The prison governor, the notice and the question of compensation
the story of Shieldfield
Shieldfield news and links
Shieldfield: how did it happen?
The report of the Home Affairs Select Committee
Trawling goes on trial
Do you care to go to jail?
Care goes on trial
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
The Cosgrove letter
How our demons fuel
response of ACAL
ONE OF THE MOST revealing
responses to the Shieldfield libel judgment has come from ACAL, the
Association of Child Abuse Lawyers. This British organisation was founded
in 1997 by former barrister Lee Moore in order to give support to those
who allege they are victims of child sexual abuse and to lawyers who seek
to help them. Although the aims of the society might seem to be entirely
praise-worthy, there is sometimes a reluctance on the part of its leading
members even to acknowledge the possibility that false allegations of
sexual abuse are made and can have devastating consequences for people who
are entirely innocent.
ACAL's press officer, Peter Garsden, is a partner
in the Cheshire firm of Abney Garsden Macdonald, a firm of solicitors
which specialises in seeking compensation on behalf of alleged victims of
sexual abuse. He gave his views on the outcome of the libel trial to Jon
Robins of Lawdirect, an online news
service run by the leading legal publishers Butterworths.
One of the most striking
is that he expresses no sympathy at all for Dawn
Reed and Chris Lillie and makes no reference to their nine-year ordeal.
Instead he is said to be 'troubled' by the judgment and concerned that it
may deter experts from participating in inquiries to unearth abuse.
The fitting rejoinder to such
concerns is that of Professor Laurence Lustgarten on the
response to Christian Wolmar's similar views (see above). Mr Justice
Eady's conclusion that the qualified privilege which would normally have
protected the four authors was destroyed by their dishonesty in
'[including] in their report a number of fundamental claims which they
must have known to be untrue' is, we are told, not one that Garsden
accepts: 'Just as you can say what you like in parliament why should there
be an exception here?'
The only reasonable inference one may draw from
these words is that Garsden believes that members of an inquiry team
should be protected by the law even if they dishonestly conceal evidence
which might point to the innocence of those accused, and even if, as in
the Shieldfield case, such dishonesty plays a part in driving completely
innocent citizens to the brink of suicide.
What is most extraordinary about the views Peter
Garsden expresses is not so much the fact that he has voiced them but that
a leading legal publisher should take them seriously and relay them to the
Garsden's views on the
Shieldfield case are entirely in keeping with
earlier this year to the House of Commons Select
Committee during their inquiry into police trawling.
Although those of us who campaigned to bring this
inquiry into existence have always acknowledge that sexual abuse in care
homes is a real and serious problem, Garsden is evidently unable to
recognise that there are two sides to the debate. He does concede that
some witnesses may have exaggerated or even invented allegations of abuse.
But he simultaneously makes the extraordinary claim that no one who has
been convicted as a result 'is entirely blameless'. In an even
more remarkable pronouncement he refers to those who are campaigning
against miscarriages of justice on behalf of innocent care workers as
belonging to 'the abuser lobby'.
The views Garsden has expressed both
about Shieldfield and about trawling are also in keeping with the general
position adopted by ACAL. This organisation, whose inaugural conference in
1999 was chaired by the journalist Christian Wolmar, presents itself as
offering help and support to victims of child abuse. But its role is in
practice rather different. It is in effect an organisation which provides
help and support to those who make allegations
of sexual abuse. In particular it supports claims made for financial
compensation. It even offers to train witnesses in the art of giving
evidence. Its general presumption appears to be that allegations of sexual
abuse are always, or almost always, true.
This presumption is one which
ACAL appears more than happy to extend not only to retrospective
allegations made against care workers, but also to allegations of satanic
ritual abuse. Indeed, as is acknowledged on
the founder of the organisation, barrister Lee Moore, actually believes
that she is herself a victim of ritual abuse and that she 'experienced
Satanic ritual abuse throughout childhood'.
An article about Moore which appeared in the
Times Literary Supplement (29 January
1999) implied that she had no memories of the twelve years during which,
from the age of three to the age of fifteen, she had been brought up
inside what she later identified as a satanic cult.
According to the article her life during this
period had been so traumatic that she had 'dissociated' herself from it.
It was only after she had a nervous breakdown forty years later that
she had, 'with the help of her psychiatrist, pieced together her life of
fear growing up in an organised abuse ring' where she had been 'abused by
carers, friends and acquaintances both male and female'.
Anyone who sincerely believes that they spent
twelve years of their childhood being systematically abused inside a
satanic cult, that they repressed the memory of this abuse and only
recovered it forty years later with the help of a psychiatrist, deserves
the utmost sympathy and understanding.
What is truly disturbing, however, is that this
belief has become one of the foundation stones of a professional
organisation of lawyers which is now acting as a pressure group on behalf
of those who make allegations of abuse.
Even more disturbing is that this organisation
appears to be taken seriously not only by the publishers Butterworths, who
have on occasion offered it sponsorship, but also by the Law Society
� Richard Webster, 2002