Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. Nevertheless, broadly, perhaps not in quite the same way, you agree with your two colleagues that there had been a lot of sexual abuse of children which went unreported over many years. I do not want to put words in your mouth.
  (Mr Woffinden) There has been some sexual abuse clearly which has not been reported. Some, I would say.
  (Mr Webster) I think the problem here is what do we mean by "a lot". In the context of this discussion we have to look at that relatively. I think you are absolutely right to point to a certain atmosphere of denial that there has been in relation to allegations. One particularly interesting and significant case has already been mentioned. That is the case of Alan Langshaw who was eventually convicted as a result of a Cheshire trawling operation. Initially complaints had been made by two young boys. I believe it was in 1985 or 1986. As a result of representations made by the psychologist, David Glasgow who was involved in that case, questions were actually asked in the House. What happened then was that he protested his innocence, wrongly, and he managed to get people within the Catholic care organisation[3] who were his employers to support him, saying that he was the victim of a witch-hunt. I think this is one illustration of where there was somebody who was guilty who managed in that case to escape conviction at that point. I think that one has to follow that case through. One has to recognise the extent of the denial that there was in some cases. But one also has to see what happened as a result of that Alan Langshaw case. I know because I went to interview one of the senior figures in the care organisation concerned. It was quite clear from what he told me that as a result of their wrong and misguided support for Alan Langshaw, those senior social workers who might have demanded balance and rigour in the investigation of allegations were almost entirely discredited. That particular instance, I think, was a very dangerous one because it did open the flood gates to false allegations which were not properly scrutinised because of the precedent there. I think it is important finally to say that we must see this thing in relative terms. I would perhaps agree with the proposition that there has been—I have already said that—a lot of sexual abuse not only in children's homes but in other institutions as well. I think it is absolutely important that we recognise the scale on which this has been reported has been a gross distortion and has depended upon accepting uncritically a large number of fabricated allegations and there has been nothing like the scale of abuse which has been reported in the media.



Bob Russell

  61. Mr Webster, you mentioned earlier about individual police investigations, but this inquiry has come about because we have received reports from many parts of the country. Does this suggest to you that there may be a collusion between police forces, a liaison as to how the various methods of trawling et cetera are undertaken? Surely they are not spontaneous acts by individual police forces.
  (Mr Webster) I do not think it would be fair to use the word "collusion" because that implies some almost nefarious intent, but I think it is undoubtedly the case that when, for example, the Frank Beck inquiry achieved what was seen as a tremendous result in that it resulted in Frank Beck being sentenced to six life sentences, there was considerable interest from other police forces. It so happens that the conviction of Frank Beck was announced right at the end of November 1991 and it was on 1 December 1991 that The Independent on Sunday reported a new scandal which it said would beggar in scale what had previously been found out in relation to Beck, and this was the North Wales scandal. What then happened, to come back to your question, is that the North Wales police immediately went to consult with their colleagues in Leicestershire to get advice on how best to get prosecutions. They discussed with them—I know because I have interviewed Detective Superintendent Peter Ackerley who led the North Wales investigation—how to avoid difficult questions being raised or how best to minimise the question of compensation and the possible motivation of compensation. North Wales then became a kind of authority to which other police forces looked. Merseyside then set up its operation, Operation Care (which is one of the largest) and also Cheshire. They, in turn, consulted North Wales. So what has been happening is that a template of extraordinarily bad and dangerous police practice has been held up as a model of good practice to other police forces and has been eagerly seized by police forces who can see that this can result in high profile investigations which will result in large numbers of convictions.

Mr Singh

  62. One of your main objections in this whole process is the method of investigation called trawling. Surely trawling is the only effective method of investigation and without trawling how would the police catch the guilty?
  (Mr Rose) I personally think that one of the crucial issues here is how trawling is carried out.


