, of course, children. None of these allegations has been made by a child. Moreover, the term “children’s homes” is itself misleading. Most retrospective investigations have focused not on children’s homes at all, but on institutions which deal with exceptionally difficult adolescents, many of whom were young offenders. Many former residents are often both emotionally damaged and economically disadvantaged. A majority have criminal convictions. Some are highly suggestible; and a significant percentage are actually in prison or under arrest at the time of making a complaint.
Many people who have been in care have deep, often well-founded, resentments against “the system”. When they discover that police officers are actually offering to help them find a way of expressing their grievances, they may well be tempted to express their real but general resentment through a fictitious allegation of abuse.
The temptation will only be strengthened by the deep feelings of powerlessness and rejection felt by many who have spent their adolescence in care homes. They may now discover that they are valued and sympathetically attended to by police officers, counsellors and social workers according to the seriousness of their allegation. The power of accusation is in this respect enormous. Many damaged and emotionally vulnerable people find that this power, once tasted, proves intoxicating.
Such people may find it relatively easy to make false allegations against those who once cared for them precisely because they themselves come from troubled family backgrounds. They may have been treated badly, or even rejected, by the very people who at other times cared for them most – their parents. They may even find it difficult to conceive of a caring figure who was not simultaneously, in some sense, an abuser.
They may be driven to fabricate evidence by imagining themselves engaged in a battle against evil. To participate in such a battle can be psychologically energising, and give self-respect and a sense of purpose to those whose lives have previously lacked both.
The suggestibility of witnesses, however, is not simply psychologically conditioned. There is also a financial incentive – a substantial financial incentive.
In recent years, exceptionally large payments, sometimes totalling more than £100,000, have been made in civil court actions concerning abuse in care homes. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board has also made smaller, but still substantial, payments. Former residents have long been aware that such payments are possible. In some cases, information about compensation has been actively disseminated by local authorities. The pink leaflet given to parents at the meeting in Congleton provides one example of this. An entire sub-culture of compensation-seeking has grown up among prison inmates and those of a criminal mentality.
Some may learn indirectly through an informal network of former residents, or directly from the police, that a particular care worker is facing charges. They may assume, or even be told, that he is likely to be put away for a long time. Why not, then, add their own name to the list of complainants, and benefit from a criminal injuries hand-out?
“I met Kevin in prison about two months ago. I asked him why he was making such accusations about Mr Joiner. Kevin said, ‘I’m just after the money. You should try it yourself.’ I told him that although I did not get on well with Mr Joiner to begin with, I wouldn’t go to a court and lie over something like that. He again said that he was doing it 11for the money and that what he said against Mr Joiner was a load of nonsense.”
Nor should it be thought that individuals will not sometimes go to bizarre lengths in order to claim compensation. One of the complainants in the case against Roy Shuttleworth, a former care worker in Cheshire, actually had a previous conviction for conspiring to gain money by deception from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. He had deliberately knifed his accomplice in the back. The wound was so severe that it required 102 stitches. However, in spite of the doubts that this might reasonably have raised about the witness’s credibility and motivation, Shuttleworth was convicted partly on the basis of his testimony and is currently  serving 10 years in prison.
Both the financial plight of the witnesses and their suggestibility become even more significant when one considers that police officers do not always play a passive or neutral role in these investigations.
Once a police force has decided that a particular care worker may be guilty of abuse, it is difficult for the officers dealing with the case to avoid propagating the very suspicion they are supposed to be investigating. Just like a bumblebee pollinating a garden, the police may move from one witness to another, accidentally dropping hints and suggestions which cause the entire investigation to blossom.
One witness in a care-home case told us that when police officers visited, they told him that he had been sexually abused. They then named the man who had been abusing him. When the witness insisted this abuse had never taken place, the police informed him that he would be eligible for compensation if he said it had.
In the course of their inquiries into the conduct of Danny Smith and Brian Hudson, the police interviewed Sydney Jones, the former head of Danesford Community Home, who is today chief executive of the Boys’ Brigade.
“When the police took a statement from me”, he recalled, “they would write something down and I’d say, ‘No, that’s not what I said’. I had to get them to change it quite a bit. What they were writing down was not entirely wrong, it was a question of nuance. I was uneasy at the spin they were putting on it.”
