Page 6, 19th November 1999

19th November 1999
Page 6
Page 6, 19th November 1999 — An abuse of the system

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Locations: Southampton


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An abuse of the system

ORE AND MORE, it becoming obvious that Britain's growing compensation culture is beginning to create a new class of victim. But residential care workers are suffering in a particularly cruel way.

The lure of compensation is the driving force behind an ever-increasing number of abuse allegations, many of which are false, and many of which are made by adults, not children.

These accusations are against staff in children's homes and residential schools, a large number of which, particularly in the Liverpool Archdiocese, are run by the Catholic Church.

It is true to say that many informed observers believe the scale of false accusations is at an epidemic level, causing grave miscarriages of justice in which innocent people are being jailed.

High profile cases in recent times — such as that of David Jones, the Southampton football manager— have raised public awareness of accusations of abuse in residential schools and care homes.

There is no question that such institutions, which in the main care for troubled and troublesome adolescents, have attracted some adults who have subjected them to various forms of abuse.

Of course, genuine victims deserve compensation. It is unquestionably right, too, that every effort is made to eliminate any opportunity for evil and sick people to gain access to children.

But the sinister nature of such abuse may soon be dwarfed by the grave injustices suffered by innocent employees and their families when false and malicious allegations from witnesses, who at best could be described as unreliable, are believed by the courts.

Quite simply, a criminal underclass has recognised the compensation culture as an opportunity for easy money — and they do not even have to go to court to get it. Indeed, an accusation is sufficient to gain a pay-out from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. A conviction is not necessary, though, naturally, that often follows.

Take the case of Basil Williams-Rigby, a married father-of-four, who in August was jailed for 12 years on the evidence, in the words of his daughter, Rebecca, of "armed robbers and hardened criminals" who were all at a Merseyside care home together. Some of them were allowed out of jail to give evidence. Outside the court they taunted the family and rubbed their hands together in an arrogant, ostentatious and greedy show of expectation of the money they were almost certain to receive.

One complainant had enjoyed regular contact with Williams-Rigby and his family over 16 years and had originally agreed to be a defence witness only to change his mind after a conversation with another of the accusers.

Williams-Rigby, 54, was found guilty on 20 of an original 72 charges of serious sexual abuse alleged to have taken place in the late 70s and early 80s. Being so long ago, it was impossible for him to prove his innocence. Alas, the criminal justice system is today loaded dangerously in favour of these accusers.

The judge, however, acknowledged prior to passing sentence that WilliamsRigby enjoyed "years of unblemished service" after the period in question. This hardly fits the profile of a classic paedophile, whose condition is progressive and incurable.

THOSE WHO know Basil Williams-Rigby remain totally convinced of his complete innocence but, in any sane and just society, even those more sceptical would surely question the credibility of the prosecution case in the light of such witnesses and the complete lack of further allegations at his other places of employment despite exhaustive police investigations.

But the accused are not the only ones to suffer. The police and the genuine victims of child abuse also lose out to false allegations.

A long professional relationship with the Family Support Unit of St Helens Police, a model of excellent practice, and participation within two major police operations on Merseyside, of which I had a similarly high opinion, leave me convinced that investigating officers are vigorous, fair and committed to the worthy cause of eliminating child abuse and bringing to justice those who have harmed children in the past.

Their resources, particularly with regard to issues of contemporary abuse, are scarce, however, and demands upon these by those who make false allegations can only take place at greater risk to the children who are suffering the evil of abuse both in institutions and in the family, where it is a known fact the greatest incidence occurs.

The public purse suffers too. The cost of investigations into care homes is running at hundreds of millions of pounds, not to mention the added sum paid out in compensation claims from public funds and from institutions such as the Church. Worst of all, justice has been compromised. The police, like so many other professions, are unfairly target-driven and under immense pressure to gain results. Juries, inundated with obscene accounts of abuse, true or false, seldom acquit. In a bizarre reversal, the burden of proof has been placed on the defendants.

That a rich seam is exploited by both criminals and unscrupulous lawyers is a grim picture but one to which we must then add the horrifying prospect of some children who are being abused because the genuine and honest efforts of the police are being undermined and diverted by a malicious group of people motivated by greed, causing the currency of genuine complaints to be devalued.

The other victims of this awful compensation culture are languishing in jail, out of public view. These men, torn from their families, each day stare at the walls of their cells and wonder how they can ever prove their innocence — even though it could be argued that their guilt has never been truly established in the first place.

• Charles Mills is an Ofsted inspector and a senior consultant in special education. He also sat on the advisory committee to the Bridge Child Care Consultancy research project on Dangerous Care which sought to identify the key risk characteristics of abusers.

• Editorial comment, p7.

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