  63. Can you define what trawling is?
  (Mr Rose) Trawling, I would define as the police responding to perhaps one single allegation by one individual that he or she was abused in a particular home and in attempting to investigate that allegation visiting possibly many hundreds of individuals who were at that home at a particular time, and therefore hunting allegations from all those individuals which might corroborate the original allegation against one person who worked at the home or, as has happened many times, rapidly generates further allegations against other staff. In some cases the police have visited every person they can find who was at a particular home over a ten or twenty year period. You will be talking here of perhaps more than two thousand people. In other cases they have employed a technique which they refer to as "dip sampling" where they will visit a proportion of those people. To answer your point and also what Mr Winnick was getting at, for me the crucial issue is not whether you should investigate these allegations but how you should do it. In my view, as in all aspects of the criminal process, you should do so in a way which, on the one hand secures convictions against those who are factually guilty and which, on the other hand, protects people who are factually innocent. The problem with trawling as it is now carried out is that it is an absolutely unregulated process and it is a process which, if you talk to any reputable cognitive psychologist he will tell you, is almost tailor-made to generate false allegations. A cognitive psychologist would say that if you approach somebody and say twenty years ago you were at a particular home, the only proper way to proceed is to say "Have you anything to say? Are there any allegations you wish to make on any aspect of your treatment at that home?" Once you go beyond that, once you say "We are investigating allegations of sexual abuse carried out at that home" you are immediately risking the generation of an entirely false narrative. If you go beyond that, as has happened in many of these inquiries, if you then say "We are investigating claims that Mr X was a paedophile" and if you then go beyond that and say "This is a picture of Mr X, do you recognise him? Mr A, B and C say he was a paedophile. Is there anything you remember about your treatment there?" you are on a very, very dangerous slope indeed. What you have in some of these cases is repeated visits by police officers to individuals who indicate that they are prepared to go along with this process of statement generation before any written record—the final statement that is submitted to the defence and forms the basis of testimony in court—is finally arrived at.

Mr Singh

  64. Is that a fundamental conviction that you have, that no written statement is taken at that time, or a recording of it?
  (Mr Rose) There is no recording at all. There can be any amount of discussion, perhaps numerous visits before the written statement is finally taken. When the written statement is taken in almost every case it will not be written by the complainant, it will be taken by a police officer who will take the complainant through step by step, leading him or her by the hand, as to what he or she wishes to say. In my view, the most fundamental and crucial reform that would, on the one hand make genuine evidence more credible but on the other hand offer a measure—a substantial measure I believe—of protection to the innocent is to tape the interactions between police and complainants. Then it would be on the record and clear whether this process of leading had in fact taken place. If we are going to have taping, I think it is crucial to establish that that tape has got to be switched on at a very early stage. If the police officer knocks on the door or sends the letter and the appointment is made and the potential complainant says "Yes, I do want to tell you about my time at this particular home" then the interview must cease, an appointment must be made for perhaps a visit to a police station or perhaps a more congenial kind of surroundings like a rape suite where rape victims are interviewed when they suffer a more recent offence, and then when the person is in that situation then the tape must be switched on at the beginning and all interactions recorded in their entirety.
  (Mr Webster) Can I just add to that two things, one is that I think one of the best descriptions of the dangers of police trawling is actually that which Claire Curtis-Thomas MP gave to David Rose in an interview and I know she is going to give evidence later. I just think that what she said is accurate. She warns about the dangers of whether deliberately or not and then I quote "The police will plant suggestions producing narratives that fit their case rather than the truth. What happens" she says " is a kind of indirect collusion which develops through witnesses' unrecorded contact with members of the same police team." I certainly could not think of a better summary of the dangers posed by police trawling. One point I would like to add to what David has just said about recording of conversations, I agree with what he says because this is one of the terribly difficult problems posed to innocent people who are trying to defend themselves. They cannot document the degree of contamination that has gone on in questioning. I think it should also be said and made quite clear that although it would help enormously to tape record police conversations, we should not naively believe that that would be some absolute hundred per cent safe guard. There would always be a temptation for police to engage in the kind of priming which they certainly have been doing in the past, in other words to have pre-interviews which are not recorded. There is, of course, a safeguard when police record interviews as they have to do now with suspects, every time they switch the tape recorder on again after a break, they ask the suspect "Can you confirm that you have not been asked any questions since this tape recorder was last turned off?" It is, of course, in the suspect's interest to answer that question truthfully, which is why that safeguard can have a degree of credibility. It would not be in the interests of a malicious complainant to answer such a question truthfully. I think one should not nurture the illusion that any safeguard can be a hundred per cent safe. I do endorse what David said in recommending that.

