Abuse reviews need balance not panic

A boy emerges from care with no qualifications. Several years
later, he is sent to jail. As an adult, it turns out that he may
have been abused while he was in a home – one of the factors which
perhaps contributed to his antisocial behaviour and in turn has led
to his prison sentence. When he makes an official complaint, it is
his word against that of the professional he has accused. His time
inside makes him a discreditable witness. So how is justice to be

Flip the coin and there is an equally difficult dilemma. A carer is
visited by three young men, whom he knew as children. If he doesn’t
pay up, they will report a false case of abuse. They may report him
anyway in the hope of receiving compensation. It is the carer’s
word against three, whom will the jury believe?

The answer in both cases, of course, is that the guilty should be
convicted and the innocent set free. First, however, a meticulous
mass of evidence has to be accumulated, a challenge made difficult
because when these adults were young the complaints of children
were barely heard in the care system, never mind recorded.

The records are sparse, especially in homes where abusers have
subsequently admitted to years of assaults. So testimony is often
all there is. But good detective work still should be able to
correlate patterns of abuse or reveal inconsistencies that may make
the charges untenable. Good detective work, however, has not,
apparently, always been undertaken.

More than 100 cases of carers and teachers who have been convicted
of child abuse are to be investigated by the Criminal Cases Review
Commission and the Historical Abuse Appeal Panel.

The review has been triggered by concern over alleged police
tactics, including trawling for information, and lawyers peddling
for business, promising large sums of dosh in compensation. The
commission says: “With very little corroboration, one person’s view
[may have been] taken against another’s.”

If true, that is a stain on the police and the judiciary. The issue
of compensation should also be addressed to see whether the
prospect of a pay-out lures some into corrupting the system at the
expense of others genuinely seeking justice.

Of course, no one should be locked up unfairly. But reviews should
be undertaken with a sense of balance, not triggered by a state of
panic. Otherwise, there is a genuine risk that the guilty not only
go free, but they emerge from prison as martyrs.

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