Examination of Witness (Questions 840-847)
MRS CLAIRE CURTIS-THOMAS MP
THURSDAY 20 JUNE 2002
840. But you can get more money out of a civil claim?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) You can, yes, most certainly; and the tariff, I do not believe, for these crimes, has been looked at, I think it was established in 1986, so it has not been reviewed for a very long period of time. And the big money, when I spoke to representatives of Abney Garsden McDonald, the big money is associated with over three years' pain and suffering. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority also has the biggest payout for over three years' pain and suffering. So many of the claims on the civil litigation side are for pain and suffering and attract big income, and I think there should be some increases in what you can get from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
841. So you say the longer it is dragged out the bigger the compensation?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) No. The longer you say you have been abused for, the bigger the compensation payout. It is normally two to three years; if you can demonstrate that you have suffered pain and suffering for over two years then you are into significant sums of compensation through civil and criminal litigation.
842. So are you recommending to us that, if the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority increased the tariff, presumably, that would remove some of those who wished to take the civil route?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Yes; it would have to be complementary. And also there have been discussions here about the fact that the vast majority of people who are victims and complainants in these cases would not be eligible for Criminal Injuries, through the CICA, because they have a criminal record. I think there is an ethical, a moral debate here about whether or not people who have become burglars should be penalised because they are burglars, or should be recognised as victims, who, if they had had the appropriate care and appropriate treatment at the time that they were victimised, might not have ended up in that position.
843. Just to clear up a point from earlier on. You said when you came in, quite rightly, we have got to try to get the emotion and the anecdotal evidence away and look at the numbers; and I think you said you did not regret the fact of the police investigations, you thought they were important, it was just the nature of the investigations. Given that, when you look at the numbers of the people the police brought forward for prosecution, and then the ones that were taken forward and the ones that were found guilty, do you find the numbers in themselves convincing, for your position on this? Because my problem is, I look at the numbers for Operation Care: 181 suspects, 59 taken forward by the CPS, 27 found guilty. You can say that is 130-odd people falsely accused, possibly, or you can say that is 27 child sex perverts banged away. Do the numbers themselves say to you that something is wrong here, or is it something else; what other fact is it that makes you think you feel it in your marrow that miscarriages have taken place?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) In fact, there were only 181 referred to the CPS. Operation Care, I think, identified 359 suspects. If you have had an opportunity to read the latest guidance notes, it was felt, in Operation Care, although I have never had it confirmed, that everybody who ever worked in a care home was a suspect. So I wondered, you know, good heavens, 359 people are suspects. I think, if I worked in a care home, and I found out that I had been identified as a suspect and yet no allegation had been made against me, I would be extremely concerned. I am also concerned that I do not know what happens to these records, well, I do know, they are kept for a very long period of time; so I am kept on record as a suspect in these crimes, waiting for something to happen that may or may not happen. So there are a huge number of cases brought forward by the police, in some inquiries, not in all, and certainly very few of them actually realise sex offenders, so we get 27 convictions out of 359 suspects. The Merseyside police told me it costs them, I think it was, 0.35 per cent of their annual turnover to prosecute these cases. I then sort of said, "Okay, well fine, let's look at what is the number of individuals as a percentage of all care workers working in this area." I think it is a significant number, actually, 25 and 300, and we are talking here about significant sex offenders. And I have not included, by the way, the people who are professing that they are innocent, these are people who have gone forward and said, "I am guilty as charged, guv." If that is the case then, there, I will go back to the point I raised earlier, some police authorities in this country have not executed their duty on behalf of the children, or now the adults, that they are supposed to serve, because there are many people still walking around who are significant sex offenders, if you translate the statistics that we have seen in other areas. So it has been a very, very expensive business, but it has illustrated that in cases, and only in cases where people have confessed that they are guilty, if that is extrapolated across the whole of the country, many people are walking around still guilty of these crimes.
844. Just as you are concerned, hence the reason that you are here, and one appreciates the work in which you have been involved, as a Member of Parliament, for those whom you believe, with others, are innocent and are in prison, and if they are indeed innocent that should concern all of us in the House of Commons, that goes without saying, but are you pleased, nevertheless, that, as a result of police action, there are people now in prison who have been found guilty, who indeed have pleaded guilty to sexual abuses against children, who otherwise would not have been imprisoned if the police had not carried out these various operations?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) I do hope that I have not said anything today which leaves the members of this Committee in any doubt whatsoever that I fully support these investigations. My concern is about the adequacy of the processes used in those investigations.
