False allegations have featured prominently in the media over the last few days.  Whether this is meaningful, and indicative of something in the air, or merely coincidental, remains to be seen.  Before I go further, I have enormous sympathy for the genuine victims of childhood sexual abuse; there are a number of such people in my family and their views have influenced my own.  This article isn’t about them – it’s about allegations which are false.  News items which have caught my attention include some truly awful stories which demonstrate what happens when people make false allegations; this has now received academic confirmation in a study into the effects of false allegations by the University of Oxford; finally, we have had the latest episode in the long-running farce that is the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

First, to make it clear what we are talking about, those true stories.  A year ago, a vulnerable teenager, Jay Cheshire, hanged himself following a false allegation of rape by a fellow teenager, despite the fact that she had retracted the allegation two weeks after making it.  Jay’s mother, Karin, had been at Jay’s hospital bed-side when his life support was turned off.  This year, on July 18th, unable to live without her beloved son, Karin Cheshire hanged herself.[1]  The girl who was the cause of this dreadful double tragedy, of course, remains anonymous, a privilege accorded those who make false allegations, but not to their victims.

The second story concerns former fire chief, David Bryant, who was sentenced to six years for allegedly raping fourteen-year-old Danny Day in the mid-1970s.  He and another fireman, now deceased, had allegedly raped Day over a pool table in the fire-station.  When the Attorney General complained the sentence was too lenient, the Court of Appeal increased it to eight-and-a-half years.

Bryant’s indomitable wife, Lynn, worked incessantly to prove her husband’s innocence, uncovering, for example, the fact that the pool table in question had not been bought until the 1990s.  However, it was only when Day overreached himself, claiming compensation for the ruin of a non-existent boxing career, that she was able to persuade a number of lawyers and investigators to work on the case pro bono and expose Day as a compulsive liar.  Bryant was eventually released on July 15th after serving three years of his sentence.[2]

The cases showed that the theoretical protections for the innocent – a jury of one’s peers, the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof on the accuser to prove their allegation, the Court of Appeal itself – had been entirely inadequate to prevent the conviction of an innocent man AGAINST WHOM THERE WAS NOT A SHRED OF CORROBORATIVE EVIDENCE.  It showed how willing both professionals and the public are to dispense with these safeguards when presented with lurid allegations of sexual impropriety.

Barrister Barbara Hewson blamed this on former Director of Public Prosecutiond Keir Starmer’s “believe the victim” ideology; a “narrative of victimology and vulnerability” had “encouraged a toxic band of opportunists, attention-seekers and fantasists, for whom the compensations of being a victim are impossible to resist”.  She called for “much more exacting standards” from the criminal justice system.[3]  To be fair to Starmer, he cannot take credit for “believe the victim” which has its origin in the “believe the child” movement of the 1980s.

In May, Oxford University published a report into the impact of false allegations.[4]  It noted that a combination of the “prevailing cultural discourse and consequent preconceptions about sexual predators and their alleged victims” and a belief that in the past allegations had not been taken sufficiently seriously had led to “the moral imperative not to ‘let down another victim’ or to leave a possible sex offender free to cause further harm” and an increased likelihood that innocent people would be “presumed or found guilty”.  The burden of proof had been reversed: “The risk now is that mistaken or dishonest allegations of child abuse or rape are more likely to be taken as true, unless there is objective evidence to invalidate the claim”.  In this culture, the risk of a miscarriage of justice is “unusually high”.

The report notes the exploitation by the police of a weakening of case law limiting the use of similar fact evidence to facts which were “strikingly similar”.  This followed the rulings by former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, in DPP v P [1991] 2AC 447 and R v H [1995] 1 AC 596 which meant that henceforth the courts would presume similar allegations to be true, thus ensuring that unreliable and prejudicial evidence would regularly form the basis on which criminal proceedings were tried.[5]  In 1988 The Criminal Justice Act allowed conviction purely on the evidence of an alleged minor victim; corroboration was unnecessary.  The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 extended this to adult complainants.  Juries were obliged to accept a complainant’s testimony as fact, and the “beyond reasonable doubt” principle was jettisoned.  The onus was now on the defendant to prove his innocence.

