Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500-519)
MR PETER GARSDEN AND MS FRANCES SWAINE
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
500. The relationship with the police, Mr Garsden, your websitegoing back to this website of yoursstates, and I quote: "The police act as a postbox for the solicitors after the prosecution is over". Can you explain precisely what that means?
(Mr Garsden) Yes. Basically to run our civil cases, we have to gain access to the same sort of evidence that the police have gained access to in the course of their investigations but because of the rules of public interest immunity we cannot see it and we are not allowed to see it and they will not give it to us. The only documents that they will give to us, in the absence of a court orderand we are bringing quite complicated and costly proceedings against the police to gain access to their documentationthe only way we can do it is by producing a form of authority with the signature of the witness in question for release of his or her statement. That is obviously very easy with our own clients and the claimants but totally impossible with people we have never met. We have devised a system whereby when we see a police statement often it has in it the names of claimants that the clients can remember and the names of staff that the client can remember, we then send the police a stamped addressed envelope in a format previously agreed which then they send on to the witness after the prosecution has taken place asking them to get in contact with us. That is the only way really that we can investigate our case. The two previous famous casesthe Beck case and the North Wales casethere have been public inquiries so the evidence has all been investigated by a public body. That has not been the case, despite much lobbying of MPs that I did between 1994 and 1997, that has not produced a public inquiry, oh that it was different because if there had been a public inquiry probably we would not be sitting around this table now.
501. Your firm's relationship with the police has been a pretty close one.
(Mr Garsden) Well there is this word symbiotic, which has been used in this inquiry on more than on one occasion
502. Which was the word you used.
(Mr Garsden)which was quoted from the Panorama programme and was, quite frankly, a word that I wish I had never used because it does not describe accurately the relationship that takes place between me and the police. The accurate way of describing the relationship is unilateral because, quite frankly, to the police I am a pain in the neck and they wish that I did not exist because I cause them so many problems with their prosecutions because I am repeatedly asking for information that they would rather have nothing to do with me but they accept the fact that civil litigation does exist, it is a realistic possibility so they have to find a way around that. We have worked very hard on making sure the Data Protection Act 1988 and the rules of Public Interest Immunity are observed, and that there is evenhandedness in that the police, also when I make an inquiry, tell my civil opponent what they are doing so that they have an equal right to contact the witness themselves. There is no interference with the criminal process because they will not do anything until the criminal process is over. I have had different relationships with different police forces. I have to say that I deal with three: Cheshire, Merseyside and Manchester. My relationship with Manchester is very unilateral indeed. They will not supply anything to me whatsoever. They will not use the postbox system which other forces have used and they are very unco-operative I think in response to the sort of lobbying that has gone on in the course of criminal trials and from FACT (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers).
503. The situation is somewhat different than it was?
(Mr Garsden) The pendulum has definitely swung very much the other way. These days more and more cases are being chucked out on abuse of process and more and more defendants are being acquitted because of the fear that judges have of the defendant abuser lobby, that is the reality as recognised in the evidence that I note.
504. Because of the lobbying?
(Mr Garsden) Because of the lobbying, yes, the fact that outside of court there are people milling around with placards protesting about injustice, as they are entitled to do. When the defendant is acquitted or the case collapses they are seen drinking glasses of champagne and celebrating.
505. Are you suggesting judges are influenced by what demonstrations may be taking place outside the court?
(Mr Garsden) No, I am not, and that is a very crude way of putting it. I am saying that because of this Committee, because of the way in which this has been looked into, because of the very effective lobbying by FACT and AAFAA (Action Against False Allegations of Abuse), it is very much in the public domain. The media these days are interested in stories of false allegations, they are not really interested in claimant based stories, that is the pendulum effect, and that is normal. It happened after Cleveland and it is happening now, and it should happen. It is right in a democracy.
506. Your firm has taken on one John Robbins, am I correct?
(Mr Garsden) You are.
507. What was his previous employment?
(Mr Garsden) He was Detective Superintendent in charge of Operation Care, Merseyside police.
508. He was involved in carrying out his duties as a police officer within the child abuse system?
(Mr Garsden) Yes, that is right.
509. When was Mr Robbins taken on by your firm?
(Mr Garsden) About a year ago, after he retired from the police force.
510. I understand. What are his current duties in the firm?
(Mr Garsden) He is a travelling statement taker.
511. I see.
(Mr Garsden) He goes to see witnesses and claimants who live a distance from our offices. That is his primary role but he acts, also, as an agent of the court in these applications we bring against the police where there is an examination of police evidence. I can talk about it in more detail if you like but he acts, also, as a court agent for us in a restricted sense.
512. Was there an advertisement for a vacancy or did he apply on the basis of perhaps his services would be useful to the firm?
(Mr Garsden) There was an advertisement but he approached me, also, and said he was retiring. He is very interested in the area of child abuse and he said he was not able to do it any more for the police. He had spent many years of his professional career doing it and wanted to continue doing it.
513. He approached you?
(Mr Garsden) Yes, he did.
514. Do you get many clients coming into the office with unrealistic expectations about the process for claiming compensation and the levels of award that they might receive?
(Mr Garsden) Yes.
(Ms Swaine) Yes.
515. Does that apply to both of you?
(Ms Swaine) Yes, particularly the levels of award.
516. Do they presume they will get more than they get or less?
(Ms Swaine) In my experience they often assume they will be getting very large sums of money because they consider their lives to be so very badly damaged by what had happened. So they equate any of the headlines that have been in perhaps the tabloid papers about very large compensation claims as being the sort of sums of money which would be awarded to them because they cannot think of anything worse happening to another person than what has happened to themselves.
517. How many potential clients are put off when you explain to them the process involved?
(Ms Swaine) A few are actually. I do not know what I would say, ten per cent.
(Mr Garsden) Can I answer?
(Ms Swaine) Yes, go ahead.
(Mr Garsden) It touches on an important point. What you tend to find is that when these clients first visit the office they are not greedy, avaricious, compensation seeking individuals, quite the reverse actually. Often they do not understand the process. All they are interested in is firstly an apology, secondly their day in court, and that is what they really want. Certainly the Irish system has been tailored for that expectation. They want to get rid of all that anger that they have inside them and they want their abusers and those who ran the home pilloried for ruining their lives. It would be incorrect to say that they are not interested in compensation but what they would like the system to give them is not money, because some of them find it quite distasteful to be compensated for what in other circumstances might be regarded as an act of child prostitution, often an event to which they consented innocently. They find it very hard to accept money for that. What they would like, as I have said, is their day in court, an apology and their lives put back in the position they were before the abuse took place because maybe they have a family where the siblings have been mildly successful and they have spiralled down into depression, suicide, attempted suicide and self-mutilation. They see that as very, very wrong. As a society the judicial system ought to be able to give them far more compensation than it does because they deserve it because it distinguishes itself from most personal injury cases in that it lasts such a long time. It has lasted for 30 or 40 years and there is not enough recognition of that. It is very, very difficult, for example, in English law as opposed to Irish law to obtain aggravated damages. In many jurisdictions it is possible to get aggravated damages but in very, very few cases have aggravated damages been recognised. They are damages over and above the normal compensation recognising that this is really a criminal offence and something which is much more serious than a simple act of negligence.
518. You say that most of your clients just want their day in court but of course some will have already had a day in court or more than a day in court in the criminal prosecution. Could you remind us again what proportion of your clients have been through the criminal prosecution system?
(Mr Garsden) When you say through the prosecution system, if you mean statemented
519. No I mean their day in court, they have given evidence.
(Mr Garsden) How many have actually given evidence?