  65. So you are saying that the police, when they receive an allegation, do not seek to test the truth of that allegation but actually seek to support that allegation? And secondly, they engage in a practice if not quite coaching but certainly leading. That is what you are basically saying?
  (Mr Woffinden) I think that a lot of complainants tell the police what they think the police want to hear and that there is a process by which the complainants divine what the police want to hear. Of course, one of the interesting aspects of what is happening today if we consider contemporary trawling as it is being carried on possibly at this very minute, is that of course potential complainants will not need to be told in any respect the purpose of the visit by the police if they refer to a care home they were in 10 years earlier. They will grasp the idea immediately and so from that point of view care workers are not protected at all.

  66. Is there any suggestion at all that the police, in pursuing these allegations, may actually mention the word "compensation" themselves?
  (Mr Woffinden) If I could go back to a little piece that I put in my submission, what of course used to happen when dealing with suspects in murder cases, we know now that a great many people confessed to murders they had not committed. We know about the cases of Stefan Kiszko, Stephen Downing and George Long. There are about a dozen that any of us could reel off very easily. What happened in those cases was that people, under the pressure of police interview, told them what they wanted to hear, which was in fact that they had committed the murder, even though they had not. In those cases there is absolutely no incentive whatever for them to confess to something they have not done, other than ending the interview. And yet in most cases the police were able to get from interviewees the information which they wanted. What are we saying about what happened in those days? Are we saying that the police deliberately knew they were sending innocent people to prison for life? I do not think we are, are we? I think what we are saying is that the police were themselves deceived by the nature of the interviewing process. What we are saying is that now, in these situations the police again are deceived by the nature of the interviewing process and probably do not realise themselves the power of what is going on.
  (Mr Rose) To answer the compensation point, some of the most powerful evidence comes from solicitors who handle compensation claims on behalf of complainants. Interviewing Peter Garsden of Abney Garsden McDonald which is handling more than seven hundred cases. . .

