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By Charles Pragnell

A Huge Hidden Iceberg of False Accusations of Child Abuse

Supporters and followers of the FASSIT website will be aware that I have submitted a Petition to the Prime Minister of Britain, the Rt Hon Tony Blair, to appoint a Royal Commission to conduct an investigation into the Child Protection system in Britain and to recommend appropriate reforms and changes to that system.

Every year in Britain there are some children who are being abused by their parents or carers and in a very small number of cases, by strangers. Such children have the right, under national and international laws, to be protected from such abuse by not only the State Authorities but also by their relatives, neighbours, and by other adults in the communities in which they live.

But for over thirty years the Child Protection system in Britain has been lurching from crisis to crisis whereby children under the care and supervision of child protection workers and professionals have been seriously harmed and many have died whilst such professionals looked on, squabbling among themselves as to who should take responsibility for the child, or occupying themselves with pursuing cases which would bring them personal esteem and enhance their reputations amongst other professionals, such as occurred with Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. The dead children could not speak during or after the occurrences which destroyed their lives and the relevant professionals ignored their plight.

On the other hand, there have been repeated and frequent instances where groups of children and their families have been subjected to unnecessary and unwarranted and intrusive child protection investigations from professionals who had been brainwashed into unquestioningly and uncritically accepting unproven and scientifically fraudulent theories of child abuse, such as Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, Satanic Ritual Abuse, Repressed Memory Syndrome, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Shaken Baby Syndrome etc, etc. Invariably such events destroyed and devastated the lives of numerous children, their parents, siblings, and often their wider families.

After many of these instances, Public Inquiries were set up to inquire into what had gone wrong and on each occasion these Inquiries were dominated by the agencies which had caused the these disasters who invariably sought to blame the cause of the disasters on `a shortage of resources’ and inadequate legal powers. Repeatedly these Inquiries found evidence that the primary reasons for the failures was in the respective agencies failing to work together and although they were urged to do so in the future and systems were changed to make them do so, such working together has failed again and again. Many of the Inquiries also recommended massive increases in resources for the agencies involved and increases in their workforces and changes in legislation to considerably increase their powers. Many new and improved bureaucratic procedures have been introduced which have largely been to protect the agencies involved from criticism, rather than providing a valid system of protection for children.

“Lessons have been learnt” was an oft repeated statement by agency heads after these Inquiries but it is plain to anyone with a modicum of intelligence and rational thought, that lessons have not been learnt when the same mistakes are repeated over and over again. “Damned if we do, and damned if we don’t” has also been a familiar excuse yet no professional can be condemned if they carry out their legal duties in a conscientious and fair-minded manner. The problem has always been that such basic principles were absent from the way they conducted themselves.

At the time of the Cleveland Scandal, I was a senior manager with the now-defunct Cleveland Social Service Department and was responsible for research and management information systems and having previously been a trained child protection social worker, I and several other managers within the Department, voiced my concerns at what has happening many months before it became a hapless tragedy for so many children and their families. (My account of those events is already recorded on the Internet). Our voices however were powerless. The subsequent Inquiry uncovered some of the truth of what had occurred but by no means all of the truth as agencies disclosed only information which was favourable to themselves – after all, they were unlikely to be self-critical. The children involved in the Cleveland Scandal received only a meager amount in compensation for their traumas – if they had been imprisoned wrongly they would have received far more.

I left Local Authority social work management three years later, still deeply concerned at the systemic harm which had been caused to those children and their families and within a very short time I became a advocate and representative for children in State Care and for their families. This was a very chastening experience for me as social workers treated me with contempt, hostility, and gross disrespect, as they did the children and families who I sought to represent.

This became an enormous learning experience for me as I quickly realised that the major events in Cleveland, the Orkneys, Rochdale, Nottingham, Durham. Shieldfield Newcastle, the Isles of Lewis etc etc, were not isolated events but were part of a much bigger pattern and picture. That Cleveland was dwarfed by the numbers of individual cases where injustices and unfairness were occurring every day of every week of every year somewhere in Britain but because such occurrences were not within a single geographic area like Cleveland, then it was unnoticed by the media and by the public. Some of these injustices were that parents and children were denied legal or any other kind of representation in child protection proceedings and when the matter came before the Courts, they were often denied legal aid, or effective legal representation. This was often in the face of what parents claimed was evidence which had been embellished, distorted, and even fabricated in order to prove the case against them.

Since that time, I have been avalanched with letters, emails, and phone calls from distraught children and parents and relatives, telling of the injustices they have suffered by the abuses and misuses of powers by child protection workers and how their lives have been devastated and destroyed by the interventions of those child protection workers. Such correspondence continues to this day.

I am not alone in my concerns regarding the Child Protection system in Britain as many of these concerns are shared by researchers, academics, and many fellow medical and social work professionals, some of whom are trying to change the system from within, but fruitlessly and despairingly.

Sadly, my advice and support for children and their families is of little avail, mainly due to the intransigence and rigidity of the system, which even when proven to be unfair and to have acted inappropriately, cling to the belief that the system is always `right’. This can be seen for example in those who still cling to the belief that the professionals involved in the Clark/Cannings trials and the child protection workers on Cleveland did nothing wrong.

Some parents formed themselves into Protest and Campaign Groups and made some inroads into bringing these matters to public attention but it was not until the tragic cases of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings that a small tip of a huge iceberg of false accusations of child abuse began to be exposed. Their cases were eventually exposed by the more transparent processes of the Criminal Courts and its appeal systems, but the thousands of children who have been wrongly condemned to a life in State Care or adoption by strangers, cannot be similarly exposed because of the secrecies of the Family Courts and the lack of an effective appeals system.

Some politicians have become involved and have similarly seen some of the injustices which have and are occurring but they are also limited in what they can do. Probably every politician in the British Parliament has at some time received representations from parents who feel they are wrongly accused of child abuse and have been frustrated in their attempts to defend themselves, but such politicians quickly realize their impotence in such situations and cab be easily dissuaded from further involvement by the prevarications and procrastinations of the child protection agencies. They too are constrained by not being able to make fully public these instances of injustice and unfairness due to the need to protect the identities of the children involved. The interventions in Essex by politicians on behalf of children families and their subsequent efforts being repulsed are not uncommon.

If a Royal Commission is acceded to, then of critical importance is that the testimonies of the children and their families who have suffered under the present Child Protection system are given utmost priority by the appointed Commissioners. Only that will the full truth immerge and the requisite reforms and changes are identified.

Charles Pragnell

Expert Witness – Child Protection and Child/Family Advocate (U.K./Australasia).

"The cost to the good citizens for their indifference in public affairs is to be ruled by evil men"

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