The GOS likes to write about the little things that make life so unbearable like crying babies and women who always want the toilet seat left down, but occasionally we have to get serious. The reason there hasn't been a new Grumpy page for a week or so is that he has been working on a major issue that should make us all see red. He hopes you're ready for this, because it really needs saying …
We've heard a lot in the last couple of years about the failures of our social services and legal systems. What we don't hear about nearly often enough is the vicious, stupid victimisation of ordinary citizens by those same two bodies …
Darryl Gee was a peripatetic brass tutor, visiting schools in Huddersfield to teach children the trumpet and other brass instruments. Although he had been born with spinal deformities that made it difficult for him to balance, climb stairs and use his hands, he made a successful 20-year career in teaching and is remembered by hundreds of pupils.
But in 1999 an ex-pupil alleged that ten years before, when she was 11, he had raped her in school. He was arrested and tried. There was no evidence apart from the girl's story - it was her word against his. Because of his disability it would, in any case, have been difficult for him to rape anyone. Nevertheless, the jury found him guilty by a majority verdict (perhaps the majority of the jury were women - I mean, all men are rapists, right?) and in 2001 he started an eight year-sentence in Armley Prison, Leeds. He protested his innocence throughout, but two appeals were turned down.
His mother, however, was not easily discouraged. Now 88, she fought for five years to clear his name and eventually reached the Criminal Cases Review Commission. They investigated and commissioned a report from psychiatrists which cast serious doubt on the mental state of Darryl's accuser. Not only had her accusations become more and more florid and implausible, she had made identical allegations about another man, John Hudson, who had also been imprisoned the year before.
Earlier this year Darryl was finally acquitted by the Court of Appeal. Sadly, this came a little late. In 2002 he had died in prison from blood cancer which prison doctors had not diagnosed. His father fell into depression and also died seven months later.
John Hudson, too, was cleared by the Court of Appeal. Strangely, at one point the two men had shared a prison cell.
This appalling case begs a number of questions - the delusions of the girl, the inability of the police and the CPS to spot a loony when they saw one, the gullibility of the jury and above all the criminal stupidity of the judge who failed to direct the jury properly. We're not aware that any proceedings have been instituted against the girl. Those of us who were brought up to believe in British justice and the inherent fairness of trial by jury must be shocked and disillusioned to learn that a man's liberty and ultimately his life can be taken from him on no evidence beyond the ravings of a (presumably) sick woman. That it should have happened twice beggars belief.
But there's more …
Since the acquittal of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Trupti Patel, a large question mark has hung over the belief, held by some paediatricians and social workers, that there is a hidden epidemic of child abuse in this country. Sadly our legal and medical systems are determined to ignore that question mark.
Those three women, whose children died sudden, unexpected deaths, had never been in trouble with the police or social services, yet they were accused of murder. The overturning of their convictions may have left people with the impression that such miscarriages of justice no longer occur. Unfortunately that's not true - more cases are arising all the time.
Nor does a child have to die for parents to find themselves accused of abuse or neglect. Children are being taken into care and then, possibly as a result of the Government's drive to speed up the adoption process and increase the number of children adopted, sometimes permanently parted from their parents.
So common is it for parents to be blamed when their children have Brittle Bone Disease that there are at least two societies dedicated to helping them, the Brittle Bone Society Accused Parents Support Group, and the OIAP (OI or Osteogenesis Imperfecta is Brittle Bone Disease). The OIAP website makes one telling comment: "Social services often tell parents that if they admit to harming the child, they will work with them and get the child returned to them, if not, they will lose the child."
This ruthless drive to make innocent parents admit abuse is widespread. One of the main protagonists of the notorious "Shaken Baby Syndrome" is the paediatrician Robert Kirschner from Chicago University. He is often quoted as saying "Denial is highly indicative of abuse". In other words, if you say you didn't do it, that means you did.
