The following article is a reproduction from the September 2006 edition of FACTION, the magazine of the Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers (FACT) organisation. We have done this so as to make it more easily available. Not only does it show how Kirklees Council bungled the investigation of false allegations, but it also shows criticism of the handling of the case by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Two men who served long jail terms over children’s home sex abuse claims have had their names cleared after top judges were told their alleged victim was a “theatrical attention-seeker”.
Three appeal court judges heard evidence that a girl, whose allegations sparked Operation Clyde, which led to 17 court cases, a number of sackings and the closure of 10 children’s homes, had told many dubious stories of sexual abuse as a child and as a grown-up.
In the Appeal Court the Judges said the convictions of John Siddall, 46, from Kirklees, and Ian Brooke, 47, from Batley, were unsafe. Each was convicted of assaults against more than one girl – at homes in Dewsbury and Mirfield – but the evidence was inter-dependent and all the convictions were overturned because of doubts about the reliability of a witness known as RW, now a 35-year-old mother. She was 13 when the offences allegedly took place in the mid 1980s. Following these convictions the same witness had also made allegations against another care worker, Wilf Jolley. At his trial she was found to have lied to the Police and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, and he was also acquitted.
She started talking to police about in 1996 and that led to Operation Clyde. Kirklees Council called in the NSPCC to work with police on a three-year investigation which dug up allegations by other children against social services and education staff, going back to the 1960s. The two men were jailed at the end of the huge police operation, Operation Clyde. Their probe centred on allegations of physical and sexual abuse at 17 residential homes in Kirklees. A total of 2,226 people were questioned, 42 arrested and three convicted. Most of the 17 prosecutions failed, but Mr Siddall and Mr Brooke and another man were convicted in 1999 and 2000.
Kirklees Council closed homes and took action against dozens of staff. Some were sacked and others felt obliged to leave. Some were later compensated for unfair treatment and Kirklees Council settled out of court, at undisclosed cost, with 69 people who claimed they had been abused while they were children in its care.
Meanwhile, female staff had made notes on RW’s tendency to make up stories. She told them she had been raped by twelve Asian taxi drivers but she told other versions elsewhere. A report uncovered after the men’s conviction, and written when she was fourteen, said: “RW thrives on exaggerating events to their most theatrical extremes. She employs shock tactics in an attempt to convince adults that her problems are more serious than anyone else’s.”
New evidence disclosed that R had made a separate rape allegation over an attack in Salford in Nov. 1986, which the authorities considered to be a “complete fabrication”. After giving evidence at Leeds Crown Court about her story of abuse in Dewsbury and Mirfield, she went to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and told a different version. When her own children were referred to social services, she came up with more stories. Eventually, doubts about her truthfulness were presented to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which recommended they be put before the Court of Appeal.
Mr Siddall was sentenced to four years in 1999 and Mr Brooke was sentenced to 10 years in 2000, but both were released before the case got to appeal. Kirklees Social Services said: “It was a long and complex enquiry and we put all the evidence available to us before the courts.”
In giving their Judgement the Appeal Court Judges were scathing in their criticism of the Criminal Cases Review Commission for the abysmal delay in presenting the case, and for the lamentable way in which the case papers and files had been presented to the Court. Documents were provided in unwieldy, loose bundles and unpaginated. As a result, considerable time was wasted at the pre-hearing and hearing stage, which had they not been sorted could have had an adverse effect on the appellants case.
Speaking after the judgement was delivered,Michael Barnes, secretary of a campaign called F.A.C.T., (Falsely Abused Carers and Teachers), said a Royal Commission to look into investigative practice in cases of alleged child abuse was urgently needed. Rory O’Brien, chairman of F.A.C.T. said he was delighted with the the news. “I know both families are very grateful for all the support they have received from F.A.C.T., and from its members.
“We very much hope that Ian, Bev, their children and the Siddall family will all be able to put this behind them. These men, however, should never have been convicted in the first place let alone sent to prison. Both were not only required to serve long sentences before gaining an appeal, but also had to wait an unnecessarily long time for the case to be heard because of administrative failings. They have been the victims of a thoroughly unreliable serial false accuser. What action will be taken against her?”