Many child abuse convictions could be unsafe, says Woolf

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The Independent Online

Dozens of men convicted of sexually assaulting children years after the alleged offences may be victims of miscarriages of justice, the country's most senior judge has warned.

Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said child abuse allegations "were easy to make" and might be motivated by claims for compensation.

His comments will be seized upon by supporters of Jonathan King, who believe the former pop mogul is innocent of charges of sexually assaulting boys. King was sentenced to seven years in prison on Wednesday at the Old Bailey.

Lord Woolf said serious concerns had already been raised by the Criminal Cases Review Commission over a number of paedophile convictions. In an interview with The Independent, Lord Woolf said the allegations involved "very old offences" from former residents of children's homes. He said many of the recollections, "may not be accurate", especially when they were "tempted" by awards from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the police were asking, "Did anything happen to you?"

Plans to relax the rules of evidence so that juries could be made aware ofprevious convictions could add to the risk of miscarriages of justice in child abuse cases, he warned.

Lord Woolf urged judges to use their discretion to make sure juries did not hear overtly prejudicial evidence. "With paedophiles it can be very difficult ­ the natural reaction is one that we have got to protect the children and juries will be affected by this. It may be that in some respects in relation to some sexual offences the balance has gone the wrong way already," he added.

He said allegations were easy to make as abuses are committed in private and in many cases involved one person's word against another's. "You don't commit the offences in front of half a dozen people ­ it's not like robbing a bank."