These developments enabled the police to conduct “trawling” or “dip sampling” operations, contacting potential witnesses who had not yet been implicated; this was particularly applicable to allegations concerning residential schools and care homes.  Simultaneously, the police used personal injury solicitors to recruit witnesses using the lure of substantial compensation pay-outs, particularly targeting prisons where so many care home children end up.  It is almost impossible to gather dependable evidence by this means.  For genuine victims, financial compensation for sexual abuse is nothing short of prostitution.

The report revealed the enduring trauma, destroyed careers, damaged reputations, huge financial penalties, lost friendships, relationships and professional associations, damaged mental health, reasonable fears of further allegations.  Much anger is directed, not just at the accusers, but also at the employers, police and criminal justice system which enable false allegations and fail to protect the victims.  The researchers were shocked by the extent to which a false allegation can impact every aspect of a victim’s life; they observed that a quarter of school and college staff report being the victims of false allegations and that this drives good people out of the profession and deters others from joining: false allegations are a serious social problem and the dominant “believe the victim” discourse needs to be re-evaluated.

The Independent Inquiry was built on very shaky foundations.  To understand this story, we need to go back a few years to 3rd October 2012 and the broadcast of an ITV documentary, Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, presented by moral crusading copper-turned-TV investigator Mark Williams-Thomas.  In the programme, a number of women claimed they had been assaulted by Jimmy Savile as teenagers; following the broadcast, more claimants came forward.

On the 9th October, the Metropolitan Police announced Operation Yewtree, to be run jointly by the Met and the NSPCC.  The alarming feature of the investigation was the pledge made by the police that they would unquestioningly believe whatever the “victims” told them.  With the media, MPs and charities like the NSPCC and NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) jumping on the bandwagon, the only certainty was that allegations would increase.  Many, if not most, often more than fifty years old, were without evidence and could not be proven, despite the belief of the police that the sheer number, inflated by trawling exercises, was evidence enough.

Peter Spindler, the Metropolitan Police Commander who led the operation, clearly failed to comprehend the implication of the word “alleged” when he said,

We are dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale.  The profile of this operation has empowered a staggering number of victims to come forward to report the sexual exploitation which occurred during their childhood.[6]

Spindler had formerly been in charge of a Metropolitan child abuse team and had sent its members on an “satanic ritual abuse” awareness course run by self-proclaimed survivor, Lee Moore.[7]

The fact that Savile had died in 2011 meant the allegations against him would never be tested in court, allowing the investigators to give them greater credence than they would otherwise have merited.  Complainants were infantilised by introducing the principles of child welfare and “therapeutic jurisprudence” into criminal proceedings, under which the traditional legal safeguards were gravely eroded or eliminated, such as the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive, judicial independence and objectivity, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to due process, the right to be tried in public, the right to confront one’s accusers, the right to equality of arms, the right to consult an expert of one’s choice, and even the right to communicate in confidence with one’s own lawyers.

The final joint report by the Met. and NSPCC in January 2013, Giving Victims a Voice, relied heavily on the sheer number of alleged victims – 589 – rather than on solid evidence, and treated every complainant as a victim, every allegation as evidence and every accusation as a crime,

Taken together their accounts paint a compelling picture of widespread sexual abuse by a predatory sex offender.  We are therefore referring to them as “victims’ rather than “complainants’ and are not presenting the evidence they have provided as unproven allegations.[8]

[My emphasis]  Unproven allegations, however, is what the evidence was.  Former editor of The Telegraph, Charles Moore, wrote, not in defence of Savile (“I believe that Jimmy Savile did horrible, criminal things to young people”), but in horror at the manner in which normal legal process had been subverted,

[The report] assumes that because allegations were made, the offences were committed.  It declares that 214 incidents have now been “formally recorded” as crimes.  It treats allegations as facts.  By doing so, it undermines justice.[9]

Operation Yewtree involved the arrests of a further eighteen men.  Freddie Starr, Jim Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck, Paul Gambaccini, Cliff Richard, and others were released without charge (though Starr later lost a defamation case, held without a jury).  To date, the operation has uncovered only two genuine and relatively obscure paedophiles: Chris Denning, a former Radio One disc-jockey and Michael Salmon, a doctor at Stoke Mandeville.

