Home Affairs Committee Enquiry
The Harm Caused By False Accusations
As media hysteria and judicial activism have escalated, family life has increasingly become a province of the state. The highly selective cause celebre abuse cases are notable because the children have not usually been from two-biological-parent families. The justifiable outrage these incidents provoked has unfortunately led to targeting of two parent families.
The majority of all accusations (or referrals as they are called by the social services) turn out to be false. In 1995 [Child protection Messages from Research 1995 HMSO] there were a total of 168,000 referrals with 10,500 resulting in a child being taken into care. In other words in only 6% of referrals is care action taken.
No one can imagine the horror of a false accusation until it happens to him or her. This paper considers the consequences of these false accusations on families and on society in general. It will be suggested that the most serious consequence is the harm done to children as a result of these false accusations. Also of concern is the way in which case law is used to erode fundamental civil liberties.
The reasons for this situation have much to do with the mechanistic nature of modern law, which has little regard to whether changes made are actually beneficial to society. Gradual and piecemeal changes have been made by an unholy alliance of children’s charities, psychiatrists, police, social workers, judges, lawyers and the media. The burden of proof in children’s cases has been reversed so far that innocent families are actually being harmed by these agencies. The paper concludes with several recommendations on how the current unsatisfactory situation can be improved.
A steady process of judicial activism and media hysteria since the 1960’s has led to the state increasing its intervention in family life. The highly selective cause celebre examples are notable because the children have not usually been from two-biological-parent families, as illustrated by these two examples:
… and also the recognition that children looked after by the state were not always safe, as highlighted by the case of Dennis O'Neill (Shropshire), a twelve year old boy who was killed by his foster-father in 1945. [Kahan Williams]
The concern was also highlighted by the death of Maria Colwell (East Sussex), who was killed by her stepfather, in 1973. The subsequent enquiry which was set up proved to be the first of many into child deaths and one of the themes which emerged was criticisms of social workers for operating under a 'rule of optimism'. [Kahan Williams]
The justifiable outrage these incidents provoked has unfortunately led to targeting of two parent families. The book ‘Broken Homes and Battered Children’ By Robert Whelan [Whelan] shows conclusively that children are safest when they live with two biological parents. By contrast incidents of child abuse are most likely to occur in alternative families[Fagan].
Anti-male biases in the media and judicial system have resulted in the specific targeting of men, as child abusers, while discounting and concealing similar abuse committed by females. For example the case of Lauren Wright killed by her stepmother in Norfolk was also accompanied by equal criticism for the biological father because he had been away fishing. The father had not even been present when much of the abuse was committed [Cambridge]. The case of the US mother Andrea Yates who murdered her five children by drowning was accompanied by calls from the Houston Area chapter of NOW (National Organisation of Women) to free the mother because of mental illness. There were also calls to prosecute the father - because he should have known that the mother was unstable. [Teachey]
Studies have not justified selecting men as abusers[Ditson]. Society is the ultimate loser when, in order to convict the guilty, it uses methods that lead to decreased respect for the law.
" The germ of destruction of our nation is in the power of the judiciary, an irresponsible body - working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing it's noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall render powerless the checks of one branch over the other and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated."
But the majority of the children referred are not at serious risk. Jane Gibbons (1993) found in her study of 1,888 referrals that 49% of the allegations were not substantiated. Only 24% were considered sufficiently serious to be considered at a multi-agency case conference and only 15% were registered. Another recent survey (Aldgate et al 1993) found a registration rate of 20%.[Williams]
Child protection Messages from Research 1995 HMSO:
140,000 no further action
24,500 added to register
10,500 care action:
[1500 emergency separations, 3000 enter care, 3000 accommodated voluntarily,
3000 Child retained in process]
There were 34,900 children on Child Protection Registers at 31 March 1994 in England [DoH, 1994]
In other words in only 6% of referrals is care action taken. There are no figures for the number of false accusations that are malicious. There are also no figures for the harm caused to parents and children by wrongful or malicious accusations of abuse.
False allegations are increasingly being seen in divorce and child custody cases as a means of revenge and/or to exclude a parent from the life of a child. [Fact]. Therapy is another growth area for false accusations with Recovered Memory Syndrome [Lords]. Factitious sexual harassment claims are a lucrative source of income for females in the workplace.