TO THE EXTENT THAT the witness statements may actually have been shaped by the police officers conducting the interview (either through leading questions or the simple misreporting of witnesses’ words), to that same extent will they tend to confirm and substantiate the narrative of guilt which the police have already imagined. In investigations where the witnesses are fundamentally honest, the natural tendency of police officers to seek to consolidate their own narrative, even where it conflicts with the truth, will be opposed continually; but in those where the witnesses, or some of them, have much to gain by accepting a police narrative, the process of “investigation” may come to resemble the writing of fiction.
Provided that the original police narrative is powerful enough, each new witness will serve only to strengthen it further, while simultaneously disguising its true origins. Without even recognising what they are doing, police officers may actually end up creating a significant proportion of the evidence they believe they are merely uncovering. Because it has now become relatively easy to accumulate false allegations against any care worker, the present situation is alarming. What the police have inadvertently created is a machine for bringing about miscarriages of justice.
Ultimately, the officers themselves are completely taken in as witnesses acquiesce with their line of questioning (just as, formerly, they were taken in when suspects “confessed” to crimes they could not have committed). Whereas the vulnerable interviewee may once have ended up as the defendant, now he becomes a key prosecution witness. Should he attempt to retract his testimony prior to trial, the police can use the combination of the stick (the threat of perjury proceedings) and the carrot (the prospect of handsome compensation) to keep him in line.
The whole field of sexual offences has always been legally hazardous. Many ancient religious cultures, including Judaism and Islam, implicitly recognise this in their laws on sexual offences such as adultery. The requirement that convictions in such cases cannot be obtained unless there are witnesses is held to be entirely inappropriate to assessing cases of sexual abuse. So indeed it is. Yet what this requirement recognises is the scope for false allegations in sexual cases and the potentially tragic consequences of treating such allegations as sufficient evidence on which to convict.
The danger of upholding such a rigorous evidential criterion is that it becomes impossible to obtain any convictions in sex cases. Partly because of this perception, those involved in the field sought to accord a new status to the testimony given by children.
What made this route particularly dangerous was the way well-intentioned legal reforms coincided with a growing ideological obligation to “believe the children”. When this formula was effectively reapplied to all allegations of child sexual abuse – whether made contemporaneously by small children, or retrospectively by adults – many of the ingredients of the current miscarriages of justice were brought together. When the paedophile ring theory of abuse was applied to care homes at almost the same time that the House of Lords relaxed the criteria for “similar fact” prosecutions, the recipe for disaster was almost complete.
There was one final ingredient. The inquiries that got underway in the Nineties appeared to harness the latent homophobia of the police. Forces could conduct with absolute sincerity an exercise concerning child protection which was simultaneously a vendetta against real or presumed homosexuals. (Almost all of those convicted have been men, and the overwhelming majority of complainants have been men.)
Once a police force has used a paedophile scare to launch inquiries and
mobilise massive resources, it has to get results. In a police service
impoverished by the pressure of crude law-and-order politics, convictions
(and the length of sentences handed down) have become almost the sole
criterion of success. These inquiries certainly yielded convictions.
HEADTEACHER TERRY HOSKIN, who by the end of a long and distinguished career had established himself as one of the leaders of his profession, is one of many dedicated men who found himself in prison as a direct result of the new police methodology.
From his days as a student at Loughborough, Hoskin had been committed to residential child care. He worked initially in Leicestershire, then in Hampshire, before completing a postgraduate course in Newcastle, and being appointed a deputy head in south London. In 1974 he was appointed head of St Aidan’s in Widnes, thus becoming, at the age of 36, the youngest headteacher of a CHE (Community Home with Education) in the country.
The vast majority of boys came to St Aidan’s as a result of care orders taken out by local authorities in the wake of criminal convictions. With the opening of a secure unit, requests to take in recalcitrant youngsters increased. Referrals came both from other schools, and from local authorities, desperate to place children excluded from, or refused admission to, other establishments. By the end of 1978, the school’s roll included some of the most difficult young offenders in the north-west. However, it was not a penal institution. If boys wanted to abscond, they had every oportunity to do so.
Hoskin’s work there was impressive; one staff member, housemaster Jack Jolley, commented that he “dragged the school out of the dark ages”. The Roman Catholic home established a reputation for combining firmness with a deeply caring approach to its pupils. St Aidan’s became renowned not only locally, but much further afield. Hoskin himself served as national president of the Association of Community Homes, in which capacity he and Brenda, his wife, were invited to Buckingham Palace.
