Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: child abuse

Thinking about the “G”-word

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 16 2015

Colman's Column3

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’”

The purpose of language is to convey ideas as succinctly and accurately as possible under the aegis of a common understanding. Definition is crucial. We must define our terms logically, sensibly and consistently if we are to have a productive dialogue – otherwise we are talking at cross-purposes.

Way back in the mists of last century, I worked in the child protection field. The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) sent me a report alleging that 50 % of girls and 25% of boys under the age of 16 in the UK had been victims of child sexual abuse. This was shocking news. When I analysed the raw data of the NSPCC survey, a different picture emerged. One is horrified at the idea of innocent children being raped. However, one might be less upset at girls encountering a flasher or hormonal boys seeking out pornography. The NSPCC’s definition of sexual abuse of children encompassed consensual sexual relations between teenagers below the legal age of consent and obscene language. The NGO was pursuing its fund-raising agenda by propagating sensational statistics, which covered a wide continuum of behaviour. Reading the small print one could see that: “Sexual abuse takes many forms: explicit sexual talk; showing pornography; sexual touching; lack of privacy to bath or undress; masturbation; and sexual intercourse.”

The Northern Provincial Council passed a resolution alleging that successive national governments of Sri Lanka have been following a policy of genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka.

What is genocide? The etymology is hybrid, coming from genos (Greek for family, tribe, or race) and -cide (Latin for killing). Has the entire race of Tamils in Sri Lanka been killed? Has there been any official plan or policy to exterminate Tamils in Sri Lanka? Is Humpty Dumpty a member of the NPC?

The word “genocide” did not exist until 1943. This does not mean that there was no genocide before that date. Many Irish people believe that Oliver Cromwell engaged in genocide. The ground for Cromwell’s actions was prepared under the Tudors in a manifesto written by the poet Edmund Spenser. In his “View of the Present State of Ireland” (1596), Spenser argued that starvation was the best way to control the fractious Irish. Spenser described how the starving Irish population would “consume themselves and devour one another”.

The Irish quite naturally resisted . Cromwell re-conquered Ireland with a death toll of possibly 40% of the entire Irish population. There was wholesale burning of crops and killing of civilians and many were sent to the West Indies as indentured labourers. A recent book, God’s Executioner by Mícheál Ó Siochrú, is a forceful restatement of the prosecution case that Cromwell’s campaign was genocidal. Cromwell’s programme achieved the almost complete dispossession of the Catholic landed elite. The native ruling classes were destroyed and replaced by the Protestant Ascendancy.

There was a plan. Hitler, Mengele and Baldur von Shirach might have learnt a thing or two from Sir William Petty (1623-87) – mathematician, mechanic, physician, cartographer and statistician – who devised a public-private partnership for “fusing science and policy”. Petty explored the idea of breeding the “meer Irish” out of existence by deporting 10,000 Irishwomen of marriageable age to England every year and replacing them with a like number of Englishwomen.”The whole Work of natural Transmutation and Union would in four or five years be accomplished.” Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal to lampoon Petty’s ideas. Swift suggests that impoverished Irish might profit by selling their surplus children as food for the rich.

Because of the famine that followed the potato blight of 1845, Ireland’s population fell by 25%.  One million people died of starvation and typhus. Millions emigrated over following decades. Some 2.6 million Irish entered overcrowded workhouses where more than 200,000 people died. In his book Three Famines, Thomas Keneally, the Australian novelist who wrote Schindler’s List, quotes a contemporary observer: “Insane mothers began to eat their young children who died of famine before them; and still fleets of ships were sailing with every tide, carrying Irish cattle and corn to England”. The 1911 Census showed that Ireland’s population had fallen to 4.4 million, about half of its peak population.  Broadcaster and historian Robert Kee suggested that the Irish Famine of 1845 is “comparable” in its force on popular national consciousness to that of the “final solution on the Jews,” and that it is not infrequently thought that the Famine was something very like, “a form of genocide engineered by the English against the Irish people”.

Kee mentioned the horror that is the benchmark for genocide in the 20th Century. There is no doubt that Hitler had long had a plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe and he succeeded in killing six million of them. It is an affront to logic to give the name of genocide both to what happened to the Jews under the Nazis and to what happened to Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Raphael Lemkin (June 24, 1900 – August 28, 1959) coined the word “genocide”. Lemkin was a Jewish Polish lawyer who immigrated to the United States in 1941. He first used the word in print in Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation – Analysis of Government – Proposals for Redress (1944), and defined it as “the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group.”

By Lemkin’s original simple definition, it would seem obvious that many Sri Lankan Tamils are using the word genocide incorrectly and mischievously. Whatever heinous crimes may have been perpetrated against Tamils in Sri Lankan the “ethnic group” has clearly not been “destroyed”. According to the 2012 census, there were 2,270,924 Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka, 11.21% of the population. Sri Lankan Tamils constitute an overwhelming majority of the population in the Northern Province and are the largest ethnic group in the Eastern Province. The current Chief Justice is Tamil and Tamils occupy many senior positions.

Lemkin took an interest in the subject of genocide while studying the killing by Turkish forces of 1.5 million Armenians. In 1913, a triumvirate of Young Turks, consisting of Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver and Ahmed Djemal, assumed dictatorial powers and concocted a plan to  create a new Turkish empire, a “great and eternal land” called Turan with one language and one religion. On 24 April 1915, Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. There had been prior preparations. In fact, one argument for defining this as genocide is that it had been brewing for at least a century. In 1913, Turks disarmed the entire Armenian population. About forty thousand Armenian men served in the Turkish Army. In the autumn and winter of 1914, all their weapons were confiscated and they were employed as slave labour  to build roads or  used as pack animals. There was a very high death rate. Along the way, they were frequently set upon by Kurdish tribesmen, who had been given license to loot and rape. Kurds are seen today as victims of the Turkish state but they played a major role in the persecution of Armenians.