Anyone who experiences the horror of an unannounced false-abuse accusation on their family or person may well feel that they are entering a twilight zone of ducking-stool justice[JET] . This video link documents a child being snatched from his parents. It took place a few years ago in Australia. The web site details the battle against the police and social services that ensued. It is quite harrowing:
The Orkney raid was an emotional commitment too far and did great damage to the standing of the profession - the police and the judiciary, by contrast, though main players, were little criticized (see Clyde, 1992). Later evidence shows that there were indeed children being brought up in less than ideal circumstances, but no defendable suspicion of widespread ‘satanic abuse’, rather more of moral panic.[Sheldon]
Then in 1987 the situation in Cleveland "hit the headlines", 121 children had been diagnosed as having been sexually abused and had been immediately removed from home on court orders. The subsequent report by Lord Justice Butler-Sloss criticised social workers for acting too precipitously in removing children and recommended that greater consideration should be given to the rights of parents and to children "a child is a person, not an object of concern."[Williams]
The fundamental presumption of innocence has been seriously eroded in children’s cases:
“it may be that innocent people are being convicted, but we ought to be more worried about the guilty who might get away”
The next feature is the asymmetric nature of the investigation. The Children’s Act has allowed the creation of highly selective case law that ties the hand of anyone attempting to prove their innocence. The next example is an appalling perversion of the law call Public Interest Immunity (PII):
In D. v. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children  A.C. 171 this House held that a similar immunity from disclosure of their identity should be given to those who gave information about neglect or ill treatment of children to a local authority or the N.S.P.C.C to that which the law allowed to police informers. In rejecting an argument that such an immunity could give protection to a malicious informant Lord Simon of Glaisdale said at p. 233B:
"I cannot leave this particular class of relevant evidence withheld from the court without noting, in view of an argument for the respondent, that the rule can operate to the advantage of the untruthful or malicious or revengeful or self-interested or even demented police informant as much as of one who brings information from a high-minded sense of civic duty. Experience seems to have shown that though the resulting immunity from disclosure can be abused the balance of public advantage lies in generally respecting it."
The harm to families can be direct and immediate such as family breakup, sick leave from work, alcoholism and substance abuse. There are also additional medical complications such as: depression, and anxiety, requiring medication and the extra loading of hard pressed doctors. Parents are placed in a high state of anxiety with a fear of their own child being removed, and constant fear of the house being attacked and invaded. A stressed state results lower immunity and increased sickness levels.
Hansard House of Commons 1-May-95 4:15pm
Mr Robert Hughes (Aberdeen North)
The social work department felt it necessary to lay charges against six different families, and to take all the children of those families into care immediately, at 7 o'clock in the morning. By the Tuesday of the following week, all the children had been returned home, but it took almost two years before the charges against the six families were finally dropped.
Those families were devastated. In some cases, marriages split up; in others, people were so demoralised that they became alcoholics. I understand that, even today, people in buses that travel through Aberdeen and pass a house belonging to one of the falsely--as it turns out--accused families say, "That's where those bloody child molesters live." A charge of child abuse can have serious repercussions.
We have seen there are 140,000 referrals a year where no further action is taken. So we can say that roughly 280,000 innocent parents per year will be devastated and in some cases marriages will split up, or they will turn to substance abuse. It seems questionable that 280,000 parents need to be damaged in order to take into care 10,500 cases. The harm is in summary:
The problem with allowing false allegations to be investigated is that the system eventually collapses due to these injustices:
Witch hunt/McCarthy trials damage society
The over zealous abuse trials resemble the US McCarthy communist hunts in the 1950’s. The Salem witch trials must be a caution against the 'children must be believed, children tell no lies' culture. The Salem witch-hunters became progressively more ambitious in their accusations until they were eventually disbelieved when they accused the governor’s wife.
