"We need a very big change in culture from secrecy to openness, to bolster public confidence. No change is not an option. There is a serious lack of confidence in the family courts which must be addressed." - Harriet Harman, QC
As a follow-up to our page on Camilla Cavendish's newspaper article about the Family Courts and the high-handed, arbitrary way in which social workers sometimes use them, we've put together this collection of reports, articles and quotes on the subject. We've been squirreling them away for the last couple of years, and it's time they saw the light of day, so for those who have the patience …
PROPOSED CHANGES TO FAMILY COURTS
Sounds as if they're going to address the problem of secrecy - good. But this ducks the more important issue - that family courts are not bound by the same rules as normal courts. They don't have to be convinced "beyond reasonable doubt", but can operate on the basis of probability - "we think Mr.A probably abused one of his children so we'll tear the entire family apart and send them all for adoption" - punishing them for something they don't know for certain that Mr.A. did at all.
This leaves children, families and whole families at the mercy of ineffective, stupid, deluded or power-mad social workers and doctors. The evidence?
Marietta Higgs and the Cleveland case
In the years leading up to 1987, the incidence of allegations of child sexual abuse for Cleveland was no greater than other parts of the U.K. but in January 1987 the numbers began to escalate rapidly, reaching a peak in May, June, and July. The total referrals to Cleveland Social Services for all forms of child abuse during the period January to July 1987 were 505 referrals compared with only 288 referrals in the equivalent period in the previous year.
Increasing numbers of allegations of child sexual abuse were being made by two consultant paediatricians at a Middlesbrough hospital and were based on an unproven medical diagnosis termed the anal dilatation test. Once these allegations had been made, social workers were removing the children from their families on Place of Safety Orders, often in midnight and dawn raids on the family home where children were taken from their beds and placed in foster homes and residential homes.
The initial crisis came when there were no more foster homes or residential home placements to accommodate the numbers of children involved and a special ward had to be set up at the hospital to accommodate the children who continued to be diagnosed as having been sexually abused.
Increasingly the diagnosis using the anal dilation test was being challenged by the police surgeon, who questioned the validity of such a test, and the police gradually withdrew their co-operation in the cases referred by the consultant paediatricians. Relationships between the police, social workers, and the paediatricians broke down as the dispute in medical opinions escalated.
In the early months of the crisis, the allegations involved working-class families, who were confused, bewildered, and angry at being accused of sexually abusing their children, but they were powerless against middle-class professionals with the authority, power, and legal sanctions to support their actions. Gradually, however, the allegations began to involve middle-class families who were highly educated, employed in professional occupations, and with access to legal and political advice and to the media. They were to use such powerful allies to considerable effect. From a sociological perspective, therefore, the events in Cleveland could be seen as a punitive form of middle-class oppression of working-class families by middle-class professionals and an imposition of middle-class values on the working classes. Some aspects of the Cleveland Child Sexual Abuse Scandal have been likened to a mediaeval witch-hunt by at least one author (`When Salem came to the Boro' - Rt. Hon. Stuart Bell, Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough - 1988).
The turning point of events came in late May on the day that the parents decided to march from the hospital where their children were being held to the offices of the local newspaper, and they began telling their versions of events, which of course varied considerably from the narrative constructions of the paediatricians and social workers. Gradually, the media turned to support the parents, and the social workers came under intense public and political scrutiny, which eventually led to the setting up of a Public Inquiry led by Justice Butler-Sloss.
The Inquiry examined the cases involving 121 children where sexual abuse was alleged to have been identified using the anal dilation test and the actions of the paediatricians and social workers involved. Of these 121 cases where sexual abuse of the children was alleged, the Courts subsequently dismissed the proceedings involving 96 of the children, i.e. over 80% were found to be false accusations. There are some social workers and medical professionals who have found difficulty in accepting the findings of the Courts and are `in denial' that they were wrong in their allegations. They have sought to use the findings of a medical panel which claimed that, on the basis of an examination of cases involving 29 of the children, 75% of the children had been sexually abused. Medical opinion is not, of course, proven fact, whereas opinions and supportive evidence given in courts can be challenged and tested under cross-examination as to their validity and veracity.
