Palmer, news.telegraph (UK), March 24, 2002
disturbing case of Bill Thompson, a criminologist specialising in child
abuse, and a police search for pornography. Why was his home raided when
he has legal protection?
Bill Thompson is a lecturer
at Reading University. He's a criminologist and has built up an
international reputation as an expert on sexual assaults on children.
He testifies as an expert
witness - analysing the evidence presented by the prosecution and
assessing whether it proves what the prosecutors claim it does.
His expertise has been
accepted by the courts and appears to have convinced juries and appeal
court judges: in every one of the 20 cases he has been involved in over
the past two years, the side on whose behalf he has given evidence - and
it is almost invariably the defence - has won.
Two weeks ago, Dr Thompson
found that the door to his home had been smashed in, his house searched,
and his computer and many of his files seized. The same happened in his
office at Reading University.
The raids were organised by
Thames Valley Police.
Officers asserted they had
information that Dr Thompson was in possession of child pornography and
obtained a search warrant from a local magistrate before entering his
Unfortunately, the police
did not tell the magistrate that Dr Thompson was an expert witness in a
myriad of child sex cases.
Detective Sergeant Kate
Ford, of the Marlow Child Protection Group, who supervised the raid,
explained that omission to Dr Thompson's solicitor by saying that:
"Dr Thompson claims to be an expert witness, but he is not on any
expert witness list we checked."
Dr Thompson is baffled by
"I am on the Home Office website as an expert who has
been consulted on the sentencing of paedophiles. I am a practising
associate of the British Academy of Experts, which is recognised by the
courts as an authenticating body."
Experts employed within the
criminal justice system and academics conducting research are two of the
six categories of people specifically singled out by the Child Protection
Act of 1978 (and its amendment of 1988) as having a statutory defence
against any criminal charge of possessing child pornography.
Dr Thompson and his lawyers
will argue in the High Court next week that it is extremely doubtful that
the search warrant should not have been authorised because Dr Thompson is
"You can't be an
expert witness without having to evaluate this sort of material. It is
part of my job," Dr Thompson continued."
"I am frequently asked
for an opinion of whether pictures constitute child pornography: often the
relevant pictures clearly are obscene, and I will advise them that the
pictures cannot be defended. Clients often change their pleas as a
Dr Thompson has given
lectures to police officers in which he has explained the anomalous
position that he and other experts such as him occupy in relation to the
Child Protection Act.
"We have a statutory
defence against any prosecution," Dr Thompson explained. "But it
does not stop a prosecution from taking place. Under the law as it stands,
people like me can be charged and prosecuted, even though no prosecution
"Cork University has a
multi-million-pound grant from the EU to study child pornography on the
internet. That research couldn't happen at a British university because of
the anomalous legal position."
"I have pointed out
that it would make sense if the police and Home Office put together a list
of experts who were allowed to look at this stuff. The experts could be
vetted to ensure that they were not secret paedophiles. I would be quite
happy for such a procedure to be in place."
The police say that, in
raiding Dr Thompson, they were simply responding to "several"
claims that Dr Thompson was downloading "massive amounts" of
child pornography from the internet.
"That claim is
demonstrably false," insists Dr Thompson. "And its falsity will
be demonstrated the moment they go through my computers."
Dr Thompson has no doubt
that he can dispose of the allegation that has been made against him. He
doubts that he will even be charged. Still, it will not be so easy for him
to restore his reputation: mud sticks.
He has been suspended form
his university post while the allegations are investigated. And merely
being the subject of a police raid has meant that Dr Thompson has been
dropped as an expert witness by the lawyers for several defendants on
whose behalf he was due to appear.
"You make a lot of
enemies when you point out that not everyone accused of sexually
assaulting children is guilty," Dr Thompson notes wearily.
"People say you are an
apologist for paedophiles, that you are trying to make the world safe for
them. Of course it's nonsense. I want people who are guilty of sexual
assaults against children put in prison."
"The problem with the
way cases are prosecuted at the moment is that it is often not sex
offenders who are being sent to prison, it is innocent people."
As an example, Dr Thompson
cites the dozens of men who are now serving terms of between 10 and 15
years for sexually assaulting children in care homes.
The assaults are alleged to
have taken place between 20 and 30 years ago. There have been financial
incentives for making allegations: the Criminal Injuries Compensation
Board will pay out up to £32,000 for sexual assault, and more is
forthcoming if a suit can be mounted against the care homes' insurers.