“as someone who has been accused of the terrible crime and been on the receiving end of this 'Witch Hunt' I feel for all those innocent people that have been persecuted, hounded and found guilty by what can only be described as pure fabrication brought about and fuelled by the offer of state and press money, it certainly made me lose faith in 'British Justice' and has left me ashamed to even call myself British”.[Panorama]
“After watching tonight's Panorama, it brings to mind images of the witch trials of the 1600s and anti-communism in the McCarthy era. The fear of being seen to support paedophilia is such that if enough people shout 'witch', fair minded people turn away and the accused are left to prove their innocence. It's really is 'ducking stool justice' guilty if you survive, dead if you don't. I defy anybody to be able to say what they were doing say 15 years ago in any level of detail”. [Panorama]
Cost to the taxpayer
The Home Office states that there are 110,000 convicted child sex abusers in England and Wales. The NSPCC claim that only around 2% of paedophiles are detected and convicted. With a cost of processing every detection of somewhere between £5000 and £2million the total estimated bill of processing some 50 x 110,000 paedophiles must be around an absurd figure of £5000 billion! The NSPCC will bankrupt us!
“I was a Head of Education
in a Residential School accused of physically abusing former pupils. Some
Facts. The police interviewed about 500 of my former pupils (out of approx
2300. They elicited 9 complainants. Four of these resulted in charges. I, with
others, was found innocent in 55 minutes following a three-year investigation
and a three week trial - estimates of the cost of this to the taxpayer range
from £1.5m to £2.5m in our case alone. When asked why the case was being
brought despite evidence to affirm our innocence during the trawl by the
police, a police sergeant told me very forcefully that his job was to find
corroboration of the complaints and get me in front of a jury - NOT to
investigate the case”. [Panorama]
The reputations of social services and the police force are not helped when they act on malicious accusations. To be effective the police and social workers must have the good will of the public. If these organisations continue to persecute innocent people they will lose further credibility.
“He has had an unsatisfactory letter from the Police saying that if more allegations are ever made this allegation will be reviewed. To be accused of something that you haven't done is the most damaging of actions. We are trying to make accountable all those involved in this process, the accuser, the Police, the NSPCC and the Social Services Dept”. [Panorama]
”It would pay every parent or carer to read Dr Roland C Summit (1983)- "The Child Abuse Accommodation, Syndrome" in Child Abuse and Neglect vol 7 pp177-193. This is used as a seminal text by child savers in the U.S.A and Britain. Summit suggests that a child must be literally forced by repeated coercive questions to "remember" abuse once suspicion is generated by any means. The NSPCC has close connections with the controversial Kemp institute in Denver Colorado”. [Panorama]
Miscarriages of justice will mean people avoiding the caring
profession for fear of falling foul of false accusations. No-one will dare to
work with children. This situation must be reviewed, or every swimming
instructor, care worker, scout master, or persons who are ever left in a 1-1
situation with a child, for however short a time, will be open to ruination by
“Police trawling methods inevitably result in the conviction of the innocent as well as the guilty and this cannot be acceptable in a civilised society. The collusion between solicitors and police to obtain evidence is tantamount to a witch hunt - destroying the lives of innocent people who have devoted their lives to the welfare of others”. [Panorama]
“I am a healthcare student/worker and I am extremely alarmed at the possibility of somebody suing me and ruining my career just to claim compensation”. [Panorama]
False allegations deplete resources since investigative agencies spend disproportionate resources chasing false alarms and spend less time helping genuine children in need. In some cases this harms children because agencies are too busy to intervene in time to save the child’s life (e.g. Victoria (also known as Anna) Climbié, Lauren Wright).
False allegations tend to spread as every inadequate malcontent discovers a convenient way of settling scores with their enemies. The investigative agencies make themselves immune from these allegations and a two-rule society then develops.
