TV Review: Accused

9pm, 22 August 2006


The 1991 ritual child abuse case in the Orkneys was not social work’s finest hour, writes Graham Hopkins. Accused, though, was a fine hour and a half of balanced documentary film-making.

We saw how, having previously failed to act despite clear evidence of abuse, inferred further abuse of the “W” children and others was enough for the social work department to leap into action.

The inflexible approach taken was personified by a female social worker convinced that she was – and still is – right. The children denied any abuse. Ah, she countered, but children denying abuse is in itself a risk indicator as abused children often deny its existence – out of fear or wish to protect the abuser. That is true. But the denial could also be true.

The objectivity of the programme still moved you to side with the family and community. But then something happened. One of the young people involved (now an adult) said the court case proved that “we were innocent”.

It was the use of “we” that struck me. Now I may have been swept up in the paranoia of it all but he was not accused of anything. And then there was the reflective male social worker who, despite admitting that what they did or believed to be right in 1991 sounded silly now, still felt that he had failed those children. On the plane journey returning the children home, one of them taunted him with: “Do you want a wank?”

So what do we learn? A department stung for doing nothing when it should have done something was determined not to make the same mistake again; but made lots of fresh ones instead. For me, it was a reminder of what every social worker must feel almost with every decision they take: there but for the grace of God go I.

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