Then, in 1982, Hoskin was made head of Hesley Hall School, at Tickhill, near Doncaster. Three years later he was promoted to be head of the whole Hesley group of six schools in the area. Terry and Brenda and their children, Simon and Nicola (Niki) always lived in the schools where Terry worked. However, with Terry’s promotion in 1985 they had to move; so they bought a spacious nineteenth-century redbrick house with a walled garden just off the Market Square in Bawtry, South Yorkshire.
Niki was away on that fateful day, 9 March 1994, when it all began. After graduating in economics from Southampton University, she was in France, working the season at Val d’Isère, the popular ski resort. She only learned about the allegation a few weeks later when she returned to England. “Dad walked in the garden with me to tell me. When I heard, it was so ridiculous, I just laughed.”
Initially Hoskin had not been surprised to be asked to attend a police station. This was fairly routine in his line of work, since young people in the care system often have criminal convictions. But he was taken aback when he recognised that it was his own behaviour the police were investigating. The conversation focused on the use of the cane at St Aidan’s.
When approved schools had been replaced by CHEs in the early ‘70s, responsibility for them passed from the Home Office to the Department of Social Services. However, the latter continued to authorise the use of the cane. The regulations stipulated that boys should always be caned over their clothes, that no more than six strokes should be given, and that another member of staff should always be present. As head, it was Hoskin who caned the boys.
The police officers put to him a number of allegations from a 31-year-old man who claimed that, fifteen years previously, Hoskin had repeatedly caned him on the bare buttocks. He said that this happened late at night, when no one else was present. He then went on to claim that these canings culminated in a series of indecent assaults.
The man making the allegations, the police said, was Roy Phillips. They asked, “What’s your recollection of Phillips?” After a moment’s thought Hoskin replied, “He was, I seem to recollect, a nice-looking lad who lived fairly locally. . . He was a nice enough kid, I mean I’m amazed.”
Hoskin found the whole interview bizarre and distressing. But he remained confident that once the police had made all the necessary inquiries, they would realise that something was amiss. He therefore submitted with resignation to the routine which had become so familiar to many of his former charges. He was fingerprinted. He had his picture taken. A photograph of a distinguished grey-haired man wearing a dark blazer became part of police records.
But that visit to the police station proved to be the first of many. On each occasion he would be bailed to report back and each time he returned he was confronted with a new allegation. Or with a set of entirely new allegations.
Hoskin felt overwhelmed by events outside his control. For with the appearance of that first unexpected accusation it seemed as though a dam had been breached and an endless black river of allegations had begun to flow against him. As the months passed the number of allegations mounted until he found that he had been accused by more than forty former residents. Originally nineteen of these were included on Hoskin’s indictment and nine more were due to give similar fact evidence. In the event four of these witnesses simply failed to appear for the trial so that the figure of 28 complainants was reduced to 24.
In the early stages of the investigation Hoskin would respond in detail to whatever the police put to him, and explain why events could not have happened like that. “Then I stopped doing that”, he explained, “because they merely came back with slightly adjusted allegations; and, of course, until I was charged, they could keep doing that.”
He contacted Nugent Care, the Roman Catholic social services organisation in Liverpool which ran St Aidan’s, and asked if the corporal punishment records were still available. He was asked to put his request in writing. He later learned that as soon as the letter arrived, it went straight to the police. The records, which could have exonerated him, have to this day never been produced.
All the allegations related to the period between 1974 and 1981. Some went back so far that Hoskin’s defence team advised him to seek to have the charges struck out as an abuse of process. However, the judge summarily rejected the application. A standard legal manoeuvre had cost Terry and Brenda just over £40,000 – their entire life-savings – and they had accomplished nothing.
On 6 July 1994, the day that Hoskin was finally charged, the family home at Bawtry was raided by six police officers with a warrant to search the house. At this point, Brenda’s reserve cracked and she launched a tirade of abuse at them. Today, she still finds it incredible that British police can act in this way.
“What was the point of it? If Terry had done anything at all wrong, then he would have had over 17 weeks to dispose of any incriminating material. In any case, it simply wasn’t a proper search. They were in the house for two hours, looking at videos and photographs. They didn’t bother to search the loft, or the outbuildings.”