It is still dangerous in modern Turkey to talk about the genocide. Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk was accused of having violated Section 301 of the Turkish penal code, which outlaws “insulting Turkishness.” An optimistic feature in today’s Turkey is that many non-Armenians are prepared to speak out and many Kurds in particular are taking reconciliatory measures to atone for the crimes of their ancestors.

The simple definition of genocide – the attempt to exterminate an entire race-  has been expanded to cover a continuum that undermines the usefulness of genocide as a concept. Tamils who support the NPC resolution say that it fits the UN convention of 1948. According to that  genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:

  • killing members of the group;
  • causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction;
  • imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • forcibly transferring children of this group to another group.

To say that the whole GOSL campaign against the LTTE was a genocide against the Tamil people is just plain wrong. To say that genocide has been going on since 1948 is ludicrous. It does not help victims of real child sexual abuse to bump up the statistics by including minor offences. While dirty talk might be unseemly and inappropriate, it is not the moral equivalent of raping a baby.  Action should be taken against sexual crimes and against violations of human rights. However, racial discrimination is not on a par with the extermination of a race. It does not help victims (Sinhalese and Muslim as well as Tamil) of the GOSL to pretend that Sri Lanka has had a Hitler or a Stalin or a Mao or a Pol Pot or a Cromwell or an Ahmed Djemal. (Although a successful Tamil businessman spoke to me vehemently in those terms about Dickie Jayewardene.)

Martin Shaw is a research professor of international relations at the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals and Sussex University best known for his sociological work on war, genocide and global politics. He is a frequent contributor to the website Open Democracy. I asked Professor Shaw about the question of genocide in Sri Lanka but he hedged and prevaricated. Commenters on Open Democracy have been critical of his writings on genocide. “What Shaw and his post-modernist ilk contend is that we should move in the opposite direction and expand definitions to points ad infinitum.”

Dr Rhadhika Coomaraswamy has been described as a brilliant scholar and there is no doubt that she is a doughty champion of human rights. She was the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict until 13 July 2012.  She wrote in response to the NPC resolution: “some Tamil nationalist lawyer has suddenly woken up to the fact that if we use the “G” word then there is a legal case for a separate state. This of course is a delusion of theoretical lawyers… Accountability for war crimes and human rights violations is a completely different frame of action than the claim for a separate state”. She continued: “We as a community have had enough of all this name-calling- genocide, traitor, nation- all that is just unnecessary hyperbole at this time in our history. There are so many problems that have to be solved through discussion and dialogue that affect people in their everyday life”.

Dr Coomaraswamy argues that it is time to abandon the victim mentality that lies behind the NPC resolution: “Let us regain our self -respect and our self-confidence, stand tall, look our Sinhalese and Muslim brothers and sisters in the eye, start acting as their equals and begin to build lasting partnerships.”

Mass Grave



Colman's Column3


This article was published in Ceylon Today on Wednesday June 11 2014


Last week there was news of the discovery of another mass grave. Amnesty International described “torture” and “inhuman and degrading” treatment by a dysfunctional system. There is no need to speculate about whether the LTTE, JVP or GOSL/SLA were responsible. This was not some deranged serial killer like Fred West. This grave was in Holy Ireland, Land of Saints and Scholars, the country from which monks journeyed to take Christianity to the rest of the world. The perpetrators here were not Tamil separatists, Muslim extremists, or Marxist revolutionaries. The culprits here were Catholic nuns.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours is a Roman Catholic religious congregation for nursing whose stated object is to care for patients from all socio-economic groups. The congregation’s motto is “Good Help to Those in Need.” The congregation’s foundress, Josephine Potel, was born in 1799 in the small rural village of Becordel, France. In 1861, Ireland – which was still suffering the consequences of the Potato Famine – became the Sisters’ first foreign foundation. The Bon Secours Sisters ran the St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway. The home has hit the international headlines following allegations that the bodies of up to 800 children were dumped in a septic tank.

The grave was discovered in 1975 by 12-year-old friends, Barry Sweeney and Francis Hopkins. Mr Sweeney said: “’It was a concrete slab and we used to play there but there was always something hollow underneath it so we decided to bust it open and it was full to the brim of skeletons. The priest came over and blessed it. I don’t know what they did with it after that. You could see all the skulls.” Local people believed the remains were mostly victims of the famine. Respectful of the unmarked grave, residents have kept the grass trimmed and built a small grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Research done by local historian Catherine Corless gave rise to the current scandal. With the help of the Births and Deaths Registrar in Galway, Mrs Corless researched all children whose place of death was marked “Children’s Home, Tuam”. Galway County Council has all the cemetery books for Mayo and Galway, and with the help of the archivist there, Mrs Corless crosschecked the grave records. Only one child from the Home was buried in a cemetery. Her conclusion, that the unmarked grave contains the remains of 796 children, was published by the Irish Mail on Sunday and has been taken up all over the world.

The home was operational from 1925 to 1961. Infant mortality in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s was 70 per 1,000 or seven per cent, as high as countries in sub-Saharan Africa today. The child mortality at the Home in Tuam reportedly averaged nearly two a week during certain periods. They died of malnutrition, neglect, and disease, 300 dying in one three-year span primarily of contagious diseases. Causes of death listed included “malnutrition, measles, convulsions, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. A 1944 local health board report described the children living at St Mary’s as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.” In April that year, 271 children were listed as living there with 61 single mothers, The total of 333 was way over its capacity of 243.

