Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 880-899)



  880. Have you come across people feeling pressurised because there are multiple visits and they might not want to make a statement or talk about it but then with more visits by the police, they feel forced or obliged into saying something. Does that happen?
  (Mr Byrne) A lot of the men in the testimony you have from the ten witnesses I interviewed for the answers talked about trawling. The word "trawling" was given to us by you. They would not call it trawling but just see it as someone knocking on the door. It is not a pleasant situation in which to be put. In your life you try to keep this situation quiet and to get on with your life. You know what happened in your childhood but you want to get on with things, to marry and keep your job but something inside you tells you that what was done to you was wrong. You are given that opportunity to feel you can do something about it but you might still feel unconvinced about what is going to happen, how you are going to react and the process involved in the investigation. All this happened 20 years ago. The effects of what we call the knock on the door by the policeman who wants to start talking about your time in a home are not about pressure but about, in our case, the man himself—in other cases the survivor—putting that into context with his whole life. On reflection, it is one of the most damaging things that can happen. It is not about fabricating evidence to lock up somebody you did not particularly like in the children's home but about having to engage for the first time in 20 or 30 years with something that you have tired to hide, about which you have been embarrassed. When a policeman knocks on that door, he takes you back to being a 10 year old boy in a children's home, frightened and scared about what is going to happen to you the next time. You have to deal with that. Trawling might be one of the most effective ways to do this but the trawling must be done with an insight into how victims of child abuse can get the best out of it and can best be supported and not think of it as an opportunity for the police to put on pressure. You are asking them to talk about something they have kept so private. The effects of that knock on the door can be profound.
  (Mr Frampton) If anything, that should be accompanied by proper counselling. That is one of the biggest weaknesses at the moment that we have found, that many witnesses will not continue to press forward because of their experience. They should be offered counselling.

  881. What kind of support is available at the moment when there is this knock on the door? What level of support should there be?
  (Teresa Reynolds) May I answer the first question you asked about the method of trawling. There are advantages and disadvantages to getting the knock on the door or the letter through the post. I do not have enough direct experience of being on the receiving end to know how it feels. Certainly we can say that the way someone responds may well depend on where they are in their process of accepting what has happened to them. Having to tell someone about that can be part of the recovery process. For example, someone who wants to talk about this and is contacted by the police, then feels that someone is going to believe them about what they may have buried for many years. They feel because someone has contacted them at least they will be believed and that perhaps now is the right time. But someone else may not be at the stage where they want to tell anyone at all. They may be contacted out of the blue and suddenly that brings to the surface things which they have buried and are difficult to deal with. On balance, Victim Support's view is that at least this gives people the opportunity to speak up if they feel ready and able to do so at that time. If they do not, that is their decision. I would wholeheartedly support what colleagues have said, that the support must be there. This can leave people devastated. These people have not complained about what has happened to them and it can be traumatic when someone starts talking about it. The support should be there. If people ring the support lines of Victim Support, we will put them in touch with their local group. If their local group cannot support them directly, Victim Support will put those people in touch with a specialist support group that can provide the required support. It is absolutely crucial that is in place. There are not enough local services to pick up those people.
  (Mr Byrne) To demonstrate the need for this and how important it is, Fire in Ice established a relationship with Operation Nevada in Lancashire, an operation we had nothing to do with in the sense of it not being part of the creation of our service. When we talk to survivors about this abuse, we consider how best we can support them after we have left them, because we understand that to ask them for a statement or even to mention the school or anything about a childhood experience is so traumatic. They can be supported by actually coming to a group like Fire in Ice that is run by and for survivors and that help is profound. The idea is to learn from the experiences of Operation Care where damage was done by the letter or the knock on the door. I speculate that there was an assumption that the individual would be happy to talk about what happened and to talk about their child abuse. In a sense, they were quite shocked and there was a reluctance to talk about it because they were ashamed. They had buried it all it so deep that they were frightened to deal with it. If you have not told your wife about your experiences in care, how then are you going to explain why two coppers have come to your door to talk about it? It implies, "What have you been up to?" You then have to engage with it and you are forced to do that at a time when perhaps you are not ready for it. That is where the trawling needs to be reassessed. It is not only about when it happens to the individual but what support is offered to that individual afterwards. Every loving wife will understand that her husband was an innocent victim of child abuse, given the chance for explanations. That is all put into the emotional melting pot as you interrupt somebody's life to find evidence to try to get a conviction. You engage with survivors and talk to them about the best way to do this. That is how trawling can be most effective and best used.

