Child protection questions

Issues raised by the Lillie and Reed case.

Jennie Bristow

Topics Politics

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Two nursery workers accused of child sexual abuse in a notorious UK case have won their libel battle at the London High Court.

Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed were nursery nurses at Shieldfield nursery in Newcastle upon Tyne when, in 1993, they were accused of abusing the children in their charge. They were acquitted by Newcastle Crown Court in 1994, but four years later, the report of an independent inquiry set up by Newcastle Council accused them of widespread abuse. The Daily Mail sums up what happened next:

‘Branded paedophiles in an official report, two nursery workers were hounded out of their homes and jobs, enduring nine years of hell. But they were totally innocent.’ (1)

The case of Lillie and Reed has echoes of previous high-profile child protection scandals in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which raised questions about the methods used in taking allegations of abuse from children, about the reliability of children’s evidence, about the reliability of medical evidence of abuse and about the impact of such investigations upon children and their families. For a detailed report of the Lillie and Reed story, read ‘Cleared’, by Bob Woffinden and Richard Webster in the Guardian.

But one specific question to arise from Lillie and Reed’s victory is – what will happen to the people who put them through their ‘nine years of hell’?

Following the original allegations of abuse, Lillie and Reed were tried at Newcastle Crown Court in 1994 on 11 counts of indecent assault and rape. They were acquitted due to lack of evidence. But in 1995, Newcastle City Council set up an Independent Review to consider the parents’ complaints against Lillie and Reed. The Independent Review Team comprised four members: Richard Barker, of the University of Northumbria, independent social worker Judith Jones, psychologist Jacqui Saradjian, and Roy Wardell, former director of social services (2).

The team published its report in November 1998. As the Guardian newspaper puts it, the report claimed that Lillie and Reed ‘had abused their charges at Shieldfield nursery sexually, physically and emotionally; used them to make pornography; and were part of a paedophile ring’ (3). As the report hit the headlines of both the local and national press, Lillie and Reed fled town. They brought a libel case against Newcastle City Council, the four members of the Independent Review Team and the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. (The case against the Chronicle was settled earlier this year.)

The judge’s verdict pulled no punches. Mr Justice Eady upheld Newcastle City Council’s defence of qualified interest, which usually protects reports published in the public interest from libel action; but he made a ‘very rare’ finding of malice against the Independent Review Team because ‘they included in their report a number of fundamental claims which they must have known to be untrue and which cannot be explained on the basis of incompetence or mere carelessness’ (4).

The review team also, said the judge, ‘set out to misrepresent the state of the evidence available to support their joint belief that Mr Lillie and Miss Reed and other local residents were child abusers – and indeed abusers on a massive scale – and to give readers the impression that statements by parents and/or children had been corroborated by police inquiries’ (5).

In awarding Lillie and Reed the maximum libel damages possible, of £200,000 each, Mr Justice Eady stated: ‘They have earned it several times over because of the scale, gravity and persistence of the allegations.’ (6)

But while the Lillie and Reed had their lives destroyed, their accusers seem to be facing remarkably little sanction.

When Lillie and Reed were accused of abuse, back in 1993, they were suspended from their jobs and taken to court (7). Yet Newcastle City Council seems to be standing by the Independent Review Team. The Independent Review Team was ordered by the judge to pay damages plus costs – which, it was reported on 31 July 2002, Newcastle City Council has agreed to pay (8).

The Council’s press release of 30 July is headlined ‘Newcastle City Council acted properly in publishing Independent Inquiry Report’. It then expresses disappointment at the judge’s finding against the Independent Review Team: ‘We are concerned and disappointed, however, that he is of the opinion that all four members of the Independent Review Team acted with malice, as we believed that these very experienced and conscientious individuals took great care with their enquiry, and acted properly throughout the preparation of the report’.

The press release goes on to say that ‘The Review Team members will be shocked and distressed by this finding and, we understand, are considering an appeal’ (9).
Now the High Court has ruled that these four people included in their report ‘a number of fundamental claims which they must have known to be untrue’, one might expect a few more questions to be asked. After all, as the biographies supplied to the press by Newcastle Council show, some of the people on the team wield no small influence within their field.

Professor Richard Barker, who led the Review Team, is ‘currently Head of the Child and Family Studies Subject Division at Northumbria University and holder of the Chair in Child Welfare’. He has also ‘founded and lead [sic] a multi-professional post-qualifying child protection course, approved by social work and nursing qualification boards’, and has ‘acted as independent chair of child protection conferences and reviews, and undertaken consultancy work and training on child protection in the UK and throughout Europe’ (10).