And in any case of alleged child abuse the odds are stacked against the parents right from the word go. The proceedings of the Family Courts are protected by rules of confidentiality which wrap everything in a cocoon of secrecy, making parents liable to a charge of contempt of court if they seek advice or support from anyone not directly involved in their case. Decisions of the courts and in particular the testimony of expert witnesses are protected from external scrutiny. The only time we hear about these respectable and loving parents being convicted of inflicting terrible injuries on their children - without any circumstantial evidence that they had done so - is in highly publicised appeals like those of Clark, Cannings and Patel, or when a so-called expert like Roy Meadows (who was responsible for those three convictions) is exposed as a fraud.
Or, fortunately, on those occasions when a newspaper or TV channel is brave and persistent enough to reveal the shameful truth about our vindictive child protection industry. Recently highlighted on television was the case of a couple who took their second child to hospital where he was found to have a number of fractures. Immediately they were charged with child abuse, all three children were removed into care and have since been adopted. The mother is now pregnant again and lives in the daily fear that the moment her child is born it will be snatched from her.
The tragic truth is that the child in question almost certainly has Brittle Bone Disease. It runs in the family - about half the members of the mother's family have it, right back to her grandmother, and have suffered hundreds of fractures between them. But social services and their "expert witnesses" claim that the child can't have it because the mother doesn't. The Family Courts aren't required to have absolute proof in making their decisions. They are allowed to destroy families on the basis of "probability". But this only works one way: the prosecution only have to show that the child has "probably" been abused before taking him away from his family, while the family aren't allowed the same latitude at all - they have to prove that he hasn't been. And how are they to do that, faced with a well-oiled and well-financed machine of social workers, expert witnesses and secret kangaroo courts all full of righteous zeal and self-importance?
The damage to the children of being snatched from their homes, dragged off screaming into the care of strangers and then hastily sent off for adoption (sometimes without the parents knowing about it, as in a recent case in Essex) doesn't bear thinking about. In its craven desire to leave no stone unturned in its search for righteous targets, the child protection industry is itself guilty of shameful cruelty to innocent children.
Nor is there any protection for parents and children even when they can prove their innocence. Two months ago, The Daily Telegraph highlighted this problem in articles which included the story of an Essex couple, Emma and Martin. Emma had taken their baby, Peter, into hospital to have a bump on his head checked out. The child was put in foster care and a case was brought against them.
Even though, after the final hearing, they received medical evidence that indicated their innocence, they could not bring an appeal - and Essex Social Services would not bring one on the child's behalf. Finally Emma could no longer bear not knowing what had happened to her son, so she wrote to them. She received a one-line reply confirming that he had been legally adopted. End of story, apparently.
When a child has been adopted, whether because of previous abuse or whatever reason, the thing doesn't necessarily end. Angela and Ian Gay from Bromsgrove fostered and planned to adopt a three-year-old boy called Christian and his two siblings because they couldn't have children of their own. He'd only been in the house a few weeks before he fell critically ill and died. The couple were charged, tried and sentenced to five years in prison for poisoning him - with salt, of all things.
It was alleged that they had fed him four and a half spoons of salt - though just how you get a toddler to eat that amount of salt without being sick is hard to imagine. The court heard evidence from numerous medical experts but was told "it may never be known what happened to the boy" - which didn't stop it from coming to its own conclusions, apparently. Same old, same old - a child is dead, therefore it must be the parents wot done it.
The Home Office pathologist who carried out the post-mortem on Christian has not been backward in coming forward with his doubts over the conviction. He says that deliberate poisoning was only one possible explanation for the death. The salt could have been taken by accident, or the boy could have been suffering from a "disease process" no one had spotted. "I've not heard evidence that convinces me that this child has been deliberately poisoned by the defendants," he said. He added that the Gays had been forced to try to prove they did not poison the boy, which was "the wrong way" to assess such cases.
Even the police, although they welcomed the convictions, seemed rather ambivalent about it. Det.Chief Inspector Steve Cullen from West Mercia Police, said "The sentence will never be enough to compensate for his death but justice has been served." But in the same breath he went on "It is difficult to conceive how a little boy would voluntarily eat several teaspoons of salt. This has been backed by experts who would say a child would naturally reject even a small quantity." So, Steve, were they guilty or not? What are we saying here? It can't be done but they did it? You think they were innocent but you're pleased they were found guilty? You call that "justice has been served", do you?
