Submitted by Julie Driscoll (CA 136)
As a care leaver, I would like to submit my views and opinions to the Home Affairs Committee regarding past cases of abuse in children's homes.
1. Do police methods of "trawling" for evidence involve a disproportionate use of resources and produce unreliable evidence for prosecution?
2. Is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted?
3. Should there be a time limitin terms of number of years since the alleged offence took placeon prosecution of cases of child abuse?
4. Is there a risk that the advertisement of prospective awards of compensation in child abuse cases encourages people to come forward with fabricated allegations?
5. Is there a weakness in the current law on "similar fact" evidence?
I was in care during the 1970s and I witnessed and experienced different forms of abuse. In 1997 I made statements to the police on Operation Goldfinch in Cardiff, South Wales. Although, I did not press any charges myself, I was able to corroborate what several victims had said. The accused person eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
The first issuepolice methods of "trawling"means nothing to me at all. The only knowledge I have of this is through the media. In my case, I contacted the police; the police did not contact me. I gave the names of the staff and children whom I was in various homes with, so those people would have been approached. They may believe or consider they were "trawled", but the police were following information I had given them.
With the second issue, regarding the Crown Prosecution, for a person such as myself, it is impossible to judge whether they are drawing a sensible line about which cases to prosecute. That is an issue for the legal professions not care leavers, victims or defendants. A prosecution should take place on the facts, not human emotions.
For many care leavers, their time being looked after interrupted their natural development and outlook on life. Some will think retribution is the answer. Others will find it easier to simply block it all out. Whatever, the individuals' reasons are for coming forward with allegations, they will almost certainly, be ruled by the heart and therefore, will be somewhat clouded.
I am more definite on the third issueYes, there should be a time limit set. This should not be on the number of years since the alleged offence took place, but on the age of the complainant.
When children leave care they have to adapt to society and life outside of an institution. From personal experience I know this takes a number of years. I didn't settle down properly until I was in my thirties. Like many children, I left care angry, bitter, confused and totally isolated. Care leavers have to be given time to come to terms with what has happened to them.
Had all these investigations started when I was in my twenties and at war with the world, and myself, I would have had a totally different view than I do today. I certainly would not have contacted the police with information, but I may well have made allegations myself. Having the extra years to allow my emotions to mature and my thinking processes to develop and become more rational has made all the difference.
A person in their forties with experience of life will, in my opinion, make a better judgement call than a person in their twenties who is angry and confused.
As far as issue four is concerned, there is a great risk of people fabricating allegations in the hope of compensation. The media continually printing stories and producing programmes such as the BBC's Care does not help this. In many cases they are far too graphic and explicit and actually put the idea into peoples' minds. I know of two cases where people admitted to a third party that they had "fabricated allegations".
Issue five is very difficult. If like minded individuals, seeking revenge, get together, it could become impossible for a person to prove their innocence.
I have experienced the good and the bad as far as the care system is concerned, and even though I have commented on the above issues, I cannot fully agree with what is happening now. Someone in authority needs to state a cut off point for allegations before 1980. What happened in the past, is just that, in the past. It cannot be changed. A public witch-hunt will not solve anything.
We should be moving forward and ensuring that we learn from past mistakes. In all areas of life there are acceptable losses, my peers and I are those acceptable losses for the care system. There is now a new generation and they must be the top priority. The hundreds of thousands of pounds that has and is being spent on tribunals and inquiries would be much better spent on today's children's services, ensuring they are safe, well cared for, educated and protected.
It is inevitable that some innocent people will be wrongly convicted. First they go through a media trial, in which they are named and presumed guilty and then they go before judge and jury. Normally, I am against censorship, but in these cases the media should be prevented from printing details and names.
Personally, I find it extremely distressing when the media rakes over the events of the 1970s and I certainly have no sense of justice and take no pleasure from seeing or hearing of frail and elderly people being convicted. Many of the people being charged now are totally incapable of doing what they did thirty years ago.
I very much regret contacting the police and have made it quite clear I will not help them again. The police did nothing wrong, but the interviews and giving statements, unsettled me, and caused me to have nightmares. I did not realise that would happen and I am not prepared to go through it again.
It does not concern me that the people who caused me pain and humiliation are still walking free. I know they cannot hurt me anymore and are far too old to still be working with children. I believe it is punishment enough for them to wondering if or when there will be a knock at their door.
"But what this scene, and much else that I saw in Germany, brought home to me was that the whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.
(George Orwell, 1945)
The above is taken from Revenge is Sour, an essay Orwell wrote following a visit to a concentration camp at the end of the war.