Submitted by Chris Saltrese (CA 76)
I am a solicitor and for the past six years I have specialised in representing careworkers and teachers facing retrospective allegations of physical and sexual abuse. It is my view that in excess of 100 careworkers and teachers have been wrongly convicted following retrospective trawling operations.
The dangers of trawling are best illustrated by way of example. In April 1996 Terence Hoskin was convicted of physically and sexually abusing former residents of St Aidan's, Community Home, where he had been headmaster from 1974 to 1982. He was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. I did not represent Mr Hoskin at trial but had known him for several years as a friend of my father who is also a former headmaster of a Community Home.
Mr Hoskin's family asked me to pursue the possibility of an appeal. After studying the papers I formed the view that the allegations against Mr Hoskin had been fabricated. The unsued statements (that is, those statements which are not relied upon by the prosecution to prove any count on the indictment) were littered with examples of police introducing to potential complainants information which was highly prejudicial to Mr Hoskin. To give but one example, the main complainant in the case alleged that he had been caned by Mr Hoskin on the bare backside after which Mr Hoskin had indecently assaulted him with the tip of the cane. A statement in the unused read, "I cannot remember Mr Hoskin touching me in an indecent manner or suggesting anything indecent to me whilst I was at St Aidan's". I traced the maker of this unused statement to HMP Liverpool where he provided me with a statement which included the following: "After such a long period of time I would not have been able to remember the name of the Headmaster or the individual names of houses without police prompting. Nor do I recall ever being caned on the bare backside. I remember the police asking if when caned by Mr Hoskin did he ever touch me with the cane in an indecent manner, that is, did he ever put the cane between my buttocks or touch my genitals. I replied 'no' to this, jokingly asking the police would I get compensation if I said 'yes'. They replied along the lines of `I suppose so'".
The danger here is obvious. Had the inmate decided to accept the invitation to make an allegation his statement would have read, "Mr Hoskin caned me on the bare backside and then put the cane between my buttocks etc". Once produced by the prosecution at trial this evidence (along with similar evidence gathered by police in a similar fashion) would appear compelling. The prosecution would present the allegations as being very similar and would, quite correctly, assert that there had been no collusion between complainants who had not been in contact with each other for more than 20 years. The jury in Hoskin, as in the great majority of multi-complainant carehome trials, were faced with the question, "Why are 21 complainants alleging something very similar about the defendant?" Once collusion has been ruled out the only credible answer is that the defendant must in fact be guilty. There is very little a defendant's lawyers can do in this situation; to introduce unused statements in order to criticise police methodology is to run the risk that the jury are made aware of even more allegations against the defendant and it is a risk that most lawyers are not prepared to take.
The above example gives an illustration of how the police can "create" the evidence which sends entirely innocent men to prison. I don't suggest that police officers are doing this maliciously or deliberately, but it should be recognised that it is extremely difficult for an officer to carry out such interviews without suggesting what the enquiry might be about. Added to this difficulty is the fact that many of those interviewed will be dishonest or suggestible and will have little hesitation in going along with the police narrative. Some may even think that if a suspect is being investigated then that is a reasonable indication of guilt and that he or she may as well "jump on the band wagon". I have interviewed several former residents of care homes who have told me that they have been sorely tempted to make false allegations against former carers (usually in order to claim undeserved compensation) but have, for one reason or another, not done so.
The Court of Appeal rejected Mr Hoskin's appeal in November 2000.
Roy Shuttleworth was a careworker at Greystone Heath Community Home in the 1970s. He was convicted of sexually abusing former residents in September 1996 and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. His case also demonstrates the dangers of police trawling. The police began making inquiries of all ex-pupils of Greystone Heath (and, as in the St Aidan's inquiry, interviewed several hundred former pupils) because of an allegation by a former resident which in the end was not pursued to trial because the police came to regard it as unreliable. One former resident made allegations against Mr Shuttleworth, and purported to identify him in a photograph provided by the police, but it transpired that he had left the school about seven years before Mr Shuttleworth's employment there began. Similarly, another former resident made allegations against a member of staff called Grain; re-directed his allegations against another member of staff, Hughes, when it transpired that Grain had left the school before this former resident had arrived; and ultimately confessed that all his allegations against Hughes were untrue and had been made up because "that's what I thought the police wanted to hear". The danger is that if a complainant makes an allegation which is not demonstrably untrue then that allegation will be placed before a jury; in my experience the quality of the evidence of individual complainants is often extremely weak when considered in isolation but when supported by a raft of other allegations it is transformed into what appears to be compelling evidence of a defendant's guilt.
The Court of Appeal refused Mr Shuttleworth leave to appeal in June 1999.