The contributions from expert witnesses had a kind of lunatic quality. Throughout the case great weight was placed upon a scientific paper written in 1993 about salt-poisoning. The paper described twelve children (but nobody seems to know who they were. Did they really exist?) who had salt poisoning. It made little difference that salt poisoning is actually incredibly rare, while the disease "diabetes insipidus" or "salt diabetes" which has the same symptoms is much more common. The paper did not mention diabetes insipidus at all, so the disease was dismissed by the court. And who wrote the paper? Why, Professor Roy Meadows, of course! By comparison another professor, Ashley Grossman, said that he had been in practice in endocrinology for 25 years and had seen hundreds of patients with diabetes insipidus, but had never seen a case of salt poisoning. This was not information the jury was allowed to hear, however.
The jury were told that natural causes could be ruled out, so it had to be murder. This was nonsense. You could only rule out natural causes if they'd found a poison inside Christian which shouldn't have been there. What they did find was sodium, which was supposed to be there, but at a very much higher concentration than usual. Presumably if they'd found very low levels of sodium the prosecution would have charged the Gays with poisoning him with water?
The judge has to take much of the responsibility for this amazing case. The Gays were a very well-off couple (Angela earned £200,000 a year) but Ian gave up his job to become a full-time househusband and care for Christian and his two siblings. He soon became alarmed about the child, and phoned Social Services to say that he seemed "brainless", "a vegetable" and "a zombie" and that there was something wrong with him. This was later used as some sort of proof that he must have killed the child.
It was "quite extraordinary" to describe a three-year-old child in this way, the judge said, as was Mrs Gay's decision to return to work not long after Christian and his siblings arrived on their placements. "Your decision to go to work as Christian lay desperately ill in hospital showed where your priorities lay," he told her. "Every parent in the courtroom must have been thinking to themselves, 'How could she go back to work with her child in that position?'. Both of you showed that your approach to that little boy was entirely selfish. You were interested in what was best for you and not what was best for him. As the last week passed, you became more upset and angry about his behaviour, which was in reality hardly out of the ordinary even for a child who had not had his difficult start. The only inference is you decided to punish him by making him ingest salt."
Spot the deliberate mistake there, judge?
Luckily for the Gays, they had plenty of money and were able to hire themselves some hotshot lawyers for their appeal - they were cleared. Others haven't been so lucky. An Edinburgh woman has served her entire sentence for poisoning her daughter with salt.
The expression "Shaken Baby Syndrome" or SBS has entered the English language in the last few years, and has resulted in numerous convictions of parents, baby-sitters and other carers, yet some experts are now questioning whether it actually exists. The concept was first proposed in the 1970s to account for a particular type of injury in severely battered babies. They had all the ghastly stigmata of fractures, bruises and cigarette burns and almost invariably suffered bleeding within the brain, but sometimes without direct evidence of injury to the skull. Perhaps, it was suggested, the perpetrator had violently shaken the baby and the to-and-fro agitation of the brain within the skull could have torn the delicate blood vessels on its surface? Shaking could, in a similar way, account for the frequently observed haemorrhages in the back of the eye by having torn the blood vessels to the retina.
But this explanation was, and remains, hypothetical as no-one has ever directly observed the sort of severe shaking required to cause such injuries (that's right, we may never have actually shot one down, but flying saucers must exist because so many people have seen them … mustn't they?).
Ayub Ommaya, an American neurosurgeon, did provide some confirmatory evidence in a series of grisly experiments in which monkeys sitting in a truck were catapulted forward along a 20ft track. Their unsupported heads jerked backwards so forcefully as to cause concussion and, sure enough, at autopsy there were multiple contusions in the substance of the brain and bleeding on its surface.
The logic seems to be that if shaking could account for this pattern of injury in a severely battered baby, then any child with brain and retinal haemorrhages must also have been shaken - even if there are no other marks on their bodies to suggest abuse. And therefore whoever had the opportunity to do it, parents, baby-sitter or whoever, must have done it. Case proved - or so it has seemed in numerous prosecutions on both sides of the Atlantic. Because some dogs are black, any animal that's black must be a dog.
