Miscarriages of justice and the great children's home panic: study the evidence

Nick Davies (Letters, 16 August) accuses me of failing to identify a single "proven case of miscarriage of justice" in relation to care home investigations. Yet in my reply to his barbs (Letters, 9 August), I was careful to point out that one of the Cheshire convictions had already been overturned on appeal.

Perhaps Davies missed my brief reference to this case. Or could it be that he is demanding evidence not of a miscarriage of justice but of innocence? If so, he is asking for something that is all but impossible. Proving that you did not commit a real crime is sometimes difficult enough. Proving, after 20 or 30 years have passed, that you did not commit a crime that never took place at all is much more difficult.

The evidence that innocent men have been convicted as a result of trawling operations is extensive and compelling, but mostly circumstantial. Some of this evidence is recorded in my own articles. Much more is contained in the legal papers and the testimony of defendants and their supporters. If Davies had researched the story properly he would be familiar with this evidence. However, when he wrote his celebrated articles in the Guardian suggesting the existence of paedophile rings in children's homes in North Wales and the North-west, he did not interview any of the convicted care workers who now protest their innocence. Nor did he have access to their legal papers. One of the key witnesses for his North Wales report was a man who has made allegations of sexual abuse against no fewer than 49 people. None of these has ever led to a conviction and Davies omitted to say that one of his most serious allegations had been rejected by a jury after barristers had argued that it was a transparent fabrication.

Unfortunately for Davies, the articles that he wrote as a result did not pass into the oblivion they merited. In two successive years, they helped him win coveted press awards and crowned his reputation as an investigative journalist. He can hardly admit now that he got the story entirely wrong.

Meanwhile the great children's home panic, which Davies himself helped to inflame, intensifies almost by the day. In the weeks that have passed since my last letter, three more former care workers from North Wales and Merseyside have been convicted. They received prison sentences of two, eight and 12 years. All three continue to protest their innocence. If their protests are empty, then justice has been done. If, as their many supporters believe, their protests are well founded, then the lives of three more innocent care workers have been destroyed by false allegations.

Richard Webster

This article first appeared in the 13 September 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Kids just say no to party politics