There is no justification for the industry of child removal and witch-hunts against parents, yet no challenge has been upheld in the courts. Children’s cases have been used to seriously erode English justice. These are some of the violations:
One of the cornerstones of justice is that it is preferable for 5 guilty men to walk free than to wrongly convict an innocent man for something he did not do. Those who are happy to inflict severe injustices upon others demonstrate themselves to be so morally bankrupt that they should be barred from the legal profession. Fundamental rights must always include ability to question informers, examine evidence, and a presumption of innocence. The panorama respondents report as follows:
“I have spoken to former residents who have admitted their former friends are making false allegations but the police do not want to know and the charges still stand. I feel that if this sort of police investigation is allowed to carry on we will be on the verge of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice this country has ever seen”.[P]
“I am aware of 92 staff from one school who are being investigated, a number already have been charged, two have been convicted. Some of the charges go back more than 30 years.The trawling methods used are contrary to British justice as is the acceptance of corroboration by volume. The availability of compensation calls into question the integrity of these accusations”. [Panorama]
“It should be
understood that the police are not free to pursue those who make false
allegations without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions and this
is rarely given. The lack of action gives encouragement and support to those
who seek revenge, profit or attention by false allegation and perjury,
including anonymity in many cases. …The worry is, if the law can be used to
exclude then it follows it can be used to favour”.[P]
Our legal system thrives by actually fuelling those very problems that beset our children and society. Claims of acting in the 'best interest of the child' are doing the very opposite. The impression is of a strong desire on proving guilt rather than investigating, a so-called ‘outcome driven hearing’.
“A friend was falsely accused of abuse by 4 young men. He is now languishing in gaol, and because of lack of legal aid, it seems that an appeal is a very long term option. He worked for a voluntary youth organisation, which distanced itself from him, instead of providing top class legal support. All young men involved were known to have discussed the compensation they would receive. The police seemed intent on proving guilt rather than investigating impartially”. [Panorama]
know of several good and decent people in my area who have had similar
allegations made against them. It is the only crime where you need no evidence.
Do other people not find it alarming, the fact that the police go looking for a
This gives powerful protection against the processing of inaccurate information. However these rights seem to be completely ignored in the case of false accusations: 1) Stop processing inaccurate information. 2) Erase inaccurate information. 3) Disclosure of information to investigate a crime.
Of the ten million children in this country few are at risk of serious injury or abuse but in order to try and prevent these few suffering significant harm a large number are caught up in the present Child Protection system. A disproportionate amount of social work time is used to investigate allegations, often of a trivial nature, with traumatic consequences for the child and family concerned. There is a very fine balance between the benefits of intervention and its potential for doing great damage to interpersonal relationships. [Williams]
For families experiencing false-abuse accusations, their children see highly stressed parents having heated arguments. Children are aware of the strain and it affects them. Parents in a state of high-anxiety do not make good carers. Depressed parents also neglect their children. Even worse the welfare of the child is potentially compromised to avoid further contact with social services. For example visits to the doctor are avoided, compromising the child’s health.
“We visited some friends with our two daughters. While stroking our friend’s dog, the eldest girl was bitten on the lip. We just could not risk seeking medical attention for the girl in case this came to the attention of the social services, even though our daughter was bleeding quite badly”.
Traditionally removal from home has been seen as the ultimate way of protecting children and enhancing their welfare but some professionals have increasingly voiced concerns about the standard of care children receive and doubted the ability of the state to meet their needs. Research published in 1985 by the department of Health and Social Security showed that many Social Workers viewed care pessimistically, and most children in care would have preferred to be at home but had little or no contact with their parents. [Williams]
Centrepoint reported in 1989 that the ex-care population was heavily over-represented in the group of homeless and often-destitute young people found in London and other big cities and there is no evidence that the situation has improved recently. (Jane King 1994) [Williams]
It is interesting that child murders are generally less common in southern European countries than in the north, this may be accounted for in differences in recording the cause of death or may reflect differences in child rearing practices and societies in which the community is more willing to intervene if they suspect children are being ill-treated. [Williams]
Why this situation has arisen is complex. One quotation from a victim: “if they could only see the damage that they do” is revealing and goes to the hub of the problem.
Child protection system is self serving
Like so much English law today, the Children's Act has been perverted so as to line the pockets of the lawyers. An unholy alliance of psychiatrists, police, social workers, judges, lawyers and the media has assembled which allows demonstrably flawed evidence to criminalize parents and remove their children. There is no doubt that these organisations are aware of these failures and the wish to persist, where harm is intentionally done to children, is because of more self-serving reasons such as: empowerment, ideology, or financial gain. This is analogous to a ‘collective Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy’.
“With a view to establishing a public investigation into the Bellshill children's home following the conviction of a member of staff for the sexual abuse of those in his care, I tried to obtain legal assistance from over 20 law firms in Edinburgh and dozens more across Scotland (over 45 in total), only to find that in each case there was a great deal of interest in my case until I stated that under no circumstances would I enter a compensation claim. In one case I was told not to be such a fool and had the phone slammed down on me”. [Panorama]
This situation of widespread false allegations has arisen because gradual and piecemeal changes to the law (Judicial activism) makes no measurement and uses no proper evidence to ensure the changes made are beneficial to society.