One 13-month-old boy was described as a “miserable, emaciated child with voracious appetite and no control over bodily functions and probably mentally defective”. In the same room was a “delicate” ten-month-old baby who was a “child of itinerants”, while one five-year-old child was described as having ‘hands growing near shoulders’. Another 31 infants in the same room were as “poor babies, emaciated and not thriving”.

Suspicions arise in relation to at least three other large mother-and-baby homes, where mortality rates topped 56%, when the national average for legitimate children only reached 15%. Ireland’s first mother and baby home, at Bessborough, in Cork, had an infant mortality rate of around 82 percent. In the space of one year, some 57% of the deaths Bessborough were due to malnutrition. Mass graves have also been found at Castlepollard and Roscrea. The Sean Ross Mother and Baby Home, portrayed in the award winning film Philomena, opened in Roscrea, County Tipperary in 1930. In its first year of operation, 60 babies died out of a total of 120, a fifty percent infant mortality rate.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland would like to distance itself from this. Ireland already has published four major investigations into child abuse and its cover-up in Catholic parishes and a network of children’s industrial schools, the last of which closed in the 1990s. Church leaders in Galway said they had no idea so many children who died at the orphanage had been buried there. The Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, said that the diocese had no part in running the home. A spokesman for the Archbishop said: “… this isn’t a diocesan matter. …There is nothing in our archives about this. The home closed in 1961 and all the records were handed over to the county council and the health board, I understand.”

Some say the Church is a scapegoat. Priests and nuns did not exist in isolation, they were Irish citizens handed power by the Irish people who thought and acted like them. “This should be Ireland on trial here, the state and its people, instead they’re being let off the hook and it’s all entirely the fault of the Church.” Maybe so, but did the church not create the mentality that stigmatised unwed mothers? Incidentally, reports show that 219 “illegitimate” infants died in the Protestant Bethany home in Rathgar, County Dublin between 1922 and 1949. Statistics show a quarter of all babies born outside marriage in the 1930’s in Ireland died before their first birthdays.

Dr Conn Ward, who was parliamentary secretary to the minister for local government and public health, said in 1934. “The illegitimate child being proof of the mother’s shame is, in most cases, sought to be hidden at all costs. What frequently happens is that … arrangements are often made, or connived at, by those who carry on the poorer class of maternity homes, and the results to the child can be read in the mortality rates. If a lump sum is paid or if the periodical payment lapses, the child becomes an encumbrance on the foster mother, who has no interest in keeping it alive.”

The Church operated as a quasi social service in the 20th century. There was simply no question of the birth mothers keeping their children. The punishment of the mothers was to work without wages for two or three years in atonement for their sins. In the homes, they wore uniforms at all times, they had their names changed and they had their letters censored. As Philomena shows, many of the children who survived were later forcibly adopted, most often to the USA. Between 1945 and 1965 more than 2,200 Irish infants were forcibly adopted, an average of 110 children every year, or more than two a week. The Church profited handsomely from the forced adoptions they transacted, which saw 97% of all illegitimate children taken for adoption in 1967.

Church officials have consistently denied that they ever received payments for these adoptions, insisting many of the papers and documents from that period were lost in a fire. The operators of these homes, were by and large congregations of female religious orders invited to Ireland by local archbishops (as was the case for the Bon Secours order of nuns who ran the home in Tuam), by the primate of Ireland, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, or by the Irish State itself to deal with the problem of unmarried mothers. The nuns tendered for the business of running these homes and received very generous government funding, equivalent to the average industrial wage, for each mother and child in their so-called care.

Critics contend that the ongoing reluctance of Irish religious orders to hand over their internal records or compensate past victims of mothers and babies homes, Magdalene laundries and reform schools, can be traced to their alarm over being compelled to offer mandatory payments or fear that further horrors could come to light.

These crimes were happening at the dawn of the Irish state. The oppression of the British Empire had been thrown off. From then on, the Irish people, particularly the most vulnerable, were oppressed by the dark and sinister power of the misogynistic Church.






The Persecution of Lillie and Reed

This article was published in the Sunday Island on February 16, 2013 


There is nothing as bad as this that you can do to people. Because they [paedophiles] are quite rightly figures of public hatred. And suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying.



Lord McAlpine



Dr Camille de San Lazaro OBE
In 1999, Dr Camille de San Lazaro, a Consultant Paediatrician specialising in child abuse at the Lindisfarne Centre, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was awarded an OBE for “services in the care of sexually abused children”.


Dr Lazaro’s assessments led to the prosecution of two nursery workers who were acquitted in 1994 of charges of child abuse.


Dr Lazaro was the main expert witness at the criminal trial of Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie. It was a very short trial because the judge, Mr Justice Holland, ruled that the evidence was too weak to put before a jury.


In spite of the acquittal, the ordeal of Lillie and Reed was not over and they were forced to become fugitives. The Murdoch “newspaper” The Sun, ran a campaign asking “readers” to help locate these “vile perverts”.


De San Lazaro was suspended in 2002. The GMC gave its verdict on 13 May 2005: “your conduct, although falling short of that expected of a registered medical practitioner, did not reach the threshold of serious professional misconduct. Accordingly, the Panel has found you not guilty of serious professional misconduct.”


