New checks urged to reduce chance of wrongful child abuse convictions

Police investigating allegations of institutional child abuse
should tape interviews with people who claim to have been victims,
say MPs.

The report, by the parliamentary home affairs select committee,
calls for new safeguards to minimise the risk of wrongful

It highlights “deep concerns” over the interview techniques and
“trawling” methods used by the police in investigations which have
led to a “new genre of miscarriages of justice that has arisen from
the over-enthusiastic pursuit of these allegations”.

The report follows an inquiry in the summer into historic abuse in
children’s homes.

In the past five years 34 of the 43 police forces in England and
Wales have been involved in investigations of historical child
abuse in children’s homes and other institutions.

But between 1997 and 2000 the Crown Prosecution Service rejected 79
per cent of cases of institutional abuse referred by the

In August a High Court libel ruling cited poor investigative
methods in clearing two former nursery nurses of allegations of
sexual abuse made by an independent review team commissioned by
Newcastle Council (news, page 6, 1 August).

Select committee chairperson Chris Mullin said: “I am in no doubt
that a number of innocent people, who have not been convicted, have
had their lives ruined.”

But the committee has rejected a ban on trawling, instead
recommending that guidelines on how to conduct investigations and
how to contact potential victims are revised.

It has also decided against introducing a statutory time limit
within which complaints of abuse must be made but says courts
should be able to decide whether to hear the case if more than 10
years have passed since the complainant turned 21.

A spokesman for Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers, which has
welcomed the report, said false allegations “divert resources from
children who do need protection”.

But the report has been criticised by learning difficulty
charities. Alan Corbett, a spokesman for Respond, Voice UK and the
Ann Craft Trust, said most people with learning difficulties would
feel “betrayed” by its conclusions. He added that the legal and
civil systems obstructed victims of abuse who have learning
difficulties, while the report states that the reason for the low
number of convictions was that the allegations were false.

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