845. I understand that; but I do come back to the point that you do accept there are people now in prison who are guilty, who would otherwise not be in prison had it not been for these various police operations? And I accept entirely your concern about those you believe, in prison, to be innocent.
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) I absolutely do accept that, and I do endorse it, and I think I have said that I am greatly concerned that if the number of people that have willingly pleaded guilty in these cases is considered to be an indicative percentage of all people working in care homes, then there are many people who are guilty of these crimes that are walking the streets now, in the UK, that have not yet been apprehended. But if you said to me do I endorse the processes that are used by the police in order to apprehend those individuals, I would have to say to you, there is no evidence that I have seen which would suggest that these processes are robust and not liable to be abused by various agents, for various reasons.
David Winnick: I understand that point entirely.
846. Thank you. Are there any points you wish to add, Mrs Curtis-Thomas, that you have not been given the opportunity to add during the course of our discussion this afternoon?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) Yes. There are two. I would just like to make reference to two. I referred earlier on to, I have yet to scrutinise the new documentation that has come out, I think it will be terribly difficult, in fact, to
847. You are referring to the ACPO?
(Mrs Curtis-Thomas) The ACPO document. It will be very difficult for me to be able to begin to compare and contrast the processes of investigation referred to in that document with the processes that were employed in many cases. But I do hope that I can persuade, or that CICA can be persuaded, or maybe an inquiry could be instigated in relation to 20 indicative cases, so that, not pursue them as individual miscarriages of justice, but use them as indicative cases to look at the integrity of the processes used by the police and all aspects of the criminal justice system. The other area that I am deeply, deeply concerned about is complaints. I have some statistics which refer to complaints. I would be grateful for your indulgence for just a moment. And, last year, I was aware that many people were writing to me and saying, "We believe there's been a miscarriage of justice here, and we're very concerned about this;" and I said, "Well, okay, then you must write, have you written to the Chief Constable?" "Yes, we have written to the Chief Constable." "Well, who else have you written to, and what has the response been?" Because I am an engineer, Mr Chairman, and so I tend to be terribly dull and terribly objective; so if I compare the criminal justice system, if I make it analogous to a car factory, then I think about product going in and product coming out. If the customers are dissatisfied with a product, they go and tell the representative they are not very happy, the representative goes back to the company and says, "Problem product here; must do something about product." And I naively thought that if individuals made complaints to the police authority they might collect these complaints together and say, "We might have a problem here." In fact, this report, the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, says, and it is well referenced, I could read more, but I shall not, on this occasion, but within this report it refers specifically to the requirement that Chief Constables or lead officers should be mindful of complaints, and, if complaints are received, investigate those complaints in relation to the investigation at hand. So I have my car factory, and I write to all the people within the criminal justice system and say, "Can you tell me about your complaints, please, and how you handle complaints?" So I wrote to the Solicitor General, and, by and large, I am very happy with the activities of the Solicitor General, I have had far better correspondence with her and her offices than many other parts of the criminal justice system, and I asked her how many complaints and items of correspondence were received by the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to historical sex abuse investigations in the United Kingdom in 1999, 2000 and 2001. And the response I got was, "Correspondence and complaints sent to the Law Officers are recorded primarily by the name of the sender, they are not categorised by recipient nor by subject in the manner set out by the question." So is not this a bit like you and I having a problem car, we report it to the car producers, and then they analyse the complaints and say, "We've had five complaints this week from Smith and we've had six from Jones; ah, well, that doesn't mean we have anything wrong with our process, except we do have a large number of Smiths and Jones writing to us." I do not understand where the human input, where we, as citizens, get to improve these processes; where? I have to say to you, the Home Office are pretty similar. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, by the way, have no complaints whatsoever, because they do not record any of their correspondence. So if I write, as a Member of Parliament, to representatives of these people, there is no accumulation of concern; so the first thing that they know about it is some massive atrocity takes place and then it is all brought home. But, actually, if they had good intelligence and good records, they would have found that, over a period of many years, people have been writing to express concerns about matters of the criminal justice system, and if they had listened to those people they might have been able to improve the process. Why do we have to resort to this, why do we have to resort to inquiries to get improvements? When I think the public of this land, and identify problems, seek to relate those problems, but actually they never have their complaints listened to or responded to. The moves in the Police Reform Bill try to do something about that, and I welcome that, I am just exceptionally distressed that the establishment of a sort of repository for all complaints may be frustrated, and that the people like my constituents, like all of our constituents, will have to wait while the criminal justice system sorts itself out, without any reference to the people that they are purporting to serve.
Chairman: Mrs Curtis-Thomas, thank you very much for coming. The session is closed.