The family were angered by the fact that the police took Terry and Brenda’s wedding photographs, as well as mementoes of their work together – including shots of Brenda in fancy-dress at the Christmas shows that the staff would put on for the children. The police also took away 40 videos, all of Formula 1 motor-races – one of Terry’s passions which the entire family had come to share. More importantly, they took away the floppy discs on which Hoskin had been preparing his defence.
This created a serious problem for him. A friend who had access to police data had been helping him with his defence. Hoskin had referred to this source as “AL”. From subsequent interviews, Hoskin realised that the police had jumped to the conclusion that “AL” was Alan Langshaw, the former officer-in-charge of St Vincent’s Community Home, who was at that time facing allegations of sexual abuse. It was difficult for Hoskin to persuade the police they were wrong; he did not wish to compromise his source.
The Crown case was advanced on the premise that, although it had taken 24 boys, now adults, over 15 years to bring themselves to tell their stories, so many different complainants could not possibly all be wrong.
Some witnesses claimed to remember exactly how many strokes of the cane they had received 15 years earlier, yet were unable to recollect precisely where this had taken place. However, one witness, who testified to oral sex and indecent assault, said that it had all taken place in the general office.
“This was the first room that you came to when you went into the school”, explained Hoskin. “There was an adjoining unlocked door to the deputy’s office, which would be used by all staff. Yet, in that room next door, this kid was supposedly being sexually abused in the middle of the day. On one occasion, according to his testimony, I was waiting for him with my trousers down.”
One of the statements which stood out was that of the second complainant, Jimmy Gilpin, 31, who had been convicted in 1992 of aggravated burglary with a shotgun. He claimed that Hoskin had caned him on his bare buttocks three to four times a week for a period of three-and-a-half years: “Each time would be the same. I was not aware of anything I had done to deserve these canings. When I asked what I had done, Hoskins [sic] would say ‘Well, if you don’t know it’s not for me to say.’ Hoskins would never let me leave the room without crying. My backside was often bleeding where the cane has struck it.”
Gilpin’s claims would mean that, while under Hoskin’s care, he had received more than 2,000 strokes of the cane. According to a medical opinion obtained after the trial from Dr Robin Moffat, a Harley Street specialist, such beatings, inflicted on already-damaged flesh, would have resulted in permanent scarring.
Nevertheless, Gilpin’s statement was accepted at face value by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. They were unable, however, to advance any medical evidence in support of it. On the contrary, the school doctor testified that he saw no sign of physical or sexual abuse on any boy while Hoskin was in charge of the school. In fact, there was no supporting evidence of any kind.
The prosecution made no attempt to explain why Hoskin had apparently behaved normally while employed in Leicestershire, Hampshire, London and Yorkshire, and abnormally only when working in Cheshire. Also, his family were bewildered and upset by one aspect of the presentation of the prosecution case. In both his opening and closing speeches, the Crown counsel, Alex Carlile QC, referred to Hoskin’s “Jekyll-and-Hyde personality”.
“Personally I was outraged that such a tactic was used,” says Niki Hoskin. It was the standard reply to any suggestion that Dad was not the personification of evil the prosecution would have us believe. It wasn’t ‘these are the facts and we’re going to prove it’ it was ‘here’s our excuse for the nice things people are going to say about him.’ It seems to me that there is no defence to such a characterisation.”
Another tactic used by Carlile was to seize upon Hoskin’s “nice-looking lad” remark in the first police interview and to use it tellingly both during cross-examination and in his closing speech. The Hoskin family is acutely aware of the damage this remark caused. But, as Niki Hoskin pointed out, “If you’d abused somebody and the police mention their name to you, you don’t immediately say ‘Yes, he’s a nice-looking boy’”.
The trial was nearly halted when one of the jurors was arrested on armed robbery charges; but the defence allowed it to continue with eleven jurors. The trial wound to its conclusion. Hoskin was convicted on every one of the 21 counts of physical and sexual abuse. “When he was sentenced to eight years”, recalls Niki, “I just screamed.”
THE LATTER STAGES OF the trial were witnessed by an old family friend, Chris Saltrese. He was actually a solicitor, although he had initially specialised in commercial law and at that time had rarely been involved in criminal cases. As the son of a former head of a Community Home, and as somebody who had been brought up in the environment of a care home, he was familiar both with the ethos of such homes and with the kind of residents they catered for.
