Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Peter Garsden, Abney Garsden McDonald Solicitors (CA 9)

Question: What is my background?

  I am a qualified solicitor with 20 years' experience who for the last eight years has specialised in child abuse compensation claims on behalf of the victims of historical abuse predominantly in children's homes throughout the country, but mainly in the North West of England. I lead a large department. We are currently running 20 group actions concerning historical abuse in children's homes. This firm acts for about 400 individuals who have been abused. We co-ordinate, as Lead Solicitors, a further 400 individuals, making a total of 800 claims.

  I am a Founder Member of ACAL (Association of Child Abuse Lawyers) who will be submitting separate evidence. I am the co-ordinator of the largest group of claimants in the country, collectively known as the North West Group, which at one time was as many as 300 individuals and covered five children's homes.

Question: Do I believe there is a problem with false allegations in child abuse cases?

    —  Child Abuse is no different to other crimes in terms of false allegations.

    —  Child abuse takes place in secret with few witnesses. It is difficult to prove and disprove.

    —  Countrywide there are 96 investigations by 32 Police forces, 1,000s of allegations and over 100 abusers in prison. Statistically there are bound to be some false or exaggerated allegations. Such instances however are very rare—at a guess less than 1 per cent.

    —  Disclosure causes immense pain and embarrassment for the victim. Tears, vomiting, drugs, and alcohol are commonplace.

    —  How difficult is it to disclose intimate sexual experiences.

    —  Disclosure of abuse carries a dirty stigma and can cause relationship breakdown. Partners believe that the abused become abusers.

    —  Are 20 complainants who went to the same home, have never met, tell of similar grooming methods by the same man over a 20 year period all conspiring to tell lies?

    —  Juries hear long rigorous cross examination during the trials yet still believe the victims who have criminal records?

    —  Have the Members of Parliament and the Committee actually witnessed the evidence being given as juries and the lawyers have? Is this a fair test of the reliability of the testimony?

    —  80 per cent of those prosecuted plead guilty. Surely one is not suggesting that the claimants are all telling lies in their cases as well.

Question: What message are we sending out to the victims?

    —  Is history repeating itself—we are disbelieving the genuine complaints of child abuse in children's homes. Have we not learnt from the lessons of the past?

    —  What message are we sending out the victims of abuse who want to make complaints but are afraid to do so because in the past they have been brandished as liars?

Question: Where has the suggestion that there are false allegations come from?

    —  The relatives and families of convicted child abusers have lobbied MPs and others very effectively.

    —  No evidence of false allegations other than the word of the convicted?

    —  If such evidence exists (proof is awaited) then it is likely to be anecdotal and weak. The few must not colour the veracity of the many (at least 5,000 complainants countrywide?)

    —  The St George's Children's Home Southport example and the David Jones prosecution—89 alleged abusers and 125 victims.

    —  It is the partners of the guilty who are complaining most loudly—examine the facts.

    —  In reality, there are many more guilty paedophiles that are never prosecuted walking the streets, than there are innocent men who have been wrongly convicted, in prison. Generally, child abuse prosecutions do not get to court for a variety of reasons:

    —  the child witness is too young to give evidence;

    —  the complainant witness cannot withstand the stress of giving evidence in court; and

    —  the complainant is intimidated into withdrawing his complaint by the abuser.

Question: Do I believe that trawling for evidence by the police creates false allegations?

    —  The Police Manuals created by every Senior Investigating Officer forbids compensation being discussed.

    —  I have spoken to both the Police and the victim—the lobbyists only have the convicted abuser to ask?

    —  Police investigation process.

    —  The new ACPO guidelines simply codify existing procedures, not a new way viz. John Robbins is on my staff.

    —  Without "trawling" child abuse would have remained a secret to this day.

    —  The police only take to court the strongest allegations by the best witnesses. Any weak allegations are filtered out.

Question: Do I believe that police interviews should be tape recorded?

    —  Do not tape record interviews because of the suspicion of false allegations because it is a fallacy that they exist in any significant numbers.

    —  If allegations of child abuse are to be recorded so should all complainant evidence for any crime—the cost implications.

    —  Give child abuse complainants better legal protection—video links, pre-recorded evidence and other child protection advantages.

    —  Make the trial process less psychologically damaging.

    —  Video tape evidence to show the pain of disclosure for the victim when he makes his statement.

Question: Are claimants motivated into telling lies for money and compensation?

    —  Primarily they want justice/revenge not money.

    —  No not primarily—they want to stop the abuse happening to others in a similar situation ever again.

    —  Most victims want a genuine apology and never get it.

    —  A victim of abuse feels worthless and undeserving of any compensation.

    —  The victim does not feel that an act of child prostitution deserves a financial reward.

    —  Compensation levels are appallingly low and are not sufficient a financial incentive.

    —  CICA awards are almost non existent.

    —  The behaviour of the CICA towards the victims is abusive in itself.

    —  Our psychologists' psychometric test results do not indicate a lying culture.

    —  The psychologists say that under-disclosure rather than exaggeration is a common theme.

February 2002


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