The medical profession needs to accept some responsibility for these outrages, too. When it was shown that Roy Meadows' expert advice was, shall we say, not quite expert enough, it took a hell of a long time before the General Medical Council did anything about him. But they're quick to close ranks when someone less eminent starts to make trouble and make the rest of them look stupid.
They recently acted against a doctor called Colin Paterson. His crime? He'd given evidence in court on behalf of several pairs of parents who had been accused of breaking their babies' bones. He believes that it is possible for a child to have Brittle Bone Disease temporarily. But of course, if that were true, it would invalidate a lot of other doctors' own testimony in similar cases, wouldn't it? We can't have that, so he's been struck off.
It's all a far cry from those heady early days when the infant child protection industry thrashed around wildly, snatching dozens of children from their homes in Cleveland on the basis of some spurious anal dilation test which "proved" they'd been sexually abused, or when two social workers in Rochdale decided that there were covens of devil-worshippers at work and removed 32 children from their totally innocent families. Despite police and the courts finding no evidence of abuse, one child was kept from his parents for ten years.
In America, as usual, they did things on an even bigger scale. The most expensive trial in American legal history was the McMartin Pre-school abuse case in California in the 1980s. Four hundred children were interviewed and 384 were diagnosed as having been sexually abused by seven adults. A further 50 adults were under investigation at the time of the trial. Despite intense public and media hysteria there were no convictions - even though they tried the main suspect three times. All this stemmed from one single allegation by an unbalanced mother. The case was not very widely reported in the UK for some reason. Click here if you want to read more about it.
These days the child protection industry are much better organised. They've realised that the way to keep themselves comfortably out of the media spotlight and in work, is to pick on individuals who have no way of fighting back, to attack them where they are most vulnerable, and to do it under the comfortable cloak of the Family Courts. And politicians are happy to go along with it, happy to play to the gallery and appeal to our most basic fears for our loved ones.
They are aided by the public's prurient and self-righteous fascination with such matters. Child rape and child abuse are dreadful, abhorrent crimes to almost all of us. So it's OK to hate the perpetrators. And unlike other dreadful crimes like putting bombs on tube trains, the perpetrators are not scary, shadowy terrorists but ordinary people, the kind of person you pass every day in the street - so we aren't frightened of attacking them because we know they're not going to fight back. Besides, there's more of us. We're a gang. We're in our gang, and they aren't. And it's a bit of a no-brainer, too, isn't it? If we say "We're doing this to protect the children", who would dare to complain? Who could possibly oppose us? "You don't believe in protecting children?" is all we need to say. "You must be some kind of paedophile yourself!"
There are signs of movement among the powers-that-be, though. The government is reviewing 30,000 cases involving medical evidence in the family courts. Recently, three Family Court judges have started waiving the secrecy requirements. And the Solicitor General has announced that the Children's Bill will include provision for the secrecy surrounding the Family Courts to be changed so that parents can discuss their cases with MPs and advocates.
Largely as a result of Daily Telegraph articles, Essex County Council is conducting two inquiries which are due to report later this month; already, some Essex parents are reporting a greater willingness to release papers - a major bone of contention for those trying to prove their innocence.
Many activists do not believe these measures address the core of the problem. "Not when social workers have so much power and the belief in parental abuse is so ingrained in doctors' and social workers' minds," says Penny Mellor, who advises parents accused of Munchausen's and other abuse. "Why can't we have the public inquiry which Earl Howe, Conservative health spokesman, is calling for?"
Charles Pragnell, a former social worker who is now an international adviser on child protection cases, believes that the Government has good reason to avoid an inquiry. "The health, education and social services have diverted children and their families into the child protection system," he says, "blaming the parents for causing harm to their children to avoid providing them with services".
More than 85% of reports of child abuse are subsequently found to have no basis in fact and to have been made for mistaken, mischievous, malicious or monetary reasons. Every year more than 450,000 children are involved in child protection investigations that cause them unnecessary harm and distress.
In the Irish Republic, it's a criminal offence to make a false allegation of child abuse. Now that's one new law the GOS would welcome.
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