The publicist, Max Clifford, was found guilty on eight of eleven charges and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.  The prosecution bragged that it gave “confidence to other victims” that a conviction could be secured after so long and with no corroborative evidence.[10]  Lacking corroboration, prosecutors relied again on the quantity of allegations to establish a pattern of behaviour.  The jury was never asked to find on the worst allegation, an assault on a twelve-year-old; they accepted only one allegation involving a fifteen-year-old, and his other “victims” were all adults, but that was enough to see him branded a predatory child sex offender by the tabloids.

Dave Lee Travis was found guilty of a single assault out of fourteen historic charges and received a suspended sentence but was left financially ruined.  His “victim”, a stand-up comedienne whose clothed breast he had allegedly touched, had joked about the incident in her act and admitted in a radio programme that she could not be sure whether the deed had been deliberate or accidental.  Her vivid victim impact statement was clearly written for her by lawyers.

Eighty-four-year-old Rolf Harris was found guilty on all twelve charges against him.  Again, no corroborative evidence was offered to support the allegations, and an examination of the counts makes disturbing reading.

Count one, for example, involved an allegation by a woman who claimed Harris had touched her inappropriately at a tiny community centre in Leigh Park, Hampshire, in 1969 when she was seven or eight.  An extensive trawl of local papers and council records several years either side of the date, and letter drops appealing for witnesses, provided no evidence whatsoever that Harris had ever been there.

It is improbable that any of the allegations against Harris, individually, would have persuaded a jury, but collectively they carried more weight, as each allegation supported its fellows and established a pattern of behaviour.  Further allegations were presented relating to incidents in Malta, Australia and New Zealand, but these had never come to court and had not been proven.  Had Harris been tried in Australia, where evidence of this kind is referred to as “evidence of tendency and coincidence”, it is likely there would have been four separate trials; the reason such practices are forbidden in some jurisdictions – and used to be in the UK – is that they gravely erode the presumption of innocence and the rule of law.

Yewtree was severely criticised, not least for allowing ideologically-driven pressure groups like the NSPCC (which wants the monopoly on what constitutes child abuse) and NAPAC (which wants to replace the NSPCC as the go-to organisation for child abuse) to influence the progress of a police investigation; it was a “runaway train” and the police operated an “arrest first, gather evidence later” policy.[11]  Yewtree undermined the rule of law and turned policing into entertainment; it was a “prurient charade”:[12] a crude cultural “carnival”[13] in which the icons of our childhoods became the scapegoats of today; it put the past on trial, judging the hedonism and sexual license of the 1960s and ‘70s by the priggish moral standards of 2013.  Sociologist Frank Furedi observed that Yewtree was never about investigating or fighting crime: it was “more like a propaganda campaign or a moral crusade”.[14]  An unnamed barrister said,

This country is now completely fucked-up over anything to do with accusations of abuse; it’s produced a licence for the individual to get compensation and for charitable organisations to bleed people dry, all in the name of protecting children.

Everyone is afraid to criticise today’s abuse gravy train for what it is and the built-in bias of the police and CPS has provided both the perfect blunt weapon for anyone looking to take revenge against someone they don’t like and a simple way for opportunistic individuals to make some money.[15]

More allegations were made in 2012 by an individual still identified only as “Nick” against former Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Bramall and the late Edward Heath.  “Nick” said it was all “just a joke, to start with”, but his claims were taken up by the now defunct website Exaro News which also published allegations by another witness, referred to as “David”.