The Allegations


In 1993, there were charges of child abuse at the Shieldfield Nursery in Newcastle. Allegations were made against two qualified nursery nurses. Dawn Reed was 22 years old, happily married and hoping to have children. Christopher Lillie was engaged and hoped to marry soon. There was no prior hint of bizarre sexual practices or interest in paedophilia or pornography. The two colleagues did not meet socially outside work and lived far apart.

The case against Lillie began with inconsistent allegations made by one mother, allegations which were not initially corroborated by the child in question. That mother told another mother whose husband beat up Lillie, who had been suspended pending inquiries. Social services fanned the flames by calling a meeting to inform parents. The first mother now made allegations against Reed.


Parents were encouraged to be vigilant about suspicious changes in their children’s behaviour. Joyce Eyeington was the line manager of Lillie and Reed, in overall charge of all nurseries in Newcastle. She suffered collateral damage as her own private life (including her past blameless relationship with charismatic director of social services Brian Roycroft) was probed. She told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle that she did not believe the allegations but had to suspend the pair: “As soon as the inquiry escalated and the police were involved it became very difficult to express disbelief. It was not a popular stance.”




Dr Camille San Lazaro was a key figure in building the case against Lillie and Reed. Mothers who, in their quest for reassurance, had taken their child to be examined by Dr Lazaro, had come away convinced that their child had, after all, been abused at the nursery. When Dr Lazaro’s working methods and records were submitted to close scrutiny, the results were disquieting. For example, genital scarring in young girls is a very rare finding, but it was one that Lazaro recorded with such frequency that it put in doubt her competence to make accurate findings or interpretations.


Under cross-examination, Dr Lazaro agreed that her notes were unreliable. Mr Justice Eady said to her, “You did realise, I suppose, that it was quite possible that somebody was going to get a sentence of life imprisonment for these offences?”


Newcastle City Council Report



When the not-guilty verdicts were announced in 1994, there was a riot in the courtroom, with cries from the parents of “Hang them!”. Tony Flynn, acting leader of Newcastle city council said: “We do believe that abuse has taken place … we have dismissed the employees and rejected their appeals and there is no question of us or anyone else employing these people again.”

The Sun appealed to readers:

Do you know where perverts Lillie and Reed are now? Phone us on  0161 935 5315 or 0171 782 4105. Don’t worry about the cost
– we will call you straight back. ”


The council set up an “Independent Review Team”. The police had told the inquiry team that there were those “still walking around” in Newcastle “who are going to kill these people” i.e. Lillie and Reed. No attempt was made to warn them that the city council was about to publish a report which would put their lives in danger. Two people found not guilty in a British court of law became fugitives, living in fear of the lynch mob.


The members of the inquiry team were: Richard Barker, of the University of Northumbria, independent social worker Judith Jones, psychologist Jacqui Saradjian, and Roy Wardell, former director of social services.


The report claimed that, whatever the findings of the court and the views of Mr Justice Holland, 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.”


When Lillie and Reed sued for libel, Mr Justice Eady said that the four members of the review team were malicious in the promulgation of their report. “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”.


A little more about “independent social worker” Judith Jones. As Judith Dawson she was a non-independent social worker in Nottingham where she did much to promote the idea that satanic ritual abuse of children was a serious problem. That myth was further promulgated in a Channel 4 programme by Beatrix Campbell.


Beatrix Campbell’s book Unofficial secrets: Child Sexual Abuse- the Cleveland Case was published in 1988 and became a key text in child protection courses. In the book, she writes: “For the police there is a particular problem; as a praetorian guard of masculinity, sexual abuse faces them with an accusation against their own gender. Police and judicial mastery over evidence has for over a century enabled them to banish the sexual experiences of women and children. Was that mastery threatened in Cleveland?”


In 1998, Beatrix Campbell claimed the Newcastle council inquiry was “stringent” and had found “persuasive evidence of sadistic and sexual abuse of up to 350 children”. Tom Dervin, the director of social services, had written privately to three senior council executives. “In the context of equivalent major enquiry reports, this to me is without exception the worst I have read. I mean the worst in terms of quality of information, consistency, judgement, evaluation, etc.”


One of the four people on the Independent Review Team, was Judith Jones (previously Dawson) had collaborated with Campbell on a number of writing projects. In 1992, Dawson/Jones moved to work in Sunderland. Campbell who has described herself as a “horrible queer Marxist”, lived in nearby Newcastle. In 1997 the two women decided to live together in Byker after discovering line-dancing. Campbell, a visiting professor in women’s studies at Newcastle University,  “dragged my lover along” as she was to write, for line dancing at a local church hall, and at least once to the Powerhouse Club, a Newcastle gay club.


Jones and Campbell co-wrote a book, Stolen Voices, which excoriated people who doubted the extent of satanic child abuse.   One reviewer called it “a sad case of false ideology syndrome”. Jean La Fontaine, emeritus professor of social anthropology at the LSE found “facts which are not true”.  The book she said was ‘long on rhetoric, short on fact’. The publishers.  The Women’s Press, said, “We never distributed the book because of a legal warning. They could still be sitting in a warehouse somewhere.”


Libel Case


As the report hit the headlines, Lillie and Reed fled. They brought a libel case against Newcastle City Council, the four members of the Independent Review Team and the Newcastle Evening Chronicle.


Patrick Cosgrove QC (according to his obituary: “a hugely respected member of the legal profession. He was fearless in court but dealt with everyone from Judges to lay clients with the utmost respect”), who represented Dawn Reed at the criminal trial, wrote about the inquiry team’s report, which he described as “fundamentally flawed”: “in twenty two years of practice at the bar I have never heard a High Court Judge be so emphatic in an expressed view that the evidence pointed to someone’s innocence, as opposed to it being insufficient to prove his or her guilt.”