Saltrese knew very well that sexual
abuse did sometimes take place in care homes. His own father worked for
Nugent Care and had direct knowledge of the Langshaw case. But neither
Saltrese nor his father found the case against Hoskin at all persuasive.
When he was convicted Saltrese felt that the least he could do was to
offer to examine the papers.
that the statements relied on by the prosecution were full of
inconsistencies, untruths and impossibilities he rapidly became sceptical
about the manner in which the police had investigated Hoskin. “The
more I studied the evidence,” he says, “the more disturbed I became.
started to read with meticulous attention the evidence which had not
formed part of the prosecution case at the trial.
It was only when he placed all the statements from the unused evidence in which no complaints had been made alongside those in which there were complaints that he began to glimpse, for the very first time, an underlying pattern.
A witness statement taken by a police officer is a special kind of construction. Although it is presented as a straightforward record of what one person has said, it is, in just about every case, the record of a conversation; it is a report of a dialogue which has been edited into a monologue.
As Saltrese now recognised, the art of reading police statements forensically depends on reconstructing the part of the conversation not recorded – the words actually spoken by the police but attributed to the witness. Negative statements tend to ‘stain’ police questions, so that what is normally invisible becomes visible. If a witness’s statement reads, ‘I was never caned by Mr Hoskin’, this is almost certainly because the witness answered ‘No’ to a question put by a police officer: ‘Were you ever caned by Mr Hoskin?’ There were many such examples in the unused evidence and the more closely Saltrese studied this, the more convinced he became that it could be used to unlock the entire investigation. ‘It was quite clear from the statements,’ he says, ‘that police officers were specifically asking potential witnesses whether they had been abused by named individuals. They were not only introducing names, but also ideas.’
This might explain certain features of the Crown statements that would otherwise be difficult to account for. In the trial it was notable that only two of the fifteen complainants had described Hoskin’s clothes. Both said he usually wore blazers. But this was not the case. “During his time at St Aidan’s, Dad always wore suits,” said Niki. “Usually they were light-coloured suits. He only started wearing a blazer after we moved to Hesley.” Similarly, of the fifteen complainants, only half gave a description of Hoskin, and, of these, five said that his hair was grey. During his time at St Aidan’s his hair was brown. It was grey, however, in the Doncater photograph. The grey-haired man wearing a blazer was not someone any of the complainants had encountered while at St Aidan’s. It was, however, the person the police had encountered when they first saw him in March 1994.
One of the statements which puzzled Saltrese was made in prison by Steve Carter, then 31, a former St Aidan’s pupil. His statement contained the allegation that he was caned ‘on the bare buttocks’ by Mr Hoskin, but surprisingly continued: ‘I cannot remember Mr Hoskin touching me in an indecent manner or suggesting anything indecent to me while I was at St Aidan’s. Again, I have no complaints to make against Mr Hoskin.’
Saltrese was able to trace Steve Carter without difficulty; he was in prison. Saltrese gave Carter a copy of the statement he had made and Carter immediately said that it did not match his own memories of St Aidan’s. He then wrote out a fresh statement: “After such a long time, I would not be able to remember the name of the headmaster without police prompting.” he wrote. “Nor do I recall ever being caned on the bare backside.”
Carter explained that prisoners do not like being seen talking to policemen, and he would have signed the statement simply in order to get rid of them. But he did clearly recall one detail of the interview: ‘I remember the police asking if, when caned by Mr Hoskin, did he ever touch me with the cane in an indecent manner? i.e. did he put the cane between my buttocks or touch my genitals? I replied no to this, jokingly asking the police would I get compensation if I said yes. They replied along the lines of “I suppose so”.’
Saltrese’s visit to Carter seemed to confirm the hypothesis he had already formed: that, by asking leading questions (perhaps without even recognising that they were doing so), the police had actually suggested to witnesses the very kind of indecent assault which Hoskin had been accused of in the original allegation.
If Carter – either to ingratiate himself with the police, or to gain compensation – had accepted their suggestion, then he too might have been standing in the witness box as one of Terry Hoskin’s accusers. Nobody would then have suspected that a highly specific detail of the case against Hoskin had inadvertently been supplied by the very police officers who were supposed to be investigating it.
