Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-190)
MR PHIL CRAIG, MR PHIL FIDDLER, MR RORY O'BRIEN AND DR CHRISTOPHER REEVES
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
180. What about a time scale in terms of an accusation that goes back 20 to 25 years in some of your cases?
(Mr Craig) I think some other countries have a statute of limitation of ten years. I actually think that is probably too long. I read the transcript of last week with the journalists in which they were saying three years, or they were saying in the case of a minor, up to the age of 24. I think that is reasonable.
181. Does anybody else want to add to that?
(Mr Fiddler) Just to add to what Rory was saying about audio-taping interviews. I think that is a move in the right direction, and possibly video-taping interviews. But I think that even in the case of the initial knock at the door, where police officers go and ask questions of a particular individual, "Are you so and so, were you in care," I think an independent group should accompany the police so that leading questions cannot be asked, or at least that cannot be accused of the police at a later stage. I also think that accompanying social workers should be from out of the area as well. On Merseyside, for example, a social worker on the police back-up team could be a social worker I had worked with many years before and with whom I had some kind of row, and they overlook that at the time. I think it is very important that an independent body is a group that is not only recognised by the Government, but also by campaigning groups like FACT and AAFAA (Action Against False Allegations of Abuse).
(Mr O'Brien) Could I just add on the point of statute of limitation, the scene has changed dramatically since the Children Act 1989, where children or adults are now believed. So there is all the more reason, in my view, to have a shorter period under a statute of limitation. May I make a point about compensationis that relevant?
(Mr O'Brien) That any compensation going is actually directed towards the welfare of the victim, as he would then be a victim because of the fact that the conviction was achieved. So the compensation would be in order to help that person get over the problems that he or she has experiencedso counselling, help to get new work, all these sort of thingsrather than lump sum compensation which can be spent on anything. So a directed compensation.
183. So you would not do away with compensation entirely?
(Mr O'Brien) I would only do away with it as a lump sum payment which can then be spent on all sorts of maybe irrelevant things. I think it should be directed compensation.
(Dr Reeves) In very general terms, I feel that the whole judicial system has to re-establish its respect for the basic principles of common law which is the presumption of innocence and the need in criminal cases to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The juries in these sort of trials are actually given what I would call a double bind. They are told, "You are here. You are to judge beyond reasonable doubt," but we know that in fact they are being requested to judge on the balance of probabilities. It cannot be otherwise in most cases of abuse. There is no evidence other than, "Well, we think that this must be so because so many people have said it," really. That is not the basis of proper criminal convictions. I think from that point of view, one should be asking the police to go back to doing the job which they are good at, which is actually investigating identified and identifiable instances of crime. I would say that, apropos trawling, one should get away from what I call the "loss leader" approach, where somebody makes an allegation and then lots of people come into the witness box who actually never made allegations until the police went and got themgot allegations. In quite a number of cases, the original allegation made by the complainant either does not make it to court or, if it does make it to court, is rejected by the jury. So if you make a distinction between active complainants and passive complainants, I would say that cases should only come to trial in the first instance where there are active complainants on the charge sheet and that only when somebody has come along and said they had been abused, and that has gone before the court, and that has been established and that person has been found guilty, should a subsequent investigative process be embarked upon. It should be divided into two stages. I think that would make a great deal of difference. Also, on the question of limiting compensation, I do not think that anything that I would say or possibly my colleagues would want to say about compensation is to the effect that people should not be compensated who have been abused, it is the method by which compensation gets into the producing of allegations which is at issue. I would say that one long term answer is that criminal justice system should only be used for cases which can be prosecuted in terms of criminal justice where there is evidence or there is reasonable corroboration for that. Other complainants who allege abuse should be dealt with in civil courts but possibly in terms of compensation a civil action can be brought and that would mean that the defendants would have to defend themselves but they have much greater access to managing their defence at a much earlier stage than is the case when they are subject to long term investigations and only get documents disclosed and the charges they have to face right at the end of the process. It should be a civil action where the state does not feel that it can reliably sustain criminal charges. I feel that solicitors and companies of solicitors who want to go into the field of compensation should do it on a no-win no-fee basis and support those people who want to bring complaints if that is the case. That may be one way of dealing with some of the other issues.
184. Is that not the basis they go on already?
(Dr Reeves) No. Well, do you mean on the no-win
185. No-win, no-fee, yes?
(Dr Reeves) Yes. But many of these cases come after a criminal process has taken place. I would say that civil, not criminal law should be the process, the court, the context within which the rights and wrongs of something should be established in the case of passive complainants.
186. Mr Craig?
(Mr Craig) Thank you. It is my contention that the process of trawling produces corroboration by volume, the two are symbiotic. If you are going to vulnerable individuals you will produce further allegations. I think the initial allegation should be totally investigated and resolved before looking for more. In my opinion it is lazy police work. They have to investigate the initial allegation and either find out if it is the truth or if it is false before this trawling procedure because it has got a life of its own, it just takes off. What has happened in the past, but I think we are getting wiser to this, is that the process of trawling will produce say ten accusers. "Well, he must be guilty, must he not?". It is not just ten accusers, it ends up being 100 allegations. I know of one recently in which at the eleventh hour an accuser just dropped out and 16 charges were dropped. Certainly in the past, courts were being bombarded with this: they got individuals with 60 charges. I have just told you of an individual with 98 charges, well, the jury faced with this, what do they think?
Bridget Prentice: Thank you. You have covered all the areas I wanted to cover in that question.
187. Can I ask about the actual police procedure during the course of the trawling? We have heard from Dr Reeves that very often people being trawled are vulnerable and impressionable and easily led. We have heard this morning, also, that the starting question from police officers is "Mr X has been accused of serious sexual offences" and then leading to further questions. Is that not a dangerous combination? Would you support changes in specific procedures, taking it at the moment we still do have a lot of trawling going on?
(Mr Fiddler) I think it is extremely dangerous, as proved in my particular case. I was lucky, if lucky is the right word, in that after I was charged with statutory rape with regard to the allegation made by the young woman the police then went and interviewed young men who I had worked with. I believe this was to bolster up the case against me. My legal team argued for severance of the allegations from the young woman and the young men simply because they were from different care homes. If that trial had gone ahead with the young woman's case being combined with the allegations from the young men, I think I would have been in more trouble than I was at the time. Yes, I think they went out looking for more evidence to bolster up a weak case.
188. Mr Craig?
(Mr Craig) I have heard also that accusers are shown photographs, particularly in cases of historical abusemine was 25 years ago but we have actually got cases going back in excess of 30 yearsso it is not only that, it is not only saying "Mr X has been arrested and charged with a number of serious offences", they are shown photographs also of individuals to help them remember.
189. Would you recommend a completely neutral invitation to give evidence without any background or introduction?
(Mr Fiddler) If the police are going to trawl, I imagine when I was first arrested what they did was they went and spoke to individuals who were brought up in the care system and they asked them "Is your name such and such a name? Were you brought up in care?", it should be as simple as that. There should not be any leading questions or photographs shown, as in the case of men in North Wales and on Merseyside. It should be kept to a minimum and, as I say, bolstered up by social workers from outside the region. In fact, it might be an idea for police officers to be from outside the region as well so there is no contamination there by way of the social workers.
190. Gentlemen, you have been very helpful. Thank you very much for coming. You are welcome to stay for the next session. We are now going to move on and take evidence from solicitors who have represented people such as yourselves who have been accused in these cases. Thank you very much for coming.
(Mr O'Brien) Thank you.
(Mr Fiddler) Thank you for listening.