One of the major findings of the Butler-Sloss Inquiry was that children had been removed precipitately by social workers who had failed to seek corroborative evidence to support the allegations of the paediatricians and had failed to carry out comprehensive assessments of the children and their families. Consequently a requirement was introduced that social workers should not act solely on the basis of medical opinion.
Sunday Times News Review - article by Margarette Driscoll
After Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, another medical theory looks set to crumble. Cases of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) examined in a review of infant deaths ordered by the attorney-general. Like the hundreds of parents accused of causing or faking illness in their children as a form of child abuse, those involved in SBS cases argue they have been damned by a medical diagnosis that does not hold water.
Sally Clark is the Manchester solicitor whose wrongful conviction for the murder of her two babies began the unravelling of Munchausen's, the abuse theory formulated by Professor Sir Roy Meadow. She was originally accused of having shaken one of her babies to death. Several other mothers are in prison, convicted of murder or manslaughter on the basis of supposedly "classic" signs: bleeding in the baby's brain or eyes and fractures to the rib or leg bones. More have suffered the intrusion of social service investigations or have had their children taken away. "I have had lots of hopeful calls from families," said Rioch Edwards-Brown, who founded the Five Percenters, a campaign group, after she was wrongly accused - then cleared - of shaking her son Riordan. "We now know that injuries producing these symptoms can be caused by trauma at birth or falls. Which is not to say babies are never shaken, but there is no such thing as a 'syndrome'."
This week the first anti-Munchausen's conference will take place in Australia. One of the speakers will be Charles Pragnell who was among the first to raise the alarm about the diagnosis in Britain. Now living in Australia, Pragnell has witnessed the damage that can be wrought when zealotry overtakes common sense. He was working for Cleveland social services when scores of children were taken into care on the say-so of Marietta Higgs, a paediatrician working on a now discredited theory about sexual abuse.
"One of the things we were supposed to learn from Cleveland was that social workers should not act on the basis of a medical diagnosis alone," Pragnell said. "If you look at Munchausen's cases there is often no corroborative evidence."
The child protection service has a history of accepting theory as fact: satanic abuse, anal dilation, repressed memory syndrome and now Munchausen's and SBS. "If a paediatrician suspects child abuse there is no need to give it a label," said Pragnell. "It's for the police and social services to investigate. By pinning the blame on someone the doctor is acting as judge and jury."
Yet one has to wonder whether the furore over Munchausen's risks the pendulum swinging too far the other way. Margaret Hodge, the children's minister, said up to 5,000 cases that had been through the family courts might need to be looked at again and added fuel to the fire by saying parents whose children had been adopted would not get them back. But a relatively small number of cases are likely to hinge on medical evidence alone.
Satanic abuse hoaxes
In "Michelle Remembers", the patient Michelle Smith, writing with the help of her Canadian psychiatrist Dr Lawrence Pazder (whom she eventually married), gives a vivid account of how she was supposedly imprisoned during her childhood by a satanic cult. The members of the cult supposedly tortured her, forced her to defaecate on a crucifix, raped and sodomised her with candles, butchered still-born babies in front of her and imprisoned her naked in a snake-filled cage. After a year of captivity her Christian faith eventually triumphed over the power of Satan and she was allowed to return home. She is then supposed to have entirely repressed the memory of her ordeal until she entered therapy with Dr Pazder more than twenty years later. The book that they wrote together almost immediately became a bestseller.
The events which led to a full-scale satanic panic in California took place in Manhattan Beach during the summer of 1983. It was here that a thirty-eight-year-old mother, Judy Johnson, who was both devoutly religious and psychiatrically disturbed, concluded on the basis of no firm evidence that her two-year-old son had been anally abused at his daycare nursery by a male teacher. Her own anxieties were officially communicated to two hundred other parents and soon counsellors began to subject young children to a barrage of leading questions designed to elicit 'disclosures'. Then, as Judy Johnson's claims became increasingly bizarre, the word spread that the school at the centre of the panic - the McMartin Preschool - was actually the cover for a sex ring.
