Terry Hoskin was convicted on fabricated charges, believes Simon Caldwell. His case is likely to be the tip of an iceberg
0 NE 01. THE cruellest ironies of the British criminal justice system is that a person convicted of a crime of which he or she is innocent may spend longer in jail than someone who is guilty and who admits to their offence.
This was highlighted earlier this month when new evidence led to Roy Burnett being finally released from jail after serving nearly 15 years for a rape which, in the view of the Court of Appeal, had probably never taken place. He was serving life and had no hope of parole until he "confessed"; something he was not prepared to do.
Shock at the enormity of this miscarriage of justice is understandable: but this is not an isolated case. Indeed, former headteacher Terry Hoskin is in Wymott Prison, Lancashire, facing precisely the same dilemma. Virtually all who know him or have become familiar with his case believe him to be innocent but he is one of a new breed of untouchables who lie outside the scope of public sympathy: a care worker convicted of child abuse.
Hoskin, a Catholic, was given eight years by Chester Crown Court in April 1996 for 21 offences including buggery, indecent assault and actual bodily harm which dated back to the 1970s.
Due for parole last month he refuses to join a therapy programme for sex offenders because he denies he committed any of the offences. It is generally accepted that a refusal to acknowledge offending behaviour will result in a refusal of parole.
Fr John Ashton, a retired priest who has visited Hoskin and who believes in his innocence, said: "He can't in all conscience hold up his hands and say he was guilty when he wasn't he would rather go through the whole sentence and do that if he has to."
Terry Hoskin, 62, is a devoted husband of 36 years and father of two children. He was also among the most respected members of the residential care profession, dedicating most of his working life to extremely difficult, damaged and disturbed youngsters.
In 1974, when he took over at the helm of St Aldan's, a Catholic community home in Widnes, Cheshire, he became, at 36 years old, the youngest headteacher of a Community Home with Education in the country.
According to the writer and journalist Richard Webster, who first chronicled his case, Hoskin established a reputation for combining firmness with a deeply caring approach to pupils. As national president of the Associ ation of Community Homes he was once invited, along with his wife, to Buckingham Palace as a guest of the Queen.
His reputation was such that his conviction astounded many in the profession who were perplexed that a man so admired and accomplished had come to be considered lower than a murderer.
Hoskin was charged after a lengthy "trawling" operation by Cheshire police, in which officers actively solicited complaints from witnesses, many of whom had long records of deception and, indeed, were in jail. Others had psychiatric disorders. It is likely that many would have been aware of the substantial compensation payments available to them, even when there was no conviction.
Terence Hoskin's nightmare began toward the end of 1993 with a single complaint from a former resident of St Aidan's, a 31-year-old man who weeks previously had slashed his wrists after an argument with his girlfriend, during a visit home from Walton Prison, Liverpool.
AFTER A three-week spell in a psychiatric hospital, the man went back to prison then later made a detailed complaint about how Hoskin (whose duty it was to administer corporal punishment in support of the staff at the school) had used the cane to beat and sexually assault him, as a prelude to graver sexual offences.
As happens all too often in such cases, the officers appeared to believe the complaint and then sought to corroborate ii by gath
ering further complaints from other former residents. A bizarre reversal of normal police methods then took place. Officers began with a suspect then looked for a crime rather than the other way round.
It is the view of Chris Saltrese, the solicitor who represented Hoskin at appeal, that the police not only introduced Hoskin's name to witnesses, who were by that time grown adults, but also suggested ways in which they might have been abused by him.
It is, of course, highly prejudicial for the police to operate in this manner.
And where the, pool of witnesses contains people who are essentially dishonest, such conduct by police will often prove fatal to a suspect.
The inquiry produced more than 40 complainants. Some of the allegations were clearly too outrageous to be accepted by a jury, and the total number of complainants was whittled down to 15 who had more credible stories, 13 of whom claimed to have been caned excessively. It was a feature of this case that complainants would often give more than one statement to the police and that complaints would increase in gravity each time they were interviewed by investigating officers.
Much of the evidence against Hoskin was extremely dubious, containing inaccurate descriptions of the school, of Hoskin, and describing incidents that were logistically impossible or simply improbable.
One witness, a 31-year-old convicted burglar, alleged that he had been beaten on his bare backside about three times a week for three-and-a-half years. His statement read: "Each time would be the same. I was not aware of anything I had done to deserve these ceilings. When I asked what I had done, Hoskins (sic) would say, 'well if you don't know, it's not for me to say'. Hoskins would never let me leave the room without crying. My backside was often bleeding where the cane had struck it."
UNDER HOSKIN'S care, the witness would have received 2,000 strokes of the cane. However, following Hoskin's conviction, a medical opinion obtained from Dr Robin Moffat, a Harley Street specialist, said such beatings on damaged flesh would result in permanent
scarring and that the victim's discomfort would be apparent. On the contrary, during his time at St Aidan's the boy enjoyed an active sporting life, and the school doctor testified that he saw no sign of physical or sexual abuse on any boy while Hoskin was in charge.
Nonetheless such evidence was accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service and the j ury.
Hoskin, desperate to clear his name, had earlier tried to trace the records of the canings at the school. Ile contacted Nugent Care, the former administrators of St Aidan's, to ask if they were available. He was told to put his request into writing.
In an inter view with Webster, Hoskin said from prison: "I later learned that as soon as the letter arrived it went straight to the police. The records, which could have exonerated me, have to this day never been produced."
The jury was deluged with "similar fact" accounts of incredible brutality and obscenity and convicted Hoskin on every one. His daughter, Nicola, 25, was dragged screaming from the courtroom as the verdicts were read out.
Saltrese became interested in Hoskin's case after he observed the penultimate day of the trial. He had known Hoskin for 20 years through his father, who was also a head of a Catholic care home, and found it difficult to accept such allegations had been made against him. "When I heard the judge's summing up, I realised something had gone terribly wrong," he said.
He began to study the mountain of evidence accumulated in the Hoskin case, and he interviewed witnesses and others who had been quizzed by detectives. His conclusion was that the police, by touting for complaints, had simply reaped what they had sown.
Today, he is convinced that trawling operations, which have been increasing in size and number since they first began in the early 1990s, are wrong, and he is supporting demands for a public inquiry into such procedures from new pressure groups springing up, such as the Liverpool-based Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers (FACT) and the Leedsbased Action Against False Allegations of Abuse (AAFAA).
Saltrese is critical of the police and argues that trawling has been "the politically-correct thing to do". He adds: "The police want to be seen in a better light. They are fed up with being criticised and they want to address what they see as a public relations deficiency."
He believes that the desire to claim undeserved compensation is the main motive in complainants bringing false allegations of sexual abuse.
Hoskin's appeal against conviction last November was "cursorily" dismissed, Mean while, vast amounts of public money are being pumped into extensive and long-running police trawls around the country which, by and large, arc still in their infancy.
Some lawyers, too, are advertising in newspapers for people to contact them if they have been "abused-. It is now common for solicitors to act for such complainants on a "no-win, nofee" basis in which the solicitor will be entitled to a portion of damages.
And with damages as high as £100,000 per complainant, it is becoming clear that this area is becoming very lucrative for lawyers.
In addition to a civil claim, complainants are also entitled to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
IT IS SALTRESE'S VIEW that the majority of complaints of serious sexual assaults which have been gathered by police trawling operations are complete fabrications.
If his suspicions are true, the scale of miscarriages of justice is certain to climb from dozens to hundreds, but as sure as night follows day so too will grow the already burgeoning grass roots movement committed to correcting what may prove to be the biggest socio-legal scandal since the witchhunts of the 17th century.