  882. Do you think these investigations could be conducted without trawling?
  (Mr Byrne) You would need hard evidence as well as trawling. I do not know.


  883. The alternative way of doing it would be firstly to deal with those complainants who come forward voluntarily and then go and see the other people they have named. Mrs Prentice's question is: should you then go, as most police forces have done, a step further and try to identify everybody who was in the home at the same time and send them a circular letter saying, "Have you got anything to add to our knowledge?"
  (Mr Frampton) It is a matter for the police. Sometimes it is very difficult to remember the names of people from your home. I had not seen the kids who were in my home for 25 years but they gave me names. Someone even rang me up and said, "Oh, I am so and so, we were in the home together". I could not remember. I left and did my own thing. That is much a much more circuitous route.

Mr Malins

  884. Is there an agreed definition of child abuse?
  (Mr Frampton) Abuse of the child.

  885. Quite, but I want to know whether it has changed in the last 10, 15 or 20 years. What comes under the umbrella of child abuse?
  (Kathryn Stone) That is a very interesting question because we all assume that we know what we are talking about when we mention child abuse. Trawling—for want of a better word—my memory and my academic studies, there are a number of different definitions of child abuse but most of them centre on the abuse of power. In circumstances where people are living in residential institutions, be it in children's homes, special residential schools or residential care homes, the abuse of power by somebody who is being paid to care for you is one of the most appalling crimes that anybody could ever commit.

  886. What is an abuse of power?
  (Kathryn Stone) For example, if you consider a person with learning disabilities, if you have a relative or family member for whom you are not able to care any more, you make a decision that other people, professionals, will be best placed to care for them and they are then charged with the responsibility of dealing with your daughter's personal care needs, toileting, bathing and so on. If somebody uses that opportunity to sexually assault your child, that is an abuse not only of the power that they have in those circumstances but the trust that that person and their family have in you.

  887. That is a criminal offence. We know about that. What I am anxious to establish from any of you is: does child abuse, or abuse, include conduct which is not sexual?
  (Mr Frampton) Yes.

  888. Give me some examples of that.
  (Mr Frampton) When a child is knocked to the ground in front of others in the dining room just because he happened to say something and is thrashed, that is an arbitrary punishment. That is not like saying, "This will be your punishment. You know this will happen". That is abuse when it happens.

  889. Would you say then that smacking generally comes under the umbrella of abuse?
  (Mr Frampton) I know where you are coming from. There were things which happened in the Fifties and Sixties which would not be tolerated now, but we accepted them.

  890. What sort of things?
  (Mr Frampton) We accepted that if we did something wrong at school or in the home, we would get the cane. If we smoked, we might have to smoke a cigar—which was not bad! We accepted those things, that we would be smacked if we did something wrong. If that happened when we had not done something wrong, then that was abuse obviously because we felt we were innocent. Having said that, those things were accepted. I would say in today's terms I faced psychological abuse, racial abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse, but I will not be going to court because I do not consider that, in the context of the situation at the time, it really would aid anything in particular. We are not talking about care leavers just picking up on something like being given bad food. These people feel they have been psychologically damaged. The issue of child abuse is not what happened but what happened to that person in their head.

  891. To follow that up, why is it that, to be blunt, in care homes where there are vulnerable children run by the state I suppose or the local authority, there is a much higher degree of abuse of all sorts than in many ordinary schools, both private and state? Is it because the nasty people in society gravitate towards jobs in that world?
  (Mr Frampton) Are you saying there is more abuse in care homes than there is in public schools or public boarding schools?