After a TV reporter had filed a sensational story on these Californian horrors an outside consultant was called in. He was none other than psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. His theory that McMartin was the visible tip of a vast international satanic conspiracy was eagerly adopted by some parents and therapists and used to obtain yet more 'disclosures' from children. Before long the McMartin case had become a coast-to-coast TV sensation, and a full scale national satanic panic had been launched. (Eventually all charges against the accused in the McMartin case would be either rejected by a jury or dismissed.)
Satanic abuse in the UK
Between 1990 and 1991 a rash of "ritual satanic abuse" cases occurred across Britain - from Rochdale to the Orkneys. In spite of dozens of children being taken into care and their parents being accused of bizarre crimes, nobody was convicted of any crime related to satanism.
In Rochdale in 1990, 20 children were snatched from their homes because two social workers believed they had unearthed a coven of child-abusing devil worshippers. The police refused to bring any charges, and eventually the courts ordered that the children be released and heavily criticised the social workers.
A dozen of the children are now suing Rochdale Council. Despite the police disinterest and the decision of the court, one child spent 10 years in care, and the two social workers are still working in the "child protection" business. So it doesn't matter what the police and the courts say, parents can't win.
Previous research commissioned by the government into organised satanic abuse followed in the wake of a number of local authority scandals, where claims were found to be without foundation.
These included clusters of allegations, such as the Orkneys and Rochdale cases in 1991 where dozens of children were removed from their homes by social workers.
Leading social anthropologist Professor Jean La Fontaine was asked to look into the allegations of torture and sexual abuse of children and adults, forced abortions, human sacrifice, cannibalism and bestiality.
Her response was unequivocal: "There is no evidence that these have taken place in any of the 84 cases studied."
In Pembrokeshire six men were sent to gaol who their solicitors believe were certainly innocent. Social workers had pressurised children into "remembering" things that hadn't happened. See here.
During the case it transpired that:
200 abusing adults could abuse dozens of children periodically without a single child revealing abuse; yet no child disclosed until they were interviewed by the social workers
there was no significant amount of forensic evidence
the types of abuse cited would have caused detectable physical evidence
Jason said that his father frightened the children by shooting through the roof of some shed; no bullet holes were found
although pornographic movies and pictures were alleged to have been taken, no photographs or video tapes were ever found
abuse locations included a playground in the middle of a housing estate, in sheds next to houses, on a beach and behind an oil refinery. The adults would certainly have been spotted by passers-by. But nobody ever noticed
4 prosecution witnesses retracted their stories - 3 of them on the stand
there were indications that children were threatened if they refused to disclose abuse and were rewarded when they made allegations.
the social workers' interview techniques were seriously flawed; their use of play props is known to have a distorting effect; they ignored guidelines that had been established as a result of previous MVMO hoaxes
just before the children started disclosing abuse, the investigators had attended a three day, joint agency training program by Ray Wyre, a Satanic abuse expert. A previous inquiry in Nottingham had blamed him for introducing fears of a "satanic network". He was a consultant at a child abuse investigation there in 1988-9. The report said that the interviewing and therapy techniques which he taught were faulty, and the resultant evidence reflected social workers' obsessions. The report concluded that "unless action was taken, witch-hunts could develop in this country and grave injustice result". It appears that they did.
The case started to come apart after the trial. A judge of the High Court's Family Division ordered several children returned to their homes, criticized the social workers' techniques and stated that there was zero evidence against one of the men convicted.
Nevertheless, six men were gaoled, one woman was never charged with any crime, yet her children are still kept from her. She is allowed to see her daughter for only two hours, every three months.
