Hundreds of child abusers to get convictions reviewed

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of people jailed for abusing children are to have their convictions re-examined amid growing concern that they were found guilty in the absence of any "objective" evidence.

Hundreds of people jailed for abusing children are to have their convictions re-examined amid growing concern that they were found guilty in the absence of any "objective" evidence.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, the legal body established by the Government to examine possible miscarriages of justice, announced yesterday it had set up a working party to look for flaws in cases of child abuse and rape, where individuals had been convicted solely on the word of the victim.

John Wagstaff, the commission's legal adviser, said: "There may well be miscarriages of justice ... where, with very little corroboration, one person's view has been taken against another's."

The decision comes amid controversy about police methods in child abuse prosecutions and particularly in relation to the practice of "trawling" children's homes and prisons for complainants against care workers. The Independent revealed last December that the commission was referring a series of child abuse cases back to the Court of Appeal after re-examining the evidence. These raised concerns at the commission, which noted 30 per cent of the cases referred to it related to sex offences.

Doubts over the integrity of child abuse investigations have been raised by an all-party parliamentary working group and led to a Commons inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Investigations into sex abuse at children's care homes have been conducted by at least 32 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales and thousands of care workers have been accused.

Concerns over unfounded allegations increased 18 months ago after a high-profile case in which the football manager David Jones was acquitted of 20 charges of abuse linked to his time as a care home worker.

A commission spokesman, David Brittin, said yesterday: "We will be looking in a proactive way. We can go out and look at a case without anyone applying to us." The commission said it was not "touting for business".

The all-party parliamentary group which questioned police tactics in child abuse investigations includes Baroness Williams of Crosby and the Liverpool MP Claire Curtis-Thomas. The group is particularly concerned about allegations investigated by Merseyside Police in the 1980s and 1990s – and the effects of paying compensation to victims in child abuse cases. Victims who allege child abuse are usually guaranteed some compensation if a conviction is secured in the criminal courts.

Writing to Chris Mullin, the home affairs committee chairman, Ms Curtis-Thomas said: "There is much criticism about how the police trawl for victims and the way they conduct their interviews with the individuals who have allegedly been abused – by leading the complainant into making or asserting allegations put forward by the police."

She claimed that once a care worker had been convicted other complaints usually followed, yet many allegations referred to events 20 or 30 years ago that were hard to contest.

The home affairs committee is expected to look into the convictions of more than 100 care workers. Explaining the need for the select committee's inquiry, Mr Mullin said: "It has been suggested that a whole new genre of miscarriages of justice has arisen from the over-enthusiastic pursuit of allegations about the abuse of children in institutions many years ago."

In April, detectives in Northumbria were forced to defend their £5m Operation Rose inquiry into abuse at care homes in the North-east, after 26 members of staff were acquitted of all charges. Northumbria Police, which examined allegations dating back to the 1960s, pointed out the operation led to two men being jailed for more than 12 years in total.