Jacqui Saradjian, a consultant clinical psychologist, is ‘currently Head of the City Wide Forensic Service for Leeds Community and Mental Health Teaching Trust’. She ‘teaches regularly on the post-graduate doctorate training course for Clinical Psychologists at Leeds University’, and she ‘speaks and trains nationally and internationally on various aspects of child abuse; particularly on the effects on victims, males and females, of their experiences and the motivations and behaviours of perpetrators of abuse, male and female’. Her ‘specialist area of research’ involves ‘women who sexually abuse children and also the specific effects of that abuse on their child victims’ (11).

Judith Jones, according to the biography, ‘has been a social worker, senior manager, trainer in and consultant to local authorities, the voluntary sector and as an independent professional’. She has been ‘a social worker for the London Borough of Croydon, Luton and Dunstable Hospitals and a Senior Manager for Nottinghamshire Social Services Department where she was Principal Professional Officer for Child Protection’. She ‘now works as an independent social worker, consultant and trainer in Child Protection’, she is ‘on the Law Society’s Expert Witness Register’, and she is also ‘a visiting research fellow at [sic] Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit at the University of North London’ (12).

What is not in Judith Jones’ biography is that she works closely with the influential feminist Beatrix Campbell, who was a key figure in the discussion of the Cleveland child abuse scandal 15 years ago. Jones and Campbell co-wrote the play ‘And all the children cried’, based on Moors murderer Myra Hindley, which caused controversy earlier this year (13). Richard Webster points out that, after the Independent Review Team’s report was published in 1998, Campbell told her readers in the Daily Express that a ‘stringent’ inquiry had found ‘persuasive evidence of sadistic and sexual abuse of up to 350 children’ (14).

Another fact that is not in Jones’ biography is provided by the Daily Mail: ‘Judith Jones – formerly Judith Dawson – was a leading figure among social workers who became convinced that a group of young children were being sexually abused by devil worshippers in Nottingham in 1989. Police found no evidence to support this claim.’ (15)

A statement sent to me by Newcastle City Council on 1 August 2002 says: ‘Under her previous name of Judith Dawson, Judith Jones was professionally involved in a major child abuse case in Nottingham in 1990.’ (16) The case resulted in a criminal prosecution, and nine adult convictions for serious sexual and physical abuse of very young children. The statement claims that: ‘Following the case there was disagreement between the agencies involved as to whether the abuse involved ritualistic elements’, and that: ‘The best source of information about the case is a public statement published by the Director of Social Services for Nottinghamshire on 7 November 1990, which is available from Nottinghamshire County Council.’ When I contacted Nottinghamshire County Council later that day, they were unable to locate a copy of this statement.

Three members of the Independent Review Team are influential figures. Prior to their inquiry into Lillie and Reed, one of them was associated with a high-profile, controversial child abuse case. Yet while two young nursery workers can be pilloried for nine years on the basis of false allegations, there seems to have been remarkably little anger directed at those who brought the allegations. And one wonders how much their role in the area of child protection will change as a result of this indictment of their role in the Lillie and Reed case.

Above all, though, this case is an indictment of the culture currently surrounding child abuse in the UK. When it comes to allegations of child abuse, too often it seems that evidence matters less than suspicion. A climate that is predisposed to believe the worst about adults working with children feeds off unsubstantiated allegation, and nurtures those who make the allegations. As the Lillie and Reed case shows, once the accusation is there, it is very difficult to clear one’s name – as evidenced by the need to resort to the UK’s terrible libel laws.

If we want to prevent more cases of this kind, we need to start asking more questions of those who claim to be protecting children.

The judgement is available from the Court Service website. See the Richard Webster website.

(1) ‘Cleared’, Daily Mail, 31 July 2002

(2) ‘I’m angry for the children, for us, for a lost nine years’, Guardian, 31 July 2002

(3) ‘I’m angry for the children, for us, for a lost nine years’, Guardian, 31 July 2002

(4) ‘I’m angry for the children, for us, for a lost nine years’, Guardian, 31 July 2002

(5) Nurses cleared of child abuse win libel payout, Daily Telegraph, 31 July 2002

(6) Nurses cleared of child abuse win libel payout, Daily Telegraph, 31 July 2002

(7) ‘Cleared’, Daily Mail, 31 July 2002

(8) ‘I’m angry for the children, for us, for a lost nine years’, Guardian, 31 July 2002

(9) Newcastle City Council acted properly in publishing Independent Inquiry Report, Newcastle City Council, 30 July 2002

(10) Biography supplied by Newcastle City Council, 31 July 2002

(11) Biography supplied by Newcastle City Council, 31 July 2002

(12) Biography supplied by Newcastle City Council, 31 July 2002

(13) Play about Myra Hindley provokes hostility, Guardian, 20 April 2002

(14) Cleared, Guardian, 31 July 2002

(15) ‘Cleared’, Daily Mail, 31 July 2002

(16) Statement released by Newcastle City Council, 1 August 2002

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Topics Politics


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