The case against Brittan, concerning a rape allegedly committed in 1967, had been so insubstantial that the Metropolitan Police Service did not even inform him of the initial complaint.  This had led one complainant – a Labour Party Activist with a history of false allegations – to complain further to the police, the media and Tom Watson MP – now deputy leader of the Labour Party; this time Brittan was interviewed, and a file sent to the CPS who told the police no fewer than three times to drop the case due to the complete lack of credible evidence.[16]  The police feared, however, that in the highly charged atmosphere of the time, taking no action would have been unacceptable to the public and the media, so they allowed a sick man they knew to be innocent to be hounded literally to his death in January rather than face the fury of the mob.  In October, Scotland Yard eventually apologised to Brittan’s widow[17] and released a statement which exposed their contempt for justice and the rule of law, and their utter subservience to public hysteria,

A decision to take no further action in respect of this allegation would undoubtedly have resulted in media criticism and public cynicism.  Lord Brittan could not therefore, at that point, have been informed that no action was to be taken…

“Nick” accused the D-Day veteran, Lord Bramall, of having abused him at an army base in the 1970s and ‘80s.  The case was so weak that the police did not refer it to the CPS; even Nick’s family submitted evidence which contradicted his claims.[18]

Theresa May had launched the Independent Inquiry on the day Leon Brittan was accused.  There was political pressure on her and the government to appear tough on child abuse and be entirely transparent about the past.  This pressure had been generated by the dredging up of old allegations by the late MP Geoffrey Dickens.

Claims were made that Dickens had compiled an “explosive” dossier of paedophile allegations which he had allegedly handed to Leon Brittan in 1984 when he was Home Secretary, and that this had since disappeared.  A copy had apparently been given to the Director of Public Prosecutions.  No one knew who was accused in this dossier or what the allegations were; this imprecision enabled an assortment of fantasists and political opponents to make a series of wild allegations.  The Metropolitan Police established Operation Fairbank as an umbrella operation to determine their scope.

Operation Fernbridge was launched in February 2013 to investigate claims made by Tom Watson that during the 1970s and ‘80s a paedophile ring had operated a brothel out of the Elm Guest House in South West London, supplying boys from Grafton Close Children’s Home in Richmond to politicians and other prominent men.  Regulars were rumoured to have included the Liberal MP Cyril Smith, Anthony Blunt and several Labour and Conservative politicians.

In 2015, Operation Fernbridge was shut down and replaced by Operation Athabasca, which also included investigations by the Greater Manchester Police under Operation Jaguar into allegations that Cyril Smith had raped boys at the Knowl View School and Cambridge House Hostel.  The owners of Elm Guest House, Haroon and Carole Kasir, were convicted of running a brothel, but no other allegations were proved.

It is almost certain that Dickens’ dossier, if it had existed at all, had been no more than anti-Semitic and homophobic raving.  Together with his colleague, David Wilshire MP, Dickens had been engaged in anti-occult activity, convinced that Satanists were sacrificing children, and had helped drive the satanic panic of the 1980s and ‘90s.  Dickens had wanted occult literature banned, and proposed to introduce a Private Member’s Bill making the practise of witchcraft illegal,

If we are to protect children from their sordid, sexual and diabolical grasp, we must bring in new laws to wipe witches off the face of the earth.[19]

Babies and young children, he said, were being sacrificed to the Devil in rituals all over Britain, “Six hundred children go missing every year.  At least 50 of these children are simply never found again…. With witchcraft sacrifice nothing is ever found”.[20]

The Independent Inquiry, despite receiving up to 100 fresh allegations each week and expected to run for 10 years,[21] had named only one suspect, Labour peer and prominent Jew, Lord Janner; this was, respected legal journalist, Joshua Rozenburg, pointed out, beyond its remit, even unlawful.[22]  At the time Janner was identified he was suffering from severe dementia and was deemed by Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, unfit to face prosecution, but the decision was overturned following a public outcry; in December 2015 Janner died, but the investigation, and the allegations, some dating back to the 1950s, continued.  In July 2016, the Mail on Sunday found that the principal witness against Janner, a registered sex offender himself, had made false allegations of abuse against the head of a care home he had attended at the same time as he made his allegations against Janner.[23]  It was also reported that another allegation had been dropped after passport records revealed Janner had been in Australia at the time, and not in Scotland;[24] the hearing into Janner was postponed until March 2017; Janner’s children insisted on his innocence and began moves to have him removed from the inquiry altogether.  Eleven police investigating the case were themselves  investigated for alleged criminality and gross misconduct.

