Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Dr Christopher Reeves (CA 120)


  1.  I retired as Principal of a Residential Special School in 1991. Afterwards I was investigated and tried on several counts of sexual abuse involving pupils at the school. The police showed no interest in learning from myself or anyone else about the school's regime and purpose or the highly vulnerable children sent there. I was only listened to for the first time in the witness box. When that had happened the trial judge directed the jury to acquit me on all counts.

  So for 10 years, from the start of Police investigations to my acquittal, my life and that of my family was blighted. First the Police failed to carry out an objective investigation, then the CPS used every possible device, including recourse to a Voluntary Bill of Indictment, to prevent attempts by the Defence to have the evidence evaluated before trial. The damage to highly vulnerable former pupils was incalculable.

  Additionally, I had to spend in excess of 200,000 in my defence. This would have been still more had Local Authorities won Wasted Costs Orders as a result of the trial judge turning down Defence requests for vital Third Party material, that the Prosecution should itself have accessed and made available to the Defence.

  2.  The consequences for myself and family did not end with my acquittal. Afterwards my former employer, Cornwall Healthcare Trust, refused to re-employ me arguing "potential adverse publicity" (I had repeatedly requested anonymity for the proceedings). This in spite of having been a respected Consultant Child Psychotherapist for the Authority up to my suspension in 1997 when the police investigation leading to my trial began.

  2.1  The basic principle of "innocent unless proved guilty" was not applied before and after trial in my case. In dealing with issues of potential child sexual abuse, police, social workers and employers do not seem to treat this principle as any longer relevant.


  3.  From experience I can confirm the truth of what has been written about the unfairness of police trawling methods. In particular, I can vouch that:

  3.1  Police evidence seeking was systematically skewed in favour of obtaining evidence of possible criminality, not of possible innocence. Thus if a former pupil or colleague was approached by the police and said that s/he had nothing to say against me, the interview was immediately terminated.

  3.2  I was the (only) identified target of the police investigation. Prospective informants were given indications ("concerns") that I was suspected of sexual abuse. It is wrong to claim that Police do not suggest names in the course of their interviews or steer would-be witnesses in the desired direction.

  3.3  It is false to assert that trawling is only undertaken to seek corroboration for an initial "unprompted" allegation that appears to be credible but insufficiently substantiated. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. In my case corroborative evidence was sought through interviewing certain children the first time the police checked out a pupil's unprompted allegation. I regard the focused procedure used then as quite acceptable and not "trawling". It involved selective interviewing, mostly of children mentioned by the complainant, with the precise aim of checking out the first complainant's account. Significantly, the officer conducting the inquiry then was a Detective Sergeant with an ordinary detective background, not in Child Protection. That officer eventually closed the file, convinced my accuser was lying.

  3.3.1  Later when these allegations were revived they were dealt with by "specialist" police Child Protection investigators in the way that has since become routine. Although the triggering allegations were patently implausible, no attempt was made to evaluate them. They were simply used as a pretext for launching a large scale investigation in the hope of other more plausible allegations emerging on the back of them.

  3.3.2  In the event, the triggering allegations were dropped by the Prosecution before trial, leaving just the solicited charges as counts on the indictment. Technically these latter allegations were not corroborating anything at all, although the complainants were made to believe that their evidence was essentially corroborative of abuse the Police already knew about. I call this the "loss leader approach" to CSA investigations.

  4.  Since the trial my solicitor has amply documented the many shortcomings of the Crown Prosecution Service, in my case in a series of written representations to the DPP and Solicitor General. My MP Matthew Taylor has also made representations to the Attorney General. Belatedly, some of these deficiencies have since been acknowledged, in particular the failure of the Prosecution to make proper use of Third Party Material.

  4.1  These deficiencies were not due to simple negligence but the result of a deliberate policy to ensure that my case came to trial, come what may, the Prosecutor having become convinced of my guilt without my ever being interviewed in the course of the inquiry. The Crown Prosecutor even took upon himself the job of determining the exact number and nature of the charges on which I would be arrested and charged, instead of leaving it to the investigating police. This makes a mockery of the professed independence of Police and Crown Prosecution roles.