  892. Yes. Anecdotally I would say there is much more in care homes. Would you agree with that?
  (Mr Frampton) No, I would not. I would say there was as much abuse in public boarding schools, from the information we have had, but people were prepared to accept it.

  893. In today's public schools you think there is as much abuse as there might be in care homes?
  (Mr Frampton) Not in today's public schools; I cannot comment on that. People who have come through the public schools would say that the level of abuse was very severe in the Fifties and Sixties. I was actually quite pleased I grew up in the home I did when I heard some of the stuff that happened in public schools. They threatened to send me to a boarding school. Luckily, I got out of that. Ordinary state schools are not residential. The opportunities come in residential schools. This is not just about conscious paedophiles but about people working in a system who are there 24 hours a day, all week, on very low pay and virtually untrained as they were then. These were isolated, many lonely individuals working with children and that gave them power. That gave them power, and a lot of them, because they were isolated, abused that power. Therefore women did sexually molest boys as young as three and four and girls as young as three and four; women did molest older girls; women did molest and have sex with young minors in that situation; and there were men who did the same. That was because they were sad and lonely, unwanted individuals themselves and if you continue with a care system where the people are paid very poor money and are left in low self-esteem and with little training you will have the repeat, because it is the opportunity in that residential setting; if you are sad, a lot of people will be drawn into that type of situation. I do not agree with all the paedophile infiltration that has been at issue; there is much more at issue about children being respected and people who work with children being properly respected, properly paid and properly trained.

Angela Watkinson

  894. My questions initially are about the reliability of complainants' evidence so perhaps I could address my questions to you, Teresa Reynolds, because of your involvement with courts and accompanying witnesses. Do you accept the allegation that police trawls carry a risk of producing unreliable evidence?
  (Ms Reynolds) I think it is impossible for us absolutely to know that. The way the witness service works in the court is simply to provide information about court procedures so in a sense, when a witness comes forward and is put forward by the Crown Prosecution Service, the witness service will simply give information about what happens in the court, who the people are in the court and so on. They no way engage in a discussion of the witness's evidence and, if the witness were to start talking about what happened to them, they would close down that discussion and say, "I am sorry. We cannot discuss that any more". So I think it simply is impossible from our organisation to know whether there are witnesses coming forward who are simply not bona fide. We provide the service whether or not someone is then going to tell the truth. Only they can know what they are going to say.

  895. I am not sure who would be the most appropriate person to answer this group of questions: it is who has had the most involvement with witnesses and police investigations, or who has knowledge of the methods of police investigation. For example, do you have any concerns about the integrity of these police investigations? Has anyone had direct involvement? I get the impression from Mr Byrne that you are not specifically involved with seeking retribution but simply trying to get people's lives to move forward.
  (Mr Byrne) That brings us into contact with police investigations. We are very clear about what we do and do not do. Obviously any pre trial work done by Fire in Ice has to be carefully monitored so we are not seen to be contaminating any evidence, but we are essentially showing the need for the pre trial work to be done. So we have some limited experience.

  896. Are you aware of any cases of a survivor of child sexual abuse or physical abuse where they have been genuinely mistaken as to the identity of the accuser?
  (Mr Byrne) No.

  897. Would any of you say absolutely no to that question?
  (Ms Stone) No. I was discussing earlier with my colleagues that, having worked in the field of social care for over twenty years now, I have never met somebody who has made a malicious allegation of child abuse or any other abuse.

  898. I am really talking here about genuinely mistaking the identity of the accuser.
  (Ms Stone) No. I have not met anyone.
  (Mr Frampton) I have known people who have been unsure who it was but they are not going to court because—

  899. These are cases where the abuse is alleged to have happened many years previously?
  (Mr Frampton) They were abused but they were not sure, particularly over certain incidents, who the abusers were.


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