Case law is more driven by hysteria than by proper evidence. The legal system is unable to see the harm it does. This is analogous to pilots flying blind, or helmsmen operating without a compass. In control engineering terms judicial activism would be called ‘Open-loop justice’.
It must be the duty of parliament if they really have the best interests of children at heart to reverse this situation.
Flawed Legal system allows miscarriages of justice
How can a country that prides itself on its judicial system have come to this? In the 1930’s whistle-blowing children in the USSR were made heroes of the state while their parents were carted off to the gulag for grain hoarding. We are at the state where a boy is praised and rewarded for turning in his own mother for sexual abuse. Given the levels of compensation can we trust this evidence? These factors must be responsible for flawed justice:
Availability of compensation
By giving claimants
financial reward we are encouraging false claims. It is criminally naïve to
deny this, and should be made so. False accusations of such heinous crimes are
an even greater crime:
“It may be hard for some people to believe that any person would want money so bad but these boys now men are mostly not your average pillars of society”. [Panorama]
“After the claim and following my brother's nightmare, she was sent to a foster family, where she then made allegations against them”. [Panorama]
“My daughters have been deprived of their Dad for almost three years so far because of the greed of this group of friends”. [Panorama]
This is a legal device to obtain more convictions. The self-serving reasons for the change can only be to increase the rewards for the legal system. We need a better and more open definition of the law.
The general public are not aware of these extremely pernicious case law changes to our legal system to protect false accusers. The judiciary must be constrained from implementing undesirable laws where malicious accusers are protected.
To reverse these problems we recommend these steps. Judges must be more accountable by being elected, which also allows their removal from office.
Parliamentary law should be available on the internet and the semantics and intentions of these laws clearly expressed using plain English and rule based assistance programs to remove any ambiguities. Judicial changes to the law based on personal prejudice must end. If sound evidence from procedural matters identifies problems these must be returned to parliament for extra clarification and review of the law. Any changes must be reflected by instant updates to the law. These changes must be monitored by careful evidence–based observation ensuring that there are no undesirable side effects.
Subjects of investigations must be given the same symmetric rights as the accusers. This is compatible with the common-law principle of equality of arms. This must include anonymity during an investigation with a subject entitled to know or establish the identity of a false accuser. False accusers must receive the same sentence as a guilty subject would receive. Anonymous accusations should not be processed as they waste more time persecuting innocent individuals and divert resources from where they are needed.
We must make concerted efforts to remove the state from family life. The damage the state has done in attempting to raise children is self-evident. The value of social services, and the secret family courts must be questioned. A Children’s Act is of no benefit if it tramples on the rights of Parents. The state should not attempt to subsidise alternative families. [Kant]
There has to be a better way of processing allegations, including the use of lie detectors. The science of allegation determination would save many innocent lives from ruin whilst deterring false accusers. Unfortunately the present criminal justice system, including the police child protection units, is presently unable to differentiate between true and false allegations because it is trained to operate according to a false paradigm of predicting abuse.
“I have personally experienced false allegations of this nature…. Those who have been found out to be lying go scott free. As yet no action has ever been taken out against them for wasting police time and tax-payers money…. Those who seek to imprison others in this way ought to serve the sentence their victim would serve”. [Panorama]
“in my opinion the courts
have failed to deliver justice and the sick people who accused him of this
should be fined and thrown in jail”. [Panorama]
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour."
Ten Commandments (#9) – The Bible, Exodus 20:16
http://docs.ajtodd.com/video.html This video link documents a child being snatched from his parents. It took place a few years ago in Australia. The web site details the battle against the police and social services that ensued. The video clip is quite harrowing.
http://fact.on.ca/joint/chvcbref.pdf child custody and access - false accusations during divorce
http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds01/text/11017-08.htm House of Lords debate on Child Abuse.
6. Fagan P. F (15 May 1997) The Child Abuse Crisis Roe Backgrounder No. 1115, Heritage Foundation.
Dr Brian Robertson