  67. I am specifically asking here about the process of trawling.
  (Mr Rose) Yes, he became involved at a very early stage representing complainants whose allegations were later the subject of criminal trials in Cheshire and Merseyside and, indeed, in Greater Manchester. I asked him what his relationship was like with the police when they were carrying out the investigations which led to those trials. He said that relationship was symbiotic. The police conducting Operation Care on Merseyside led by Detective Superintendent John Robbins held regular meetings with the group of civil compensation solicitors who were conducting those investigations. The police in Cheshire involved in Greystone Heath, another care home investigation, did the same thing. It is no coincidence that John Robbins, the police officer who led Operation Care for several years, now works for Abney Garsden McDonald, acting for the very same individuals as a civil complainant representative trying to get damages as he was once taking statements from in the courts of criminal proceedings. I spoke to another solicitor on Merseyside, Keith Robinson. He said to me that of his 110-odd clients as of about 18 months ago, clients of this type, a high proportion had, as he put it, been referred to him by the police. What he meant, as I explored this, was that people had been trawled by the police, in the course of their interviews with the police the subject of compensation had arisen and the police had said "Well, you ought to go and talk to Keith Robinson at Jackson and Canter on Merseyside. He's a very good chap, he's very good at dealing with these cases." So we have here, on the one hand, one solicitor talking about a symbiotic relationship, the other talking about referrals. In court, exactly what went on in these discussions on the one hand between the police and the complainant about compensation and on the other hand between the police and solicitors is, of course, obscured. But it is a fact that a number of witnesses who have given evidence in these trials have lodged claims before cases came to court. It is also a fact that a number of them have lodged claims very shortly after the end of the criminal proceedings. In two trials at least a letter has surfaced from this same John Robbins who led Operation Care to solicitors who were less experienced at dealing with this kind of case. This was some way down the line when a number of cases had gone to court and I think the police had become aware that the compensation lure was becoming an issue for defence lawyers. On at least two separate occasions John Robbins wrote to solicitors saying "Please advise your client not to lodge his civil claim until after the end of a criminal trial". I interviewed Mr Robbins earlier this year in his new capacity as a solicitor's legal clerk. I said, "Mr Robbins, why did you write those letters? What was the purpose of those letters?" He said, "It was to make their evidence look more credible in the criminal court so that they could truthfully say, when cross-examined, that they had not lodged claims for compensation." I replied to him, "But Mr Robbins, you knew perfectly well that these individuals intended to claim for compensation. You knew that because you knew they already had solicitors and were clearly thinking about lodging such a claim. You were party to what, I would say, is a perversion of the course of justice. You were writing a letter which had the conscious effect of allowing juries to be misled in criminal proceedings." He said, "No, no, no. I wasn't trying to mislead a jury. I was just trying to get a conviction. I was just trying to make sure that this evidence of abuse from this complainant would appear credible to a jury." "Yes, but you were making sure the jury didn't know about the compensation claim", and at this point we started to go round in circles. I ran this past the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys who is now responsible for this whole area on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers. He was highly critical of what Mr Robbins had done both as a police officer and the fact that he was now continuing in this civil role. But I think you have there very clear evidence of a worrying degree of what I would describe as the blurring of the civil and criminal processes. Just one final example from Devon where, before the criminal investigation into the Forde Park Home had even begun, the 60 or 70 people who became complainants in the series of criminal trials there had not only instructed solicitors and filed civil claims, they had actually formed a pressure group demanding a police investigation. So what you had here was a situation where a group of people had banded together for the express purpose of campaigning for a police investigation and seeking damages and I asked the solicitor representing them, Penny Ayles of Woollcombe Beer Watts, "Why were your clients so concerned to get a criminal investigation going?" She said, "Because if the alleged abusers had been criminally convicted in court, it would make it far easier to get a settlement of the damages action and my clients would walk away with large sums of money."
  (Mr Webster) I think there is just one more thing to be said on your specific question. You asked whether there was evidence that police officers sometimes themselves introduced the idea of compensation and, in effect, used it as a carrot (those were not your words, of course). There is certainly evidence of that nature. There are a very significant number of people who have made statements in these cases who have said they have been visited by police officers who themselves explicitly drew to their attention the possibility that if they made serious allegations, and of course the more serious the allegation the more money you get. If you make an allegation of buggery then that would result in more money. The police officers are well aware of this and so are potential complainants. There is evidence of that. But I think it is also important to say a point that has already been made implicitly, that in a sense there is no need any more for police officers to introduce that information because it is well known nationally that compensation is available in such cases and it is certainly well known among the particular, if you like, sub-culture, where most of these complainants are drawn from. There is a culture of compensation which is particularly strong in prisons, and we must recall that police are not only going and knocking on people's doors, they are also going to prison and soliciting (I think there is no other word for it) allegations from prisoners who are serving sentences. They do not need to tell the people in question that there is compensation available. That is well known. It does not need to be flagged up. So, yes, police do sometimes make that suggestion; there is evidence to that effect. Increasingly because of criticism such as we and others have made of their methods, they are issuing guidelines which are trying hard to get officers not to do that. However, that is, in a sense, really shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted because the message is out there; people know.

