False accusation

I was very troubled by Richard Webster's essay (Special Report, 19 July) claiming that the prosecution of abusers in children's homes is a witch-hunt.

I was troubled first by his extraordinary lack of evidence. He wants to say that everyone else is wrong: all those judges who have dealt with civil cases, all those expert inquires that have reported, as well as all the police officers and all of the social workers and all of the journalists who have worked on these cases. But what does he offer to support his position? Not one single proven case of a miscarriage of justice.

I was troubled by his partial account of events. He wants to tell us that the police are trawling for evidence in these cases in a way that is bizarre and improper. He does not say that this kind of intelligence-led policing is established practice in every detective force in this country for every kind of major crime, not just for child abuse. What would he prefer? That police make no attempt to find corroboration when an allegation is made? That is exactly what did happen with child abuse for several decades, and that was certainly wrong. He wants to say that phoney victims are manufacturing allegations in the hope of earning criminal injuries compensation. He tells us that many of the accusers have criminal records but he does not say - as he must know - that, throughout the period when most of these allegations were made, compensation was denied (quite wrongly) to any crime victim who had a criminal record.

But what is most troubling - in fact, immoral - is that, without any evidence or understanding, he declares these abusers innocent and, therefore, declares their accusers to be liars. For every child who was raped and intimidated in the hopeless isolation of these homes, Webster adds gratuitous insult to their painful injury.

Nick Davies
The Guardian
London EC1

This article first appeared in the 02 August 1999 issue of the New Statesman, America says: never again!