Having asked whether the authors of the report had read Mr Justice Holland’s judgment, Cosgrove wrote: “If they have not done so, they have been grossly negligent; if they have read it, their conduct is disgraceful..Why have they fed the feeding frenzy of the tabloid press?”


Children Must Be Heard


The allegations against Reed and Lillie were based on fragmentary remarks made by children who had been anxiously questioned by their parents. When the children said something that could be construed as evidence of sexual abuse, they were praised; when they said that nobody had hurt them, or proclaimed the innocence either of Reed or Lillie, they were disbelieved.


Coda: A friend of mine was a social worker in Newcastle. He told me recently: “I knew Dr Lazaro very  well and  feel she was badly treated.   In fact it broke her.  The whole affair was very, very  sad. A nice lady who did more good than bad for this city”.

Abuse of the Innocents

This article was published in the Sunday Island on December 10, 2011.

I have been reading a lot in the Sri Lankan press recently about sexual abuse of children. All right-minded people abhor such predatory behaviour and corruption of the innocent. Because of this universal horror, it can be a dangerous subject for public discussion. Debate often generates more heat than light.

I worked at one time as a ministerial advisor on child protection. A lot of disturbing material, in the form of social services reports and police evidence, crossed my desk. I had many upsetting conversations with victims (then having reached adulthood) and with those who claimed to be falsely accused.

One of the depressing things about those files was the number of allegations against those whose job it was to care for already damaged children. Perhaps people who had an unhealthy sexual interest in children might deliberately seek a career in the social services. This was added dimension to the horror – were those entrusted with the care of children merely there to exploit opportunities to harm them? It also tainted dedicated people doing a difficult and necessary job for society.

I recall a time when it was impossible to believe that such a thing as sexual abuse of children existed. When I was a social security visitor in a working class district of Manchester in the early seventies, someone tried tell us, in a somewhat cryptic manner, their suspicions about what was happening to their neighbour’s babies. I and my colleagues, did not at first understand. How, or why, would anyone do such bizarre things?

Over the coming years, naivety gave way to hyperawareness. In the UK, child sexual abuse came into general public consciousness with a shock when two paediatricians working at Middlesbrough General Hospital, Marietta Higgs and Geoffrey Wyatt, used a diagnostic test called reflex anal dilation and concluded that there was suspicion that 121 children had been sexually abused. Many of the children had come to hospital for treatment for complaints such as asthma, one had scratched her arms while picking bilberries. While in foster care, the children continued to be regularly examined by Dr. Higgs. She subsequently accused foster parents of further abuse and they too were arrested. I recall being in Stockton-on-Tees at the time, listening to the stunned local people talking in shops and bars. Overnight, the town had become a byword for perversion and cruelty. Ordinary people could not believe it.

Ordinary people were right. After a number of court trials, 26 cases involving children from twelve families were found by judges to have been incorrectly diagnosed. Dr Higgs experimented with the test on her own children and, finding a negative result, concluded that any positive result must mean the child had been abused. Cases involving 96 of the 121 children alleged to be victims of sexual abuse were dismissed by the courts.

In 2007, people affected by the scandal spoke on British TV about what happened in 1987. It was revealed that Marietta Higgs is still in practice. Also in 2007, Higgs said in a TV interview that she would do the same again and she suspected the numbers being abused were even greater than the 121 named. BBC Radio interviewed a 29-year-old who recalled not being allowed to see her father for seven months during the height of the crisis in 1987. “I’m determined to show they have not beaten me. But it was cruelty we received at the hands of people that were supposed to protect you.” Some of the children are now complaining that what Higgs and Wyatt did to them was sexual abuse and had a traumatic effect.

The Department of Health made an honest effort to steer a course through these dangerous waters. When I was there, the guidance was called Working Together, stressing a multi-disciplinary approach involving co-operation between social workers, police, schools, religious bodies. Even members of the general public were given a “responsibility to protect”.

Although benign in intent, Working Together’s consequences were malign. The evidence-based ethos of the police came up against a very different ideology. The police coped by giving in to it. Social workers and those in other disciplines who came to see child protection as a career path (to some it was almost a religion) based on apparently scholarly research, whose flawed methodology was not readily apparent to the uninitiated. The police set up their own child protection units and went native, buying into to the child protection culture.

The Castle Hill investigation involved only one care worker but the report on it expressed ideas about “organised institutional abuse”. The new ethos coming from California was: because allegations of sexual abuse had been disbelieved too often in the past, now everything had to be believed. When the police had the responsibility to investigate allegations of abuse, there was a need to provide evidence for a court and to presume innocence. The new therapeutic approach replaced scepticism with credulity. It became an article of faith that children did not make false allegations of sexual abuse. Ronald Summit, an LA mental health consultant said: “The more illogical and incredible the initiation scene might appear to adults, the more likely it is that the child’s description is valid”.

Unfortunately, the problem was not the truthfulness of children but the use that adults made of their testimony. Kee McFarlane developed coercive interviewing methods that led children to fabricate accounts of satanic abuse at the McMartin Preschool. She became recognized as an ‘expert’ and trained numerous other social workers, resulting in a national hysteria which engulfed several preschools across the nation and led to the wrongful conviction of large numbers of day-care employees.