  68. Finally, does police practice in these investigations vary from force to force? Is there any particular force which gives you particular concern?
  (Mr Rose) I would just like to single out one force for praise first, which is the Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police has been extremely wary of conducting trawls at all and it is already experimenting, where possible, with taping interviews. I think there is evidence also that the Metropolitan Police does another thing which many other forces do not do, which is that when an allegation is received instead of simply seeking, as you rightly put it, support in the form of further allegations, it actually tries to find corroborating evidence. So that if somebody says "I was buggered in this location", for the sake of argument a car or a van on a piece of wasteland down this road, the police first of all try to ascertain "Did the individual, the assailant here, did he possess this vehicle at the right time? And if he did possess the vehicle would it fit under the bridge?" So that these details hang together. I am actually citing an example here of a man who was convicted in the north west who was supposed to have carried out an assault in a van on a piece of wasteland under a low bridge. First, he never possessed the vehicle in question; second, if he had it would not have fitted under the bridge. But the jury still convicted. Does any force give me cause for concern? I think a number of forces give me cause for concern. But of those that I am aware of, South Wales, very deep concern as Richard has already said. Operation Goldfinch in South Wales I think is extremely worrying. Devon and Cornwall, where the Chief Constable, Sir John Evans, has repeatedly gone on television and spoken of how his officers are investigating a paedophile ring when, as I have already said, there is no evidence that any ring existed there or anywhere else. Merseyside where Operation Care is also on a vast scale and where, I may say, since the acquittal of David Jones, the football manager, the courts have shown themselves rather less credulous than in other parts of the country. And Cheshire. And one further force actually is Lancashire where there is a very large operation underway at the moment, Operation Nevada. It is being led by a detective who previously conducted a large investigation into allegations of abuse at Stonyhurst school. That was a scandal in itself. Of the ten former teachers or serving teachers at Stonyhurst who were charged only one was convicted and he was a monk who was basically demented because of old age; he was in his very late 80s, he did not know what was going on and received a suspended sentence. One other man, Rory O'Brien, the former headmaster of the junior school, was convicted and his conviction was rapidly quashed by the Court of Appeal. The shocking part about his story is that this detective, Mr Marston, held a meeting at the school. He asked for a meeting with the staff and governors at the school after Mr O'Brien was charged. Mr O'Brien had gathered a great deal of support from parents and other staff who did not believe the allegations against him. The detective asked to have a meeting where he said that he understood that there was concern that Mr O'Brien had been charged, but his audience ought to know that he had forensic evidence. This was a lie. There was no forensic evidence and, indeed, there never is in these cases. By definition offences that are so old will not have forensic evidence. But what he was essentially doing here was addressing a room full of potential defence witnesses and, I would suggest, telling lies with the express intention of perhaps dissuading them from giving evidence in Mr O'Brien's defence. Having gone through the rather expensive, I would say, fiasco of that investigation, he is now in charge of Operation Nevada, so I have very grave concerns about what is happening now in Lancashire.
  (Mr Webster) I think it would be wrong to focus too much on singling out particular forces because we are really looking at a very dangerous method of investigation. And John Robbins, who David has already suggested was engaging in something approaching perverting the course of justice, is actually the person who has been seen as the leader of the model kind of practice. All these investigations are dangerous, it is just that some are even more dangerous than others.

Mr Cameron

  69. Mr Rose, could you tell us, in the Merseyside operation how many convictions have there been so far?
  (Mr Rose) I am not sure of the exact figures. I know there have been quite a large number of convictions for fairly minor offences, physical assaults.

  70. Is it tens?
  (Mr Rose) It is over twenty. There have been about ten acquittals too.

  71. The figures we have been given by ACPO show that some 50 per cent of those people charged with offences who went to trial in Merseyside pleaded guilty. That does seem to suggest that we need very full and thorough police investigation.
  (Mr Rose) I would not dissent from that for one second. It is how we carry them out.

  72. Which is what we are looking at. It just seems to me, listening to the evidence this morning, that miscarriages of justice should make one feel very sceptical about everything, and yet you all seem very certain and clear of your ground: no paedophile rings, 80 per cent of people in South Wales are innocent. Do you see any contradiction there?
  (Mr Rose) I think perhaps what Richard meant to say was that 80 per cent of those allegedly suspects in South Wales will never be even interviewed let alone charged or prosecuted. The law recognises them as innocent never mind anything else.

  73. It just occurred to me, listening to your evidence, you are very clear of your ground in an area which is so difficult.
  (Mr Webster) I think it is a very important point which you raise, but I think what David says is also important. We must recognise that the cases which are coming to trial at all—which are coming before the courts—are a tiny proportion of the allegations which are being made. So that even if there were 100 per cent guilty pleas in those cases it would still leave a huge number of what I would say were people protesting their complete innocence of allegations which have been made against them. If we take the particular case of Operation Care in Merseyside, the Merseyside police have often, quite rightly, and I think we should recognise the pressures that police forces are under in this situation, pointed to the number of guilty pleas that have been made, and there is a significant number of guilty pleas. I think they tend sometimes to somewhat overstate that. But I think that the real situation in Merseyside is that in the very early stages, of course, the people who are guilty are the ones that you do find allegations against first. If they are guilty it is quite right that they plead guilty. So I think what has happened in Merseyside is that there is a real core for some of those convictions but what has happened subsequently is that there have been an increasing number of allegations which are false which have been trawled by the police, and those do not show up in those statistics.

