Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Marietta Higgs

Vintage Sleaze Part2 Butler-Sloss Inquiry

This article appeared in the July 16 edition of Ceylon Today.


Colman's Column3

Last week I wrote about calls for a public inquiry into allegations that the UK Home Office had colluded in a cover up of paedophile activity in Parliament and government. There has been strong criticism of the role of Leon Brittan, who was Home Secretary at the time when 114 files relating to child abuse went missing. At the time I wrote that article, UK prime minister David Cameron was steadfastly arguing that an internal Home Office inquiry combined with ongoing police investigations would be sufficient.

Since then, on 6 July 2014, the current Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that an expert panel will have the power to scrutinise the behaviour of political parties, the security services and private companies amid allegations that paedophile networks operated with impunity in the 1970s and 1980s. It will also investigate the handling of the information given to the police and prosecution service about the allegations at the time. May added that this review would look into the Paedophile Information Exchange group. Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC will head this review which will report within ten weeks to Mrs May and to Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General. Wanless was previously the Big Lottery Fund’s chief executive and worked at the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

May raised the possibility of converting it into a full public inquiry and giving the panel the authority to subpoena witnesses and has since announced that a public inquiry will be led by retired judge Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. There has been much criticism, mainly on the grounds of her age and connections, of the appointment of the appointment of Lady Butler-Sloss.

NPG P1029; Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (nÈe Havers) by Christian CourrËges

Brother’s Keeper?

Lady Butler-Sloss’s family connections are indeed somewhat embarrassing. Her father, Sir Cecil Havers, was the high court judge who passed the death sentence on Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain. In a 2010 television interview, his grandson, the actor Nigel Havers, revealed that his grandfather had written to the Home Secretary recommending a reprieve, but had received a curt refusal. Sir Cecil subsequently sent money annually for the upkeep of Ellis’s son.

Gerry Conlon recently died at the age of 60. Daniel Day Lewis is to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth. One of Day Lewis’s memorable performances was as Gerry conlon in Jim Sheridan’s film In the Name of the Father. In the film Daniel Massey plays the prosecuting QC, Sir Michael Havers, who is unnamed. Gerry Conlon spent 25% of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Gerry Conlon was one of the Guildford Four, who were convicted in 1975 for the IRA Guildford pub bombings of 5 October 1974. After their arrest, all four defendants confessed to the bombing under torture by British police. There was never any evidence that any of The Four had been involved with the Provisional IRA. Collectively, the Four and the Maguire Seven served a total of 113 years in prison and one of the Maguire Seven, Giuseppe Conlon, Gerry’s father, died in prison, convicted on the basis of discredited forensic evidence. Havers represented the Crown in the trial and appeal of the Guildford Four and also of the Maguire family. In the case of the Guildford Four, the Director of Public Prosecutions was found to have suppressed alibi evidence that supported Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill’s claims of innocence. The DPP suppressed confessions by Provisional IRA bombers, known as the Balcombe Street Gang that they had carried out the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. In his submission to Sir John May’s 1989 Inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich bombings, Labour MP Chris Mullins cast doubt on Havers’s integrity. “He is, therefore, probably the person who can lay claim to the most detailed knowledge of this affair. I respectfully submit that any inquiry that passed without the benefit of his experience would be deficient…The only hope of sustaining the original convictions was to rewrite the script from top to bottom. This Sir Michael and his colleagues proceeded to do with ingenuity and relish.”

In the Yorkshire Ripper case in 1981, Havers attracted controversy at the outset of the trial, when he said of Sutcliffe’s victims in his introductory speech: “Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women.”

More to the point, Sir Michael was the attorney general under the Thatcher government and was accused of a “cover-up” when he refused to prosecute Sir Peter Hayman, a former diplomat and member of the Paedophile Information Exchange. Hayman was the deputy under secretary of state at the Foreign Office, and was reputed to be a senior officer in MI6, the foreign intelligence service.


Should being sister to Mrs Thatcher’s most senior law officer disqualify Lady Butler-Sloss from heading an impartial inquiry?

Husband’s Keeper?

When Lady Butler-Sloss was appointed by Tony (now Lord) Newton to head the Cleveland Inquiry, the News of the World (17 July 1988) did a feature on her husband Joseph Butler-Sloss, who was then a circuit judge in Kenya. In a taped conversation, he confessed to using prostitutes A Nairobi court colleague said: “The wife comes through the front door and his girls go out the back. He is very discreet with her around because he doesn’t want scandal.”

Her Own Record

She was the first female Lord Justice of Appeal and, until 2004, was the highest-ranking female judge in the United Kingdom. In 2002, she chaired the Crown Appointments Board charged with the selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury. She is Chairman of the Advisory Council of St Paul’s Cathedral. She once stood as a Conservative candidate for election to Parliament.

Her main qualification for heading this inquiry would probably be her previous work on the Cleveland child abuse scandal in 1987. Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt diagnosed 121 cases of suspected child sexual abuse in Stockton-on-Tees. Higgs used a reflex anal dilation test, which on the scandal’s 20th anniversary Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson described as “not reliable”. The children were subject to place of safety orders, and some were removed from their parents’ care permanently. Dr Higgs continued to examine them while they were in foster care. She subsequently accused foster parents of further abuse and many were arrested. Courts dismissed cases involving 96 of the 121 children alleged to be victims of sexual abuse and 26 cases, involving children from twelve families, were found by judges to have been incorrectly diagnosed.

In The Cleveland Report was established, Baroness Butler-Sloss stated that the problems of child sexual abuse had become more recognised in the early 1980s which caused “particularly difficult problems for the agencies concerned in child protection”. She went on to state: “In Cleveland an honest attempt was made to address these problems by the agencies. In Spring 1987 it went wrong.”The public inquiry found most of the allegations of sexual abuse were unfounded and all but 27 children were returned to their families. The two doctors were criticised for “over-confidence” in their methods.

People on various sides of the debate were unhappy with the Butler-Sloss Cleveland Report. Anti-patriarchal witch finder Beatrix Campbell said: “Her report contributed to the myth that children were the victims not of sexual abuse but of crazed doctors and social workers.” Anti-zealot the late Richard Webster wrote: “Through no fault of her own Justice Elizabeth Butler-Sloss had, in effect, been compelled to produce her report in the dark. She simply did not have the benefit of the very scientific research which would have revealed the true scale of the Cleveland scandal and the real dangers of the child protection ideology and the paediatric zealotry which had led to it.”

Should She Stand Down?

Lady Butler-Sloss will not be working alone. She will have a panel of independent experts and the review will be conducted in the glare of publicity. However, can we expect transparency from an inquiry presided over by a member of the House of Lords whose members she would be investigating?

She was Chairman of the Independent Security Commission  which  reviewed “vetting of those who belong to the Royal Households, those working with them, or who otherwise gain access to Royal residences”.   She would have overall a responsibility for vetting  Jimmy Savile. She is an intelligence insider. She must have known knew Savile was a paedophile.

How About an International Inquiry?

In the five years since Sri Lanka comprehensively defeated the barbarous Tamil Tigers, UK ministers have been persistently calling for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes and human rights violations. As there is strong evidence that UK ministers have been buggering orphans for decades, would it not be the best plan to appoint an internationally respected figure to conduct an independent inquiry? Someone not intimately connected by ties of blood and influence to the likely perpetrators?


Since the article was published, Lady Butler-Sloss has decided to stand down saying it has : “become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been Attorney General would cause difficulties.”

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.

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. He has a reputation as a womaniser; acting colleagues call him “”Cockroache. 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 the image of 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.

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