  4.2  Among reasons for this blurring of responsibilities are:

  4.2.1  perceived public pressures, which result in CSA investigations aiming at producing "positive evidence";

  4.2.2  mantra-like misuse of formulae, such as "children never lie in cases of child sexual abuse"; "no adult would willingly go through the ordeal of giving evidence in a sexual abuse case unless there was some basis in fact";

  4.2.3  the habit of misnaming by police and CPS of complainants as "victims" and the target individuals as "perpetrators" even when investigations are ongoing and no charges have been preferred, still less proved.

  4.3  Critically, Police and CPS overlook differences between finding a suspect where the fact of a crime is known (the normal objective of criminal investigations) and finding out if a crime has actually been committed (the objective with most sex crimes, and CSA in particular). It is tempting for Police and CPS to look for something definite to start off from, and so replace the usual certainty about the fact of a crime committed but initial uncertainty about who is the culprit (the standard case), with a presumed certainty about the culprit(s) and uncertainty only about the number and type of offences committed (this applies to most CSA cases).

  5.  Compensation is only one among many inducements leading to false allegations. It was not crucial in my case. Pursuit of compensation implies a conscious calculation on the part of the would-be complainant. The motives of those making false allegations are not always simple or transparent, even to themselves. Often more potent factors may be the following:

  5.1  Complainants who are convicts may be hoping for better treatment, chances of earlier parole, like being listened to, or just want the satisfaction of seeing one of "them" face the prospect of now becoming one of "us".

  5.2  The factor of impressionability is particularly strong among the vulnerable or those having suffered disrupted childhoods. Police and Social Workers are especially invested by such individuals with power and discretion, so if these "authorities" indicate that the suspect is an abuser, the suggestion is potent. This observation does not nullify the equally valid proposition, that people from such backgrounds are particularly susceptible to abuse. What must be recognised is that heightened impressionability can work in both directions and from the same underlying cause.

  5.3  Pressure from family members to impute or confirm abuse against a former carer can be a strong factor, especially where Police publicly seek potential complainants to come forward. This particularly applies where parents feel remorse for having allowed the would-be complainant to be taken into care as a child, or who have since experienced rejection by them as grown-ups on the grounds that they failed to look after them properly as children. Accusing carers and the "system" of abuse of neglect can reconcile and rebond parents and offspring, if only temporarily.

  5.4  Someone formerly in care needs to be exceptionally strong-minded when questioned not to fall in with the investigating police's presumption that abuse has occurred. Not to concur can seem like condoning everything that happened to them whilst in care, and few will do that—the stigma of having been in care when young is inherently too devastating.


  6.  The Committee could usefully examine the loss leader approach in connection with trawling. I recommend it to consider the following questions:

  6.1  How many CSA convictions have occurred where the investigation arose from an unprompted allegation(s) that did not become a count on the Indictment, or was removed from the Jury, or of which the Defendant was found not guilty?

  6.2  Should unprompted allegations always be tried as self-standing charges (and in camera)—with any subsequent large-scale police investigation into institutional/historic abuse initiated only after a conviction? This would allow Police trawling but only on certain conditions.

  6.3  Should juries be informed whenever a Complainant is giving testimony as a result of a Police approach?

  6.4  Should Judges be required to give guidance to the Jury about the dangers of convicting on charges based on trawling, if the Jury decides against convicting on the counts based on unprompted evidence?

  7.  Consideration should be given to recommending the setting-up of a specialist CPS unit for England & Wales to deal with the prosecution (or not):

  7.1  of all alleged sexual crimes (including rape) where no independent forensic evidence exists showing that a crime has taken place.

  7.2  or child sexual abuse crimes;

  7.3  or, those involving historic/institutional child sexual abuse.

Besides other benefits this proposal would remove the decision-making over such prosecutions from local pressures, and reduce the likelihood of improper collusion between Police and CPS.

  8.  The same right to anonymity for the accused (until found guilty) as to the accusers, to protect those acquitted from later disadvantage or discrimination.

  9.  Police to discontinue counting as "crimes dealt with" in their returns charges of CSA against suspects until actual convictions are secured.

  In this submission I am aware of making several claims of defective practice or procedures by Police and CPS. In each instance I can produce supporting evidence if required. I am willing also to explain or develop any of the above points either orally to the Committee or in further written evidence.

February 2002


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