A Sorry State of Affairs!

This article appears in memory of the late George Williamson who wrote this article in 2003  and was F.A.C.T’s first lobbying co-ordinator.
Tony Blair apologised recently to those who had been wrongly convicted of IRA bombings. It made it easier for him that their imprisonment had not happened under his Government administration. These retrospective apologies by politicians have more than a hint of insincerity and a bit of political posturing about them. Significantly, the actual perpetrators of the injustices in the political, police and criminal justice system are never forced to make the apology. Many F.A.C.T. supporters will feel that government-initiated atonement is neither here nor there, yet others may wonder what the chances are of an apology, from Mr Blair or a later administration, to those who have been falsely accused and wrongly convicted and imprisoned for child sexual abuse. Nevertheless, what needs to be fought for is an acknowledgement that a disgraceful injustice, up there in its enormity with the injustices over wrongful convictions for bombing, murder and robbery, has occurred and that Mr Blair’s Governments, and earlier Conservative ones, have presided over it.

However this is unlikely in the foreseeable future, given that the present political ethos is supportive of, and conducive to, the beliefs of the child protection system whose actions contribute so much to wrongful convictions of child abuse. Moreover the voters are gripped by the paedophile panic. What we in F.A.C.T. have to do, irrespective of whether a retrospective apology might come or not, is to try to expose and undermine the political and societal causes of false allegations of childhood abuse. At the same time we have to campaign for wholesale and radical changes to be made to the methods of investigating child abuse allegations. However, we must bear in mind that the roots of the miscarriages of justice following the IRA atrocities were in the malign and corrupt actions of the state authorities, while the miscarriages of justice in child abuse cases are rooted in the flaws in the investigation and prosecution procedures of the, often but not always, well-meaning child protection authorities.

The Blairs 

From Mr and Mrs Blair’s own North East political backyard, child abuse false allegations are close to the heart of Downing Street. Martyn Locklin was a fellow member of the Prime Minister’s Sedgefield Constituency Labour Party and leader of one of the local councils, when he was convicted of child abuse offences on the testimony of former inmates at a secure unit he had worked at previously. Martyn Locklin, a prisoner supported by F.A.C.T., who has met Mr. Blair, protests his innocence. Around the time of his conviction, the Prime Minister, responded to questions on the B.B.C’s Today Programme (14.05.01) about allegations against party colleagues of improper financial practices. He insisted that allegations were not enough – they had to be investigated and proved. When I wrote to him asking if he, especially as a lawyer, thought the allegations of abuse against his Labour Party colleague were properly investigated and proved, I did not even receive an acknowledgement. 

In Newcastle there was a vile campaign accusing two nursery nurses, Christopher Lilley and Dawn Reed, of abusing children at Shieldfield Nursery. Cherie Booth (Mrs Blair) was a speaker, along with Hilary Clinton, then Home Secretary Jack Straw and Esther Rantzen, at a London conference organised by ChildLine in March 1999 where the hostility clearly indicated that the audience thought the nurses guilty.

Later the nurses brought a successful libel action against the members of the Inquiry that deemed them guilty. Here it emerged that after the therapy some of the children received at the local Barnardo’s Mosaic Project, it was stated that a child who had no contact with the nurses had been abused by one of them. Elsewhere and earlier, Barnardos’s officer, Tink Palmer, praised the work of Sue Richardson, the social worker, and Marietta Higgs, the paediatrician, at the centre of the Cleveland scandal. Cherie Booth is President of Barnardos.

I wrote asking for her comments on Barnardos’s involvement in these cases, and if she would criticise Esther Rantzen’s part in the suffering of the nurses and, as a lawyer, for her view of the Martyn Locklin case. She did not reply. 

Dr. Camille Lazaro, a local practitioner, was excoriated by the libel trial judge for her appalling, cavalier approach in diagnosing abuse in the children she examined in the case. Interestingly, in the aftermath of the Cleveland fiasco, Lazaro was appointed to provide advice to local hospitals by the Northern Regional Health Authority, then under the direction of Dr. Liam Donaldson. He is now Sir Liam and Chief Medical Officer for England appointed during Tony Blair’s first Government. The then Mr Donaldson and his Board no doubt hoped that Lazaro would prevent another ‘Cleveland’ happening.