  74. We are looking at the practices and trying to see what alternatives there are to trawling. We are talking about dreadful things that happened a long time ago. There are unlikely to be witnesses; there is unlikely to be any physical evidence. What is the alternative to doing some sort of trawling operation? What are the police meant to do when someone comes to them with a dreadful allegation of child abuse 20 years ago? What should they do?
  (Mr Webster) Can I first of all take up a point, I am sure Bob will not mind my drawing attention to it, but he talked of people coming forward and making allegations and you have just made a similar remark. I think we must understand that that is not what is happening. In the vast majority of these allegations we are not talking about anybody coming forward at all. The only people coming forward in these cases are the police. They are going forward and they are knocking on people's doors. That does not answer the very real question which you pose. If we could create a culture among the police and among the Crown Prosecution Service where the kind of investigation that David was talking about in relation to the Metropolitan Police (and I am very glad he has found a police force to praise, I think it is very important that we should do so), if we could create that kind of culture which is not a prosecution culture, which is not a culture which says that the purpose of our investigation is to get convictions, then most of these allegations would disappear out of the window very shortly after they were made. The first thing I would say is that if we are going to investigate retrospectively then it must be done considering the defence case. I do not know whether it was the Law Commission but some august body not long ago were pointing out that in science the best way to try and prove something is to try and refute it. They were suggesting that should be—and that indeed is now—what police are meant to do. But they do not do it.

  75. The problem we are dealing with here is a very difficult sensitive one, of child abuse. Listening to David Rose, as you put it, you were not against police going to other people who had been in the home and talking to them; you were not against that process known as trawling. You were against the way in which they did it because they were mentioning things like "this person was accused of child abuse". Child abuse is an incredibly painful, difficult thing to come to terms with and to remember and to own up to. Is it not unrealistic to expect the police officer to go and see other people who were in the home and just say "Twenty years ago when you were at this home is there anything you want to mention?" Is that not unrealistic, just to go that far and no further?
  (Mr Rose) As Bob has already said, it is now so widely known why the police would be investigating these former homes, I do not think it has to be specifically stated. If you, as a former resident of one of these homes, get a knock on the door from a police officer saying they are investigating anything that happened at that home, you have a pretty good idea what they are looking for. I would simply say this, in any criminal process there is a balancing act that has to be carried out between the rights of the victim and the rights of the defendant and a notion of proportionality in terms of both punishment and the extent to which you are prepared to offer what you might term due process protections. What I fear is that at the moment there are effectively no real due process protections for potential suspects in these inquiries. I do believe that it is possible to make them much better, much less liable to produce a wrongful conviction than they are now. One, as I say, is through taping. The other is through an investigation of the context of the allegation. Andrew Parker, who is a Metropolitan Police detective, has done a great deal of work on what he calls statement validity analysis. He is actually working on a PhD on the subject at the moment under a Mr Gisli Gudjonsson who has a very distinguished history in the field of investigating false confessions. I think there are ways the police could—both through the internal content analysis of an eventual statement or taped account, and through the basic leg work of finding out if the allegations in the statement are credible—have a much more reliable process here. I stress, as I have already said, if we can be sure that these investigations are being carried out on a more reliable basis, albeit they may take longer and cost more money, at the end of the day the genuine victim will actually be more reliably vindicated.

David Winnick

  76. The picture which has been painted today and which Mr Rose in the interesting programme which many of us saw last night, the Panorama programme, is that police are determined to find the culprits; overenthusiastic, without being too melodramatic, it could be argued almost a conspiracy by the police. What would be the motive?
  (Mr Rose) I think, if I may say, that is a mischaracterisation of what I intended at least in the Panorama programme. I regret it if I gave that impression. Police culture in this country and, indeed, in most countries, is by definition results orientated. Police are there to get a result. They tend to be narrowly focused on specific tasks and it really comes down to this: "The guv'nor says, right you're on child abuse. We're going to have a massive investigation which is going to cost the local tax payer millions of pounds to find out if we can establish if there were paedophiles in this care home." That is it; you have been set off as an officer. You are there to get a result. That is the key phrase.

