The issue of child abuse has become so emotive that no thought has
been given to victims of miscarriages of justice, a senior
politician said this week.
Earl Howe, opposition spokesperson in the House of Lords, told a
conference of the United Campaign Against False Accusations of
Abuse that the presumption of innocence had disappeared in abuse
He said the House of Commons home affairs select committee’s report
on false allegations of abuse had “changed the political landscape”
but politicians were not keen to challenge public attitudes.
Howe said the public saw child abuse as so heinous that no thought
was given to miscarriages of justice.
“The presumption of innocence has been submerged and, for all
practical purposes, become non-existent in abuse cases,” he
Howe questioned whether social workers should investigate
allegations, as they “tended to err on the side of caution”. He
also called for police interviews to be videoed.
At the same conference, Charles Pragnell, head of research at
Cleveland social services department during the 1987 child abuse
crisis, said new methods of detecting and dealing with child abuse,
such as anal dilation, should be subject to evaluation by a
national body. He added that practitioners should not be allowed to
use these techniques until they have been properly trained.
He accused social workers of “picking up statistics” and being
carried away by ill-digested theories from the US as a basis for
working in child protection.
Pragnell, who is former president of the Social Care Association,
said that too often social workers began with the assumption that
abuse had occurred.