The Newcastle Nurses
The victory of the two falsely accused Newcastle nursery nurses in the High Court in London on 30th July 2002 was a landmark decision for investigative reliability in child abuse accusations. After a trial lasting 74 days, Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie were each awarded £200,000 in maximum damages for having been maliciously libelled by a Newcastle City Council-appointed review team of three social workers and one psychologist. "I am quite satisfied that each of the Claimants [Chris and Dawn] have merited an award at the highest permitted level", said the trial judge, Mr Justice Eady. "Indeed, they have earned it several times over because of the scale, gravity and persistence of the allegations and of the aggravating factors."
In his 400 page judgment the judge highlighted the intellectual dishonesty of the review team in compiling their report, Abuse in Early Years. The report, published in 1998, had branded the two innocent former nursery workers as bizarre and dangerous paedophiles who were abusing young children both in the nursery and in the local area in concert with others in an unknown 'paedophile ring'.
Now that the Shieldfield Nursery abuse fiasco has finally been laid to rest, questions must be asked as to how it came to develop from the outset.
In the Guardian in 2006, John Sweeney wrote this perceptive article about the famous Hardingham case in Norfolk, in which three children were taken from their parents and sent to adoption on the flimsiest of pretexts, despite the fact that there was an evident, credible and well-known medical explanation for the injury to one child.
Subsequently Mrs.Hardingham fell pregnant, and this child was also taken although after a long battle it was returned. At one stage the couple fled to Ireland in an attempt to keep their baby from Norfolk Social Services, headed by the notorious Lisa Christensen.
For an interesting and informative (but now out of date) discussion board on this case, see here.
Lisa Christensen, Head of Norfolk Social Services, had made a royal cock-up of things before. When she was Director of Social Services in Lambeth, the Minister had to step in - see her own words here.
Finally, a newspaper report about a National Conference on Adoption in 2005.
"A national conference on adoption will be hosted jointly by Norfolk County Council and the University of East Anglia - home to the influential Centre for Research on the Child and Family.
Delegates from across the country will listen to adoption experts and take part in a 'Question Time' debate at the event held at the John Innes Centre on Thursday June 16.
The conference will focus on the implications of the Government's new Adoption and Children Act 2002, which is being fully implemented this year.
Prof.David Howe, head of UEA's School of Social Work and Psychosocial Studies and one of the conference speakers, said: "The conference will provide a good opportunity to discuss some of the key themes of the new Act. The research and evidence base for adoption continues to grow in strength and support the new Act as well as guiding a range of creative policy innovations and best practices."
Alison King, leader of Norfolk County Council which was recently praised by the Commission for Social Care Inspection for its high quality adoption service, will open Adoption: New Act, New Opportunities for Children.
Cllr.King said: "I'm delighted that this conference is being held in Norfolk. Adoption is an important part of our provision for children in Norfolk and we are very proud of the quality of the service we provide. The conference will be an opportunity for genuine debate about the key issues around adoption."
Malcolm Pim, from Norfolk County Council Children's Services, said: "Adoption is first and foremost a service for children and the conference will allow people from across the country to come together and consider how best to meet the challenges of the new Act, in the interests of children, their birth families and their new parents."
The 250 delegates include children's services and social services staff from around the country, Norfolk County Councillors, members of the judiciary and legal profession, the health service and voluntary sector, along with students, foster carers and adopters (but not, you notice, any accused parents - GOS).
Nationally recognised speakers at the conference include: director of Adoption UK Jonathan Pearce; Designated Family Judge for Norfolk, Judge Philip Curl; and Dr Caroline Ball, a reader in UEA's School of Law whose research interests include child law and the teaching of law to social workers."
Judge Philip Curl was the Family Court Judge who signed the adoption orders for the Hardingham's children, and later issued a gagging order to prevent the case being publicly discussed.
Nice to know that our impartial judiciary are on such friendly terms with County Councillors and officers of Norfolk Children's Services (social workers in other words). Let's face it, once that lot had conferenced and networked and pigged at the taxpayers' trough, ordinary people like the Hardinghams didn't stand a chance.
And nor did their kids.
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
Copyright © 2008 The GOS
This site created and maintained by PlainSite