But what about that very first allegation, the one made by the “nice-looking lad”? Roy Phillips was sent to St Aidan’s in 1978 shortly before his sixteenth birthday after having been convicted of attempted burglary. In June 1993, within a week of returning home on bail from a period of remand in Walton prison, he had an argument at home and slashed his wrists with a kitchen knife. The police were called and Phillips was subsequently admitted to a psychiatric hospital which discharged him after three weeks. During the next two months, in a series of interviews with his probation officer, he made the allegation which formed the starting point of the case against Hoskin. Immediately after completing another spell in prison, he contacted the police and made a detailed complaint to them.
As a result of a single allegation which appears to have been endlessly multiplied in the echo chamber of the police’s investigative methods, Hoskin’s entire life has been destroyed. The man who once visited Buckingham Palace as a leader of his profession is today the guest of Her Majesty in a very different capacity.
Saltrese, now the solicitor not only for Hoskin but also others in his
position, is applying for leave to appeal against conviction. “I am a
hundred per cent sure that Terry is a completely innocent man,” he says.
HOWEVER MUCH HOSKIN TRIES, he can’t always conceal his anger about what has happened to him and his family. “I seriously thought that I’d come out at the end of the trial a free man”, he says, “I knew I’d done nothing, and I thought the statements would be knocked down one by one.” At the time he was first interviewed, Hoskin was already aware of the police investigations into care homes. “I thought, I’m sorry, you’ve picked the wrong one this time – someone who’s probably one of the best residential care workers they’ve come across. But, by God, they won in the end, didn’t they?
“After 32 years of serving this country, of looking after its most difficult kids, here I am doing eight years. Can you imagine how I feel? I’ve lost all respect for the police. And the judge congratulated them at the end! While I was banged up in Walton that night, those men would have been out celebrating. It’s appalling.
“I have refused to join a therapy programme for sex offenders because I am not a sex offender. I could be eligible for parole after four years, but to do that I have to show remorse and I can’t show remorse for something I’ve not done. They may send me off to Siberia because of that, thinking I’m being awkward. But I’m not being awkward, I’m just being honest.
“I survive because of my belief in myself, and in Chris, who is working for the truth to come out, and obviously my family, who are super. I still believe that goodness will shine through in the end.”
Hoskin’s case is merely one of many. The courtroom has so far provided no adequate safeguards against wrongful convictions and the succession of aggrieved complainants entering the witness-box appears to tell its own story. Juries are overwhelmed both by the sheer number of allegations and by their obscenity. They often react by suspending their critical judgment. Even the best solicitors encounter unprecedented difficulties in presenting a defence case. With so many allegations in the air, an atmosphere of fear is created. Staff members are reticent about giving evidence on behalf of former colleagues lest they find themselves accused next. At the same time, the care-home records which are essential if the case is to be properly defended have often either gone astray, or are not made available to the defence. Most importantly, the defendants in these cases are generally doomed by the potency of the image of child abuse: the notion of small vulnerable children falling victim to adults.
One perspective on all this is provided by Phil Fiddler, an enthusiastic and committed Liverpool care worker who recalled with some vehemence one of the men who made allegations against him. “When you say child abuse, you think of poor defenceless kids, and OK some have been”, he agreed. “But Joe Cartwright isn’t helpless. He wasn’t helpless in 1984. If Cartwright was presented with a meal he didn’t like, he’d kick up shit about it. If there was any abuse going on, he’d have been screaming it far and wide.”
Although it has been almost impossible for those charged in care home cases to secure acquittals, Phil Fiddler, despite facing two separate trials, is one of the few found not guilty. This was partly because he had unique access to documentary records, which enabled him to disprove many allegations; and partly because a former colleague, Jane Kennedy, now MP for Liverpool Wavertree, gave evidence for him in the first trial. She was also able to put him in touch with the Merseyside solicitor, David Woods, who is now acting for defendants in a number of care home cases.
“Once allegations of this kind have been made against you”, explained Woods, “it’s almost as if you have to come up with something to prove your innocence. If that is compounded by manipulative people who are prepared to lie for financial gain, or for gain within the prison system, then the situation is ripe for injustice. Innocent people are definitely being convicted and, of course, this also devalues the claims of the genuine victims."
The only way the defence can hope to put a persuasive case to the jury is to explain in full the investigative process which has produced the allegations. “When a jury hears that several similar allegations have been made against the same person, then the prejudicial effect is likely to be devastating”, commented the solicitor Adrian Clarke, who last year chaired a meeting in London of lawyers and others concerned about convictions in care home cases. “But if there has been collusion or contamination, then the fact that various witnesses all give similar accounts may indicate that the evidence of all of them is unreliable.