In June 2014, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced Operation Hydrant, which became the overall coordinating operation, led by the National Police Chief’s Council; by December 2015 it was investigating 2,228 suspects, all of them men.  302 were prominent figures and the rest had worked at 761 religious, medical, educational, young offenders’ and other institutions.  286 were deceased, but this inconvenience didn’t seem to deter the investigators.  Former prime minister, Edward Heath, was investigated by more than a dozen police forces – principally Wiltshire, under Operation Conifer – despite having died in 2005 and despite a lack of credible evidence against him.  Former MP Harvey Proctor called a press-conference in which he revealed in graphic detail the allegations against him – including the torture and murder of two boys –  and claimed he was the victim of a “homosexual witch-hunt”.  Chris Fay, the social worker who had accused Procter and others had been exposed as a convicted fraudster.  Another, unnamed, “victim” had been convicted for making hoax bomb calls and had falsely confessed to murder.[25]

Operation Midland was set up by Scotland Yard in November 2014 to investigate Nick’s claims of a high profile paedophile ring centred around the Dolphin Square estate in Pimlico, and the alleged deaths of three boys.  Senior officer Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald called the allegations “credible and true”, but Scotland Yard retracted this view in December, admitting they had given the impression they were “pre-empting the outcome”.[26]  By September 2015 the operation had uncovered no evidence at all.

Operation Cayacos investigated allegations of a paedophile ring centred on the founder of the Paedophile Information Exchange, Peter Righton, resulting in two convictions.

Operation Whistle ran under the auspices of Hydrant in the States of Jersey, following allegations against 45 individuals either dead or unidentified and 13 high profile suspects, including Heath and Jimmy Savile.  Again, nothing substantial was found and an item initially identified as a fragment of a child’s skull turned out to be a bit of coconut shell.

Operation Garford reviewed a 1992 investigation into historic allegations centred on Kesgrave Hall School and two other schools in Suffolk.

Further inquiries were run by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into allegations of corruption and cover-up by the Met.; by the NSPCC’s chief executive, Peter Wanless, into allegations the Home Office had covered up and mishandled historic allegations (which found no evidence); in Northern Ireland to establish whether there had been systemic failings by institutions or the state in their duties towards children in their care between 1922-95; in Scotland, following scandals involving alleged child abuse at institutions including those run by the Roman Catholic church; in North Wales to investigate allegations of abuse in children’s homes between 1963 and 1992; and on Jersey, Frances Oldham QC began an inquiry into historical allegations against the island’s care system.

The total cost to the taxpayer of this extraordinary moral panic can only be guessed at; Dame Lowell Goddard was being paid around £500,000 to head an inquiry employing 155 staff and dozens of lawyers and estimated to cost £100 million if run for 5 years.  The remit is huge, covering Parliament, the armed forces, the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, schools, children’s homes, the internet, etc.  The question Goddard was tasked with answering was whether these institutions had adequately protected young people in their care, but if the question whether the abuse alleged ever took place cannot be asked, the primary question cannot be answered.  In some police forces it is claimed that a quarter of their staff are engaged on these operations.[27]  It’s powers are similarly unrestricted, able to label someone a paedophile without evidence, trial or due process.  One commentator suggested the inquiry “seems to have a remit to examine every instance of institutional sexual abuse of a British child anywhere in the world, dating back to 1945“.  Recent estimates that it could last 20 or 30 years are simply another way of admitting that it may never end: Operation Hydrant has become Operation Hydra.

It has become hijacked by child abuse charities and campaigners which promote a scare-mongering agenda that the bulk of child abuse isn’t reported, that it goes on behind closed doors, that we are living through an epidemic of child abuse, but who can offer no evidence at all for their claims.  They have dictated the selection of the inquiry chairmen and the character of the inquiry.

Far from being a forensic analysis of the extent of child abuse and the competence of institutions to tackle it, therefore, the Goddard Inquiry became a vast state-funded propaganda machine in which allegations are accepted without question or cross-examination and claimants are treated, prejudicially, as “survivors”.  This raises the purpose of the inquiry, which can have no practical application, can never deliver justice, and seems rather to be an exercise in offering the victims a therapeutic experience and emotional closure

All of the initial allegations upon which the huge edifice of the Independent Inquiry was built have crumbled: the accused were innocent, their accusers were liars, crooks and fantasists, there were no paedophile rings, no establishment cover-ups.  The only appropriate course of action now must be to end this travesty.