Sums of as much as £100,000 have been paid to those who claim to have
The men who made the
accusations that they had been abused are nearly all convicted criminals.
"They usually say
that, had it not been for the abuse, they would not have drifted into
crime," Dr Thompson explains. "That claim can often be shown to
be false: in one case, for example, the individual was in the care home
because, even before he was in his teens, he had committed an armed
What has convinced Dr
Thompson of the bogus nature of many of the allegations, however, is his
analysis of the evidence that was used to convict the men.
"In 1991," he
says, "the Law Lords ruled that allegations could be corroborated by
volume - that is, the fact that there were several of them could help to
show that they were all true. I can show that this principle is utterly
mistaken. Volume, in these cases, does not corroborate anything."
The case of Roy
Shuttleworth is a typical example, he says. Mr Shuttleworth worked in
Greystone Care Home in Cheshire in the 1970s. He was convicted and
sentenced to ten years imprisonment in 1996 for sexually assaulting
children in his care.
That was despite the fact
that one of those who accused him had a conviction for attempting to
obtain money from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board by deception,
and that another was exposed as a liar in a subsequent trial.
"When I went through
the witness statements, each one contradicted every other one. They all
described Roy Shuttleworth as assaulting them - but each one described a
different method of assault. This is, in my experience, quite
unprecedented for genuine paedophiles."
"A real paedophile
almost always has a single modus operandi which he develops and refines
over time, and you find that reflected in statements by their victims:
they bribe, they buy their victims something. They don't just suddenly
assault, which is what Mr Shuttleworth was described as doing."
"That is not the only
anomaly. When you draw up plans of Greystone, you find that what Mr
Shuttleworth was alleged to have done was logistically impossible: you
couldn't get out of the windows which one 'victim' said he had escaped
from, and you couldn't walk naked across the school - as another claimed -
in broad daylight without being noticed."
"Furthermore, when the
surviving duty rosters are compared with some of the dates on which
Shuttleworth was supposed to have committed assaults, it became clear that
he wasn't even in the care home at the time."
Dr Thompson cites Derek
Brushett, who was headmaster at Bryn-y-Don Care Home in South Wales and
was sentenced to 12 years for sexually assaulting those in his care, as
another example of a case where "corroboration by volume is not
"It is in fact
contradiction. None of the statements support each other. If you look at
them closely, it becomes absolutely clear that Mr Brushett should never
have been convicted," he says.
A t least 60 men are in
prison as a result of the care home investigations. Bill Thompson has no
doubt that most of them should never have been sent there.
"The police went
trawling for evidence, and an unholy alliance of psychiatrists, social
workers, judges and lawyers has allowed evidence which is demonstrably
flawed, if not worthless, to be used to lock people up."
"There is no doubt
that there has been child abuse in care homes. Sixty years ago it was
rife, and those who made accusations were not believed. But now we have
gone to the opposite extreme: guilt at past failures has produced an
uncritical desire to believe every allegation."
"That has produced a
legal disaster. People are being sent down for 10 or 15 years on evidence
that wouldn't even be good enough to produce a court hearing for an
accusation of any other crime."
It is not only the care
home cases where enthusiasm to secure conviction in child abuse cases has
produced serious injustice.
"There are dozens of
them in `domestic' abuse cases," says Dr Thompson.
"The police and social
services techniques for interviewing children are almost universally
abysmal. They are as bad as they were in the Cleveland case. Despite all
the reports and criticism, nothing has changed since that scandalous
episode over a decade ago."
"In practically every
case, they break the guidelines. They make suggestions - in fact, they
tell the child what to say. It is appalling."
"To my knowledge, only
one police force actually uses a safe interview technique: Derbyshire. If
all officers followed their example, I would never be able to find
anything wrong with interview statements."
Dr Thompson's outspoken
opposition to many of the techniques that have become standard in child
abuse cases has created a great deal of opposition. If he is right,
however, there are scores, perhaps hundreds, of men now in prison for
offences against children which they did not commit.
It is a genuinely
"appalling vista" - and one which, as yet, neither the judiciary
nor the Home Office seems willing to confront.
Meanwhile Dr Thompson, who
has been willing to confront that possibility, finds himself facing the
allegation that he is a paedophile.