of juries; and the influence of media reports and populist opinion on the decisions made by juries. In a social climate where it is believed that certain crimes are rife and where there is a moral and political agenda to secure conviction for them, the dangers of miscarriages of justice are higher. It was in such conditions of disquiet – indeed, in conditions which constitute ‘moral panics’ (Cohen, 1972; Garland, 2005; Cree et al, 2015) – that a series of wrongful arrests and prosecutions occurred in the final decades of the last century in response to allegations of paedophile rings and organised child sexual abuse. Following similar scares in North America and other parts of the world, it became commonly believed that Satanic ritual abuse was occurring in some communities and in day care nurseries. Notable examples of supposed Satanic abuse emerged in the Orkney Islands and Nottingham, and it was only after many months that it became clear that no such ritual abuse had taken place (Thorpe et al., 1990; Clyde, 1992; La Fontaine, 1994) 11 . An example of chimerical abuse at a nursery was the case of Shieldfield on Tyneside (Rozenberg, 2002). Finally, there was the Cleveland scandal, when a misleading diagnostic test based on so- called anal dilation led to the unjustified removal of dozens of children into local authority care (Butler-Sloss, 1988). Of particular relevance to the present study are the investigations into the abuse of children in care and residential schools in North Wales and Northern England in the late 1990s. After some former staff were convicted of non-recent offences, there were widespread claims published in the media that abuse in such settings had been systemic, the work of ‘paedophile rings’ that sometimes ‘farmed out’ victims to outsiders (Sawyer, 11 We acknowledge there were individual cases of child sexual abuse that sparked some of these scandals.
9 2012; Dobson, 2012; Tozer, 2013). According to Webster (2005), between January 1998 and May 2001, 34 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales undertook investigations of non- recent institutional child abuse. However, no organised paedophile rings in care homes were identified. 12 February 2000 saw the publication of Lost in Care, the report of the judicial inquiry led by Sir Ronald Waterhouse into abuse in North Wales. On a BBC Newsnight programme that discussed the findings, Sir William Utting, the former Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Social Work, commented: ‘It may be that innocent people are being convicted, but we ought to be more worried about the guilty who might get away’. This baleful remark implied that the abuse of children, no matter how long ago, was such a serious matter that it merited a reversal of the legal principle of the presumption of innocence in order to increase the prospects of securing convictions.
- Spring '18
- Confessions, The Confessions