Unfortunately, Lazaro is of the same ilk as Higgs. The authorities, as so often happens in the child protection world, appointed someone to address the problem of over-zealous diagnosis of child abuse who was part of the problem. At a Durham University Conference, the number of cases in which Lazaro claimed she had made a child abuse diagnosis was way beyond the capacity of several practitioners, let alone one.

Higgs was only stopped, according to MP Stuart Bell’s book When Salem Came To The Boro, after she asked to examine the bottoms of every primary school child in Middlesbrough. Lazaro’s previous testimony in child sexual abuse cases must now be treated with the same concern as the evidence of Professors Meadow and Southall in child physical abuse ones. 

Progress

F.A.C.T. is progressing well. It began and took shape with those who steadily built up contacts around the country and used vigils outside the Dave Jones’s court hearings to publicise their concerns. Next came the period of emotional and inspirational conferences and the placing of the plight and welfare of the prisoners centre stage. Now, with a national committee providing leadership, we are focusing on the actions we need to take to increase our effectiveness. We are patiently analysing and gradually achieving an understanding of the roots of the injustices facing us. The excellent Briefing Paper prepared for our lobbying action by Margaret Jervis, the Legal and Social Researcher, has been a major contribution to this effort. All this enables us to plan the action needed to change things. To begin with we are concentrating on the flawed methods used to investigate and prosecute child abuse allegations, as this is the heart of the problem. Alongside that we are joining the calls of others for juries to account for their verdicts. Given the perversity of the recent Anver Sheikh verdict and many other unfathomable ones, we would like to know the reasoning and motivation behind them. Last but not least, the morale of prisoners is very much in our minds in relation to organising our support work, lobbying action and liaison with the Historic Abuse Appeal Panel.

At the same time we are increasingly in touch with those suffering wrongful convictions of child abuse, who are not former care workers or teachers but wish to make common cause with us. These are people from different institutional settings, such as clergy, doctors, youth workers, sports coaches and social workers; people adversely affected by rulings in the family courts and verdicts in the criminal courts having been falsely accused of child physical abuse; and the largest group of all, people who have been wrongly accused of child abuse in a family or domestic setting – some of them police and prison officers. The F.A.C.T. prisoners are playing a part in this by informing us of their contact with fellow inmates caught up in these types of case.

Lobbying

The lobbying campaign needs the maximum participation that all F.A.C.T’s supporters can offer. Firstly, those who have not already done so need to progress beyond the “my case only” or “my kind of action only”  mentality. We are trying to make everyone feel part of a movement. Rising to the challenge through collective struggle will make those in authority much more aware of our concerns and put our opponents, with their calumny, lies and distortion, on notice. At this juncture, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the words of two past political figures and implacable enemies – Norman (‘Get on your bike’) Tebbitt and Arthur (‘Get off your knees’) Scargill, who in their different ways exhorted people to take control of their lives and act in adversity. But we must not be all movement and no direction if our actions are to be meaningful and productive. The F.A.C.T. committee is striving to give direction.  Politicians, looking for votes and kudos, may now be prepared to apologise for past miscarriages of justice in relation to IRA bombs. However, they are a long way off admitting that there have been wrongful convictions of paedophilia, being aware of the political backlash that could bring. Paedophilia is at the top of the hierarchy of disgusting and heinous crime’s, above bombing, murder, robbery and, of course, rape. That is why we have such a huge task on our hands. 

We have begun with F.A.C.Ts announcement of the first stage of its lobbying initiative and their appeal for everyone’s active involvement in it. If we can all manage even a quarter of the prodigious output of F.A.C.T. North Wales we will begin to have an effect. We know some people have dropped out or are less active for a variety of reasons, including pressure from family members who want to get on with their life. To those of you who have not suffered prison we make a special appeal.  Think of those who have ended up wrongly in prison.  Think of yourself if you were now in prison and how your family would struggle to get on with their lives. In such a situation, would you not hope that those on the outside, including those who were falsely accused and underwent criminal investigation or even a trial but did not end up in prison, would take action on your behalf?

To conclude, it is hoped that this lobbying action will continue to increase the confidence, the solidarity, the initiative, and the participation of the members and supporters of FACT. The alternative is passivity, apathy and defeat.

Please support your national committee’s initiative. Let’s do it for the prisoners, the former prisoners and everyone else who has suffered false allegations of child abuse.

George Williamson.

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