[1] Criddle, C. (2016, July 29). Mother of son who hanged himself after being falsely accused of rape commits suicide a year later. The Telegraph.

[2] Scott, M. (2016, July 21). The shocking case of David Bryant reveals the fallacy that we can always spot a sliar. Retrieved from http://www.barristerblogger.com.

[3] Hewson, B. (2016, August 04). False Allegations: a stain on justice. Retrieved from http://www.spiked-online.com.

[4] Hoyle, C., Speechley, N.-E., & Burnett, R. (2016). The Impact of Being Wrongly Accused of Abuse in Occupations of Trust: Victims’ Voices. Oxford: University of Oxford, Centre if Criminology.

[5] R v H [1995] 1 AC 596.

[6] Rayner, G. (2012, October 19). Jimmy Savile: police launch criminal investigation after victims claim some abusers are still alive. The Telegraph.

[7] Black, T. (2013, July 01). Jimmy Savile: the Satanic panic resurrected. Retrieved from Spiked Online.

[8] Gray, D., & Watt, P. (2013). Giving Victims a Voice. London: Metropolitan Police Service & NSPCC.

[9] Moore, C. (2013, January 11). Treating every allegation against Jimmy Savile as a “fact” undermines justice. The Telegraph.

[10] Hume, M. (2014, May 01). Clifford is a creep, but what’s that got to do with Savile? Spiked Online.

[11] Martin, A. (2013, August 22). Jim Davidson WON’T face court over sex assaults claims by ten women. Daily Mail.

[12] Hewson, B. (2013, May 08). Yewtree is destroying the rule of law. Retrieved from Spiked Online.

[13] Betts, H. (2012, December 07). The search for paedophiles is more carnival than witch-hunt. The Guardian.

[14] Dathan, M. (2016, January 28). Even the FAMILY of the man who accused war hero Lord Bramall of sex abuse say his claims are ‘fantasy’. Mail on Sunday.

[15] Peytors, R. (2013, August 17). False abuse allegations may increase after new guidelines. Retrieved from The Opinion Site.

[16] McTague, T. & Cohen, T. (2015, October 16). Revealed: CPS told police to drop the rape case against Leon Brittan THREE times but they refused even though they knew there was “not a strong case” against him. Daily Mail.

[17] Joshi, A. (2015, October 16). Police Apology Over Lord Brittan Rape Case. Sky News.

[18] Dathan, M. (2016, January 28). Even the FAMILY of the man who accused war hero Lord Bramall of sex abuse say his claims are ‘fantasy’. Mail on Sunday.

[19] Op. Cit. Glasgow Herald. (1988).

[20] Canberra Times. (1988, September 20). Devil sacrifice of children “all over Britain”. Canberra Times.

[21] Mendick, R. (2016, July 26). Goddard child sex abuse inquiry could ‘last a decade’ as hearings into Lord Janner delayed after police object. The Telegraph.

[22] Rozenburg, J. (2016, June 20). Janner: a misguided inquiry. Law Society Gazette.

[23] Dathan, M. (2016, January 28). Even the FAMILY of the man who accused war hero Lord Bramall of sex abuse say his claims are ‘fantasy’. Mail on Sunday.

[24] Leask, D. (2016, August 01). Scottish abuse allegations against late Lord Janner have been dismissed, says peer’s son. Herald Scotland.

[25] Mendick, R. (2015, September 27). “VIP child abuse ring” accuser served time in prison for fraud. Sunday Telegraph.

[26] Barrett, D. (2015, September 21). Scotland Yard admits mistake over “credible and true” paedophile inquiry comment. The Telegraph.

[27] Hoyle, C., Speechley, N.-E., & Burnett, R. (2016). The Impact of Being Wrongly Accused of Abuse in Occupations of Trust: Victims’ Voices. Oxford: University of Oxford, Centre if Criminology.