Submitted by Christian Wolmar (CA 189)
I am deeply concerned at the whole tone that this debate is taking. The publicity in the media has recently centred exclusively on the possibility of people being wrongly convicted and criticism of trawling methods.
However, there is incontrovertible evidence that a lot of children were abused in homes, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. My book draws together evidence from many sources and explains why this was the case. Briefly, the particular circumstances of that time, together with an increase in numbers of children taken into care and the lack of supervision of staff led to a rise in abuse cases.
The police, then, have a duty to investigate and, where possible, prosecute in these cases. As my book quotes, in the much-criticised Operation Care investigation in Liverpool, of the first 23 convictions, 18 were the result of guilty pleas. Given that it is unlikely that an innocent person would put forward a guilty plea and that the police did not necessarily put their strongest cases in first, that is evidence of widespread scandal.
The evidence for massive numbers of claims to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is also thin. At the time of writing my book, by the end of March 2000, there had been 365 claims of which 51 had been accepted and 42 rejected, suggesting that, contrary to conventional wisdom, by no means all applications result in compensation payments.
I have obviously talked to lots of victims, some of whom contacted me after the book was written, and their accounts provide compelling evidence of widespread abuse. Several observe that while they were not sexually abused, they suffered from physical abuse which merely emphasises the point that abuse of all kinds was possible in the environment of the homes at that time.
The most troubling piece of evidence about police conduct of investigations that I came across was from a convicted paedophile with whom I spoke in prison. He accepted that he had abused children, but had never committed buggery which was contrary to his Christian faith. However, in order to avoid forcing the witnesses to give evidence, he accepted a charge of buggery even though he was innocent of that particular crime. He had no reason to lie to me as he provided considerable material for my book and was co-operative throughout, once I had gained his trust. Therefore, there is evidence that the police are tempted to ratchet up the level of charges in order to be able to plea bargain them down again. The incidence of more serious charges being lumped in with lesser ones therefore needs to be examined.
While I undertook the research and writing of this book, I came across people with extreme views on both sides. On the one hand, there were those who saw abuse in every children's home and who were convinced every "victim" was telling the truth. On the other, those who thought there were massive numbers of wrongly convicted people and that most of the evidence is fiction. I am convinced both are wrong. There was a scandal and the police are right to investigate it but some "victims" are charlatans.
It may be that there should be special procedures for the way such investigations are carried out and these could be developed by ACPO. But to put an end to the investigations would be a great injustice to the scandal's many victims.
Taking a balanced view in this highly charged debate has led to criticisms from all sides. I hope that your Committee, however, will also take this course to ensure that there is justice on all sides.