Satanic abuse hysteria hit Britain while I was at the Child Protection Unit at the Department of Health in London. We commissioned the anthropologist, Professor Jean La Fontaine, an expert on witchcraft and witch hunts, to conduct a study, Speak of the Devil, which I had the honour of editing. The Californian craze had been taken up by powerful advocates in the media in the UK. One of the most significant voices was that of the journalist Beatrix Campbell, whose steely gaze I encountered at various conferences. Another strong advocate of the satanic conspiracy was Valerie Sinason, a psychotherapist, whom I also met many times, and whose argument kept reverting to one single case for which she did not have first-hand evidence. These conferences became religious rallies (or pyramid-selling meetings) where one was afraid to voice any doubts about the faith that satanic abuse existed.

These satanic rites supposedly involved breeding children for sacrifice, child murder and cannibalism. I recall a forensic psychiatrist saying at one of these conferences that she had never, in many years of wide experience, seen any evidence of satanic child abuse. I thought she would be dragged from the hall for hanging, drawing and quartering as a heretic.

Social workers all over Britain were convinced that they had a divine duty to protect innocent children against an evil conspiracy whose tentacles stretched deep into the establishment, involved free-masonry and reached into the police forces who were supposed to be investigating it.

A number of police inquiries concluded that thorough investigations had produced no bodies, no bones, no bloodstains and that, if ritual abuse presentations did not cease, there was a likelihood of a witch-hunt developing which might result in grave injustice.

Professor La Fontaine had previously been sympathetic to the Bea Campbell view of the existence of satanic abuse but in her report concurred with the police view that there was no evidence. She argued that what is presented as the testimony of children in most satanic abuse cases is almost always an adult construction. This comes about either because of selective over-interpretation of innocent remarks or through coercive or suggestive interviewing. The social workers shaped the evidence they were pre-disposed to find.

What happened in Britain from 1987 onwards a kind of viral mass hysteria generated as the result of a global village rumour whose specific origins, documented by Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker in their book Satan’s Silence (Basic Books, New York, 1995), can actually be examined.

While I have no doubt that it correct to be vigilant in the protection of children in Sri Lanka, I am somewhat concerned about some of the things I am reading. For example, I was editing a Sarvodaya paper which boldly stated that unspecified “1998 research studies show 50,000 Sri Lankan children engage in prostitution”. The paper then goes on to say “100,000 engage in prostitution as estimated by NGOs and media”. There is one single footnote to support this and the website referred to does not exist. A Googling wild-goose-chase led me to what seemed to be an authoritative UNESCO site but it turned out they were just quoting Sarvodaya. The Asian Human Rights Group claimed 40,000 in 2006 but they were just quoting the Daily Mirror who gave no indication where they got it from. Other Googling turned up Tamil Net propaganda against the government or Karuna.

This is not to say that child sex abuse is not a serious problem. However, it needs to be dealt with on a basis of fact rather than churnalism, factoids and distortion similar to those used in Channel 4’s Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.

When I worked at the Department of Health I saw a vast police investigation aimed at uncovering organised paedophile rings in care homes in North Wales. Many false allegations were made and many innocent people went to prison and had their careers and reputations ruined. Some died. (Channel 4 was involved.) Richard Webster wrote a 700-page book about the affair called The Secret of Bryn Estin: the making of a modern witch hunt. None of it might have happened had it not been for one disgruntled care worker, Alison Taylor, who encouraged vulnerable people to seek the limelight and financial reward by fabricating allegations.

When the late and unlamented News of the World campaigned against paedophiles a mob attacked a paediatrician (not Marietta Higgs). The Grease Yaka phenomenon has shown Sri Lanka how frightening this kind of mass hysteria and lynch mob mentality can be.

End this Child Abuse Now

Colman's Column3Vehicle emissions.

This article was published in Ceylon Today on Wednesday February 26 2014

I have enjoyed a generally friendly relationship with the Sri Lankan police. I shared the platform with one local OIC at a school prize-giving ceremony and entertained another in my home. I used to get on well with the local Inspector in charge of traffic but they transferred him. Cynics might say the Sri Lankan police treat me with respect  because I have a pink skin and am relatively affluent. I do not really blame those police officers who recently confiscated our licence on two occasions within a couple of weeks. The first time was because were parked on a pavement. Three-wheelers took up every available space in town – but more about that in another article. The second time was because our motor insurance certificate was not in the car. It was at home because I had renewed it that very day. I renew it on time every year. I renew my tax disc on time every year after taking the annual emission test. I am pathologically law-abiding.

The third time they stopped us, they did not impose a spot fine or impound the licence. On all three occasions, there was no prior cause for stopping us. We were not driving erratically or fast. The car was in good condition and had no characteristics that would attract attention. The vehicle was not belching out black fumes. While the police officers were detaining us, many vehicles passed that were emitting horrendous fumes. The officers did not appear to notice this.

I commend the Government for introducing a vehicle emission testing system in 2008. It started in the Western Province and is now a fully-fledged system covering the whole country.

Why is it not working?

Back in 2011, I was late for a meeting in Colombo at the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) because a police officer stopped the hired van in which I was travelling. The officer was quite correct to do this because the driver was talking on his mobile phone while driving. Again this could be the subject for another article – why is talking while driving so prevalent? I left the vehicle to walk hurriedly to my appointment. While walking, I noticed a number of officers whose uniform bore the legend “Environmental Police”.

Apparently, the government established Environmental Police Units in 2011 to cover every police division of the island. They are staffed 24 hours a day to handle public complaints related to environmental issues and “provide a valuable service to speedily resolve such matters”. Officers are trained on various aspects connected to the environment, including the National Environmental Act, the Mines and Mineral Act, biodiversity, noise and air pollution, waste management, the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, and the Urban Development Authority Act.