“The dangers of this going unnoticed can only be reduced by the defence being able to piece together the jigsaw of the police investigation. For this, there needs to be full disclosure by police of all material from the investigation.”
However, the onus should not be on the defence to disprove allegations which have only come into being as the result of a dangerous form of investigation. As long as police trawling operations are allowed to continue, then investigations will inevitably lead to allegations and allegations, just as inexorably, will lead to convictions.
Brian Hudson and Danny Smith – described by Sydney Jones, their former head, as “exceptional residential workers; their commitment, both to the Boys’ Brigade and to the job, was quite outstanding” – have both been convicted and imprisoned. Hudson was brought to trial at Chester Crown Court in the summer of 1996. Although one allegation was clearly shown to have been false, and the jury rejected several others, he was nevertheless found guilty on four counts of indecent assault and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Smith’s case reached court later that year. Partly because of evidence which emerged and partly because he was eloquent in his own defence, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. He stood trial again in July 1997. This time, the jury reached unanimous verdicts of guilty on 12 charges. He is now serving a ten-year sentence.
Smith, Hudson, Hoskin, Shuttleworth; and there are many others … The evidence now emerging suggests that retrospective investigations into care homes have led to the gravest series of miscarriages of justice in modern British history.
The care-home investigations are built on what most people always taken to be the most solid of all foundations - the Frank Beck case: five life terms, it would seem, could brook no argument. There are those, however, who view the case differently. Bernard Greaves, formerly Director of Policy Promotion for the Liberal party, was a member of Beck’s defence team.
“When I first met Frank, he told me that he was prepared to plead guilty to some of the charges of physical assault, but that he hadn’t committed any sexual offences against children or adolescents”, he recalled. “I didn’t believe him then, but I was involved with his case for five years, and by the end I believed him completely. Over and over, the evidence, as it emerged, confirmed exactly what Frank had said.
“We didn’t have access to an enormous amount of documentation. Where we could introduce documentary evidence, we won on those charges. We won on half the charges. I think if we had had access to the social services records, we’d have won on everything. We were able to show that one witness giving evidence against Beck was only taken into a care-home after Frank had left, and that he could not possibly even have met him. Indeed, the witness came into court, and said he couldn’t see the person whom he was accusing.
“The judge insisted on striking that count from the indictment. He didn’t allow the defence to question the witness about how he came to give that evidence in the first place. That was very pertinent to the defence. What we needed to do was to be able to cross-examine him, to try to show how such a mistaken accusation could have been made. The jury might then have understood what had happened with regard to other allegations.”
The defence team was confident about its chances of overturning the conviction. As the appeal was being prepared, however, Beck died of a heart attack in Gartree prison following a game of badminton. Because his appeal was never submitted, the strength or weakness of Beck’s case will perhaps never be known.
What can be said with certainty is that, in any situation where false allegations are allowed to proliferate, genuine victims may well feel distressed and threatened when those false allegations are brought to light.
It is precisely for this reason, however, that false allegations should be exposed as soon as possible. If they are treated as genuine, then the entire currency of complaints becomes debased, and there is a real danger that children who are being abused will find themselves once more being systematically disbelieved – as has happened in the past with tragic consequences.
In the current climate, a false allegation of sexual abuse is one of the most destructive weapons there is. To make such a weapon readily available to people who are themselves deeply damaged, and who sometimes have criminal records for deception and dishonesty, is an act of extraordinary folly. To arrange matters so that we make it relatively easy to obtain large financial rewards by fabricating allegations is to compound that folly with a madness.
The only reason that we have continued in this state of folly for as long as we have is that most of us do not have to suffer the consequences. And we do not generally encounter those who do, for they are in prison. Many, such as Brian Hudson, Danny Smith and Terry Hoskin, are men who have devoted themselves to working with difficult and disadvantaged children, and have done the job exceptionally well. Their lives are now ruined not just for the duration of the prison sentence, but for ever, by the stigma of “paedophile”.
(The names of all complainants have been changed. A shorter version of this article was published in the Guardian Weekend magazine on 9 May, 1998.)
© Richard Webster, Bob Woffinden, 2003