  77. That is almost a conspiracy by the government of the day to tell the police to locate such offenders. Is this directed by the Home Office? The Home Secretary? By one of the junior ministers? Or what?
  (Mr Rose) No, it is directed initially by an allegation that somebody was abused. But in an adversarial process the police are specifically there to build a case, to construct a case. With the best will in the world, detectives who act in good faith with the best of motives will sometimes, if the process is constructed in a way which gives leeway for wrongful convictions, for false prosecutions to be generated, they will sometimes do that. How you build the law, how you build protections has a very direct impact on how police operate, how they do build cases. If police are told if you are going to go and trawl you have to do this, this and this, and when you have got your statement you have to do this, that and that, the motive for the police officer remains the same. The police officer is doing his or her job. We do not have to ascribe bad faith or bad motive to this, it is just that the way the process is now and the way the law is constructed in the wake of the case of P it inevitably generates dangerous practice.
  (Mr Webster) The other point about that is that you asked, quite rightly, and I think it is a very, very important question, what possible motivation could there be for police forces to pursue allegations in this way, if it is indeed the case as we are asserting, that the vast majority are false?

  I am not a journalist as I said at the beginning. My special interest is, if you like, as a cultural historian in the role played by irrational fantasies in history. If one looks to history there is absolutely no difficulty in answering your question. Throughout history there have always been people who have reacted to the suggestion that there is an evil conspiracy in their midst, particularly when that suggestion has been made that they are preying on innocent children and that goes back century upon century, right back to the beginning of the Christian era. There have always been people who will drop everything, who will be highly motivated to hunt down such conspiracies. The same thing happened in the Great European Witch-hunt. You are asking again I think exactly the right question, is it the Home Office who are whispering in the police force's ear and putting them up to this? Of course it is not. What is happening, though, and what has happened over the last ten years, is that newspapers and particularly broadsheet newspapers—I am not talking about the News of the World—have declared their belief in evil conspiracies. On the front cover of my little book we have "Demons of the Dark", we have the headline "Paedophiles control children's homes" and we have another one "Dealing with the devil". I am afraid we may not like it, but it is at that level of irrationality that I think we need to seek the motivations for what is happening. The conviction that you are pursuing, an evil conspiracy that you may be able to bring to justice, has always motivated people in the past and the fact that that evil conspiracy may not exist—as we have said there have never been shown to be any paedophile rings centred on children's homes—does not lessen the motivation of those who seek to hunt it down.

  78. So what you are saying as I understand it, in effect, and of course we are not dealing with medieval times we are now hopefully in modern times, is that despite all the work which the police have—with the day to day responsibility of dealing with criminality they are never short of work—nevertheless in certain areas of the country they have concentrated virtually all their energies in dealing with what is seen as an evil conspiracy.
  (Mr Webster) No, that is certainly not what I would suggest. They have not concentrated all their energies at all. At the same time that the police forces are holding these kind of investigations they are often investigating other crimes and no doubt in many cases doing that quite properly and quite correctly. What I am saying is that it is always a temptation—and one to which many police forces have succumbed—to divert colossal resources into this kind of pursuit of paedophile rings which do not in fact exist. One example of this is Operation Rose, being run by Northumbria police for several years, which collapsed spectacularly. This was about two months ago. Mr Mullin is nodding because it took place in his part of the world. During that operation more than 20 people were successfully defended, 20 innocent people defended at trial and many, many more who were put through hell on earth as a result of false allegations which were made. That operation started with the police publicly asserting belief in the existence of a paedophile ring which simply was not there.

  79. Mr Woffinden, no criticism whatsoever, you also I am sure have always acted in good faith like the police have according to Mr Rose, but you have been much involved in another high profile case of alleged miscarriage of justice.
  (Mr Woffinden) Just a few days ago, you mean.


3   Note by witness: Catholic Social Services in Liverpool, now known as Nugent Care. Back

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