If this is so, why are there so many vehicles emitting noxious fumes?

When we first arrived in Sri Lanka from Ireland, where air pollution in the sparsely populated rural area in which we lived was mainly methane from eructating cows and sheep, we were struck by how bad the emissions were on Sri Lankan roads. After a couple of years, there was a marked and mysterious improvement but now it is very bad again. It actually seems to have worsened since emission testing was introduced.

When I arrived, coughing and breathless, at my meeting at EFL, I shared my observation that emissions were worse. The EFL people doubted that what I said was true. They said the statistics showed that emissions had reduced. I remained dogged in my scepticism as my senses gave the lie to their assertion. I noted that one of the companies conducting emission testing sponsored the EFL calendar.

Just before our vehicle was due to take its first emission test, I was concerned when a routine check showed an oil leak. The manager of the garage doing the check told me not to worry as I could just give the tester Rs 300 and all would be well. The Island reported on October 14 2011 that “sources “ said centres run by one particular company often violated rules and passed vehicles in bad condition. The DMT (Department of Motor Transport) closed over 300 centres for not meeting standards, for issuing false certificates, or for soliciting bribes.

There are 1.9 million vehicles in Sri Lanka. A WHO report shows pollution levels to be three times the accepted safe norm. Heart attacks and respiratory disease have become the main causes of death in Sri Lanka. Toxic chemicals stimulate the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues. Nitrogen dioxide can lead to immunosuppression. Carbon monoxide poisoning is like suffocation, binding to the haemoglobin contained in red blood cells, reducing  the ability of the cells to transport and release oxygen to bodily  tissues.  Benzene suppresses bone marrow and impairs development of red blood cells leading to cytopenia, bone marrow loss and leukaemia. Polycyclic hydrocarbons cause skin and lung cancers. Increasing levels of air pollution are associated with rising mortality rates among diabetics.

The government promised roadside tests in January 2011. I have not noticed them yet. They are clearly not working. DMT Commissioner General S H Harishchandra said detecting teams are operating daily to apprehend errant drivers. He claimed that these teams select random areas and conduct checks using state of the art equipment. The vehicles that have excessive emission levels are given a concessionary period to fix their engines and reduce the emission levels before ia fine is imposed. If this is really happening, why are emissions getting worse?

Sri Lanka imported 45 gas analyser machines from Germany, at a cost of nearly Rs. 50 million, to conduct comprehensive roadside inspections independent of the two private companies Cleanco and Laugfs Ecosri that carry out mandatory annual emission tests on vehicles. The Island reported that AW Dissanayake, Project Director for emission testing at the DMT,  “maintained that they were catching belching vehicles, but when asked to give details of the vehicles they had detected, he was evasive and requested us to meet the Commissioner General of Motor Traffic.”

Expensive equipment should not be necessary. Nothing more state-of-the-art than a police officer’s nose and eyes is required. The black smoke should be obvious to anyone. One sees many police officers on the roads, stopping three-wheelers and motorcycles to check licences.  My experience suggests that targets have been set to encourage police to issue more tickets and collect more spot fines. Could their performance indicators not focus on emissions? Perhaps there could be financial incentives.

Many of the major polluters are vehicles whose owners are in a position to be strongly  influenced  by government. On Friday 27 January 2012, I was enveloped in the worst black cloud I have ever experienced. The guilty vehicle was a police jeep. Police should be stopping buses, SLT vans, CEB lorries, ambulances that are spouting diesel fumes. If the police are not up to the job, perhaps the Army could do it.

The Commissioner of Motor Traffic has announced that from March 2014, vehicle owners will have pass two emission tests every year rather than one. This seems to be directed at increasing revenue rather than decreasing emissions. It is a pointless and expensive inconvenience to subject the owners of relatively new vehicles to two tests a year, while buses, the main polluters, are exempt from testing altogether.

Your taxes are funding the emissions testing programme. It needs to be effective. Young lives are at risk. Children are especially susceptible to air pollution because they have high inhalation rates, greater lung surface area per body weight, and narrow lung airways. Their immune systems are not fully developed. The main source of air pollution that is causing significant harm to children is vehicle emissions. Most schools are alongside roads and around five million of the 20-odd million population of Sri Lanka are schoolchildren. Do the traffic police, the environmental police, Commissioner of Motor Traffic, the bus operators, not have any anxiety about this persistent child abuse?

Witch Trials in the Internet Age.

Colman's Column3

This article was published in Ceylon Today on Wednesday February 12 2014.

The Court of Public Opinion


George Eliot wrote in Daniel Deronda, “Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who diffuse it. It proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker.” There is, as I write, a great deal of online smoke about Woody Allen. I am not going to add to it by offering my opinion about the rights and wrongs of Mr Allen’s behaviour. I do want to discuss the implications of the kind of speculation that is rampant.

The Golden Globes honoured the director with a lifetime achievement award and he received an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay for his latest film, Blue Jasmine. Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter has published an open letter accusing Allen of sexually molesting her when she was seven years old. This has brought out the bloggers who feel compelled to tell us what they think of Allen’s films as well as his personal character. Others have called for him to be shunned by the public and Hollywood. The BBC published an article full of speculation and opinion, which caused some commenters to remind them of the BBC’s own poor performance in the Jimmy Savile case.

Aaron Bady wrote on The New Inquiry: “To be blunt: I think Woody Allen probably did it, though, of course, I could be wrong. But it’s okay if I’m wrong. For two reasons. First, because my opinion is not attached to a juridical apparatus—because I have not been empowered by jails and electric chairs and states of exception to destroy people’s lives—it isn’t necessary for me to err heavily on the side of ‘we need to be really f***ing sure that the accused did it.’“ Power without responsibility? Facebook commenters approvingly cited Bady’s article.

In 1993, there were charges of child abuse at the Shieldfield Nursery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north of England against two qualified nursery nurses, Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed. Mr Justice Holland found the evidence too weak to put before a jury. Fragmentary remarks made by children led to the allegations. When the children said something that could be construed as evidence of sexual abuse, they were praised; when they said that nobody had hurt them, or proclaimed the innocence either of Reed or of Lillie, they were disbelieved.

Not-guilty verdicts caused  a riot in the courtroom, with cries from the parents of “Hang them!” The Sun asked its “readers”: Do you know where perverts Lillie and Reed are now? Phone us on  0161 935 5315 or 0171 782 4105. Don’t worry about the cost  – we will call you straight back.

Newcastle City Council set up an “Independent Review Team”. The IRT report claimed that, whatever the findings of the court and the views of Mr Justice Holland, 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”. Two people found not guilty in a British court of law became fugitives, living in fear of the lynch mob.

When Lillie and Reed sued Newcastle city council for libel, Mr Justice Eady said that the four members of the review team were malicious in the promulgation of their report. “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”. Mr Justice Eady awarded Lillie and Reed damages of GBP200,000 each, the highest award within his power.


Beatrix Campbell OBE wrote a book about the Lillie and Reed case. She also wrote about the Cleveland case. Geoffrey Wyatt and Marietta Higgs were barred from further child protection work, after their flawed tests (which in themselves constitute sexual assault) suggested an epidemic of child sexual abuse in Cleveland. Much distress was caused to parents and children because of their work. Campbell’s defence of Higgs and Wyatt, published in 1988, became a key text in child protection courses.

The British Association of Social Workers accepted as fact that there was a problem of  persistent ritual abuse of children occurring in a satanic framework. BASW gave a positive review to Beatrix Campbell’s Dispatches programme   on satanic abuse in Nottingham, (aired on Channel 4 on October 3rd 1990).  In the opinion of the Nottingham Joint Enquiry Team, the social workers investigating the case had actually engendered allegations of satanic abuse, though children had ostensibly made them independently.  The Team found that “evidence, for want of a better term, was ‘created’. This is to say that you start with nothing except your own beliefs and end up with the story that you expected and wanted to hear before you started”.

Rather than providing a convincing case that satanic ritual abuse exists, Campbell instead argued that stranger things do happen, so why should we not believe this incredible phenomenon also? “After all, people pray in front of grown men wearing frocks, and presumably to find both peace and power, they consume, metaphorically, the body of a man. So is it so difficult to believe that inversions of that established religion are to be found at large?”

Campbell asked, “why did the inquiry need to believe that there is no satanic sub-culture of sacrifice and sexual abuse? That the children must be wrong?” “The secularism of our society is infused by ambiguous tendencies toward transcendental powers which ought to help us think afresh.” By this, she means that even rational cynics read their horoscopes, all towns have New Age shops, and any record shop will have pseudo-satanic heavy metal. It seems a big leap from this to breeding babies for human sacrifice or cannibalism.

About Cleveland, she wrote: “For the police there is a particular problem; as a praetorian guard of masculinity, sexual abuse faces them with an accusation against their own gender. Police and judicial mastery over evidence has for over a century enabled them to banish the sexual experiences of women and children. Was that mastery threatened in Cleveland?”

Many of those giving their two cents about the Allen case talk about views being distorted by the prism of gender. One says: “Mr. Justice Eady is characterized as the ‘voice of reason’ simply because he interpreted the law in a way that supports your bias”. The commenter is disdainful of the idea that “everything can be proved or disproved by empirical evidence”. This echoes Campbell’s persistent shoehorning of real life into her own particular feminist and Marxist ideology, ignoring empirical evidence. “Ritual abuse challenges the residual wish to believe that sexual abuse is like rape used to be (before the women’s liberation movement told it like it was) – an excess of desire, and impetuous combustion, rather than strategic sexual subordination.” Her polemic is based on “might-be” and “what if?” and “why not?” rather than proven fact in the real world.

Something comes up repeatedly in comment threads about the allegations against Woody Allen. People recount their own experiences of being abused as children as if this gives them a right to see Allen punished. Bady writes: “We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges, and that fact is important here.” Well, no, it is not important here. What is important is the facts of the particular case. Much of the discussion of this subject puts the cart before the horse. Arguments impose the general on the particular by brute force. The phrase “the tip of the iceberg” is often used.

Some commenters have invoked the “court of public opinion”. Eighty-one –year-old William Roache, who has been playing Ken Barlow in the British tele-drama Coronation Street since 1960, was found not guilty on February 6 2014. Five women had claimed he assaulted them when they were aged 16 or under between 1965 and 1971. As a member of the court of public opinion, I do not much like William Roache, his life-style, religious beliefs or political views.  That is irrelevant when a real court of law dismisses two counts of rape and four indecent assaults. The “court of public opinion” could be the “feeding frenzy of the tabloid press” referred to by the late Patrick Cosgrove QC,  Lillie and Reed’s defence barrister. Rebekah Brookes has been on trial for phone hacking. When she was editor of The Sun and the News of the World, she ran a campaign against paedophiles. In the mass hysteria generated among her readers, a mob attacked the house of a paediatrician. In many cases, the “court of public opinion” is Rupert Murdoch. The law may be an ass but Mr Justice Eady was the voice of reason.

Julie MacLusky

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