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NEWCASTLE LIBEL CASE: ALLEGATIONS WHICH LED TO PLAINTIFF'S RE-ARREST

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A social worker told a judge she was not 'trying to hide things' when she omitted telling a female nursery worker's...
A social worker told a judge she was not 'trying to hide things' when she omitted telling a female nursery worker's disciplinary hearing that a child had completely exonerated her of abuse claims.

Vanessa Lyon, who has been a social worker for 27 years, worked for Newcastle City Council social services department and was involved in interviewing parents and children who attended the city's Shieldfield nursery.

The high court libel trial was told Mrs Lyon provided a statement and evidence at the disciplinary hearing of Dawn Reed, who was at that stage - along with Shieldfield co-worker Christoper Lillie - accused of abuse.

Adrienne Page, QC for Ms Reed and Mr Lillie, suggested it had been a 'pretty appalling mistake' to omit a number of matters relating to one child from her statement in support of Ms Reed being dismissed for sexually abusing her.

'I don't think it is,' Mrs Lyon replied. 'I was putting in things that were relevant.'

Mr justice Eady then asked: 'Was it not relevant that the child had exculpated her completely from doing anything wrong?' - To which the witness replied 'of course'.

Miss Page put to her that the omission could not have been an oversight.

'I obviously can't remember everything I did at this point,' Mrs Lyon replied. 'I wrote it believing I was putting in everything that was relevant. I was not trying to hide things.'

Mrs Lyon gave evidence on behalf of Newcastle City Council and the four-member team it commissioned to investigate complaints about Shieldfield.

They are being sued for libel by Mr Lillie and Ms Reed after the team concluded in its 1998 report that the pair had sexually, physically and emotionally abused children from Shieldfield.

Four years earlier, they were acquitted of indecently assaulting children from the nursery.

Miss Page asked Mrs Lyon if she had been asked to put together evidence which would convict Mr Lillie and Ms Reed in disciplinary proceedings.

'No, I was asked to provide evidence about where these two names came up,' she replied. 'Looking back, there are omissions, but I had no intent to hide anything.'

Miss Page said that at the disciplinary hearing Mrs Lyon was asked about the family background of the little girl - who in two videoed interviews had exculpated Ms Reed and in one made a rape claim against Mr Lillie.

Mrs Lyon was reported as telling the hearing the girl was from a 'stable home'. The libel hearing has heard about violence in the girl's home and of the father throwing a coffee table on one occasion.

'I am sure I said a lot more than that,' Mrs Lyon said, referring to the 'stable' answer. 'Having said that, there has never been any evidence of sexual abuse in that household.'

Further, she said it seemed a short sentence for her, as she tended to give longer answers than that.

Miss Page referred to the child having been reported as saying she had been to Chris's house when he, Dawn and another female nursery worker were present.

The barrister asked why, in her summary to the disciplinary hearing, Mrs Lyon omitted to refer to the other worker.

'I honestly cannot recall,' she said. 'I think I was asked to put in anything specific to Dawn and Chris. I wasn't trying to hide anything.'

Miss Page also referred to Mrs Lyon's statements for the criminal proceedings against Mr Lillie and Ms Reed.

The barrister put to Mrs Lyon that in relation to Shieldfield children the social worker took the trouble to record what would fit with the notion of abuse having taken place.

On the other hand, she suggested, Mrs Lyon was 'sloppy' about recording matters that would not fit in the with the notion of abuse.

'I have no personal axe to grind,' Mrs Lyon replied.

'I wanted to know children were safe and whether they had been abused. I did my best to record in the way we were used to. I have never not cared about getting to the bottom of things.'

On Monday, a paediatrician who concluded nursery children were sexually abused assumed nothing to do with the youngsters could have innocent explanations, another paediatrician told a libel hearing.

Dr Jane Watkeys said she believed there was exaggeration of some of the medical findings in the Shieldfield nursery case.

'I believe, dangerous assumptions were made that if these children had evidence of sexual abuse, it had to have occurred in the nursery setting,' she told the high court.

'It is very clear that some of the medical evidence points to the fact that if the children had been abused, then it was not within the nursery.'

Dr Watkeys, a consultant community paediatrician who has 29 years experience in community paediatrics and sees on average 230 children yearly because of child abuse, was giving evidence on behalf of Mr Lillie and Ms Reed.

She examined the medical notes, records and findings made by Dr Camille San Lazaro in relation to Shieldfield children.

In her report, Dr Watkeys said she was surprised that a doctor of Dr San Lazaro's expertise appeared to have been 'so careless' in her use of terms, and that on so many occasions it was impossible from her reports to know exactly what the medical findings were.

'I acccept that I am writing this report seven years after the majority of children were seen, and that things have changed during that time,' she said.

But even at that time it was very clear that concise accurate notes should be made and that common terminology should be used.

She said Dr San Lazaro had referred to four children having a particular bacteria present, implying it had a common source.

'She is discussing a common organism found in young children which tends to have a higher incidence in children in nurseries,' she said.

'It is again an assumption on her part, that nothing in these children could have innocent explanations, but that they always need to be linked with sexual abuse.

'That is a concern I have throughout. Chidren present with wetting, constipation, but no thought is given to exclude medical conditions.

'An assumption is also made that anything that happened to these children was due to abuse in the nursery.'

Dr Watkeys said - despite her reservations about some of the medical examinations and the findings - from the reported findings, some children had diagnostic features of sexual abuse.

'However, from the medical findings alone, it is impossible to know by whom and when the abuse occurred,' she said.

Dr Watkeys said she had always been taught that when a child was examined for possible sexual abuse, it is not the role of the doctor to inquire in detail about the possible abuse as it may contaminate any evidence being gathered by police and social services.

'Any examination and history taken should concentrate on medical symptoms,' she said.

'Therefore I was surprised that Dr San Lazaro went into so much details with the parents, and was increasingly surprised that she felt it was appropriate to advise parents on how to question their children.

'This must have contaminated any likely disclosure by the children.'

Dr Watkeys said only one child gave a history of bleeding from the genital area, which was a surprise when one considered the number of girls who were reported to have evidence of tears and scarring.

'I would have expected more parents to have noted bleeding,' she said.

'What is even more concerning is that one child who did have bleeding also presents with bleeding in the genital area much later, and yet no one questions the possibility of ongoing abuse.'

Police investigating claims of child abuse at the nursery had to warn one mother about jeopardising the case by putting words in people's mouths, the trial was told on Wednesday.

Detective constable Julie Anne Kinghorn was referred to her pocketbook which had an entry in July, 1993, referring to her visit on the mother of a boy known as child 22.

The mother's complaint to police in April 1993 sparked off the police investigation into sex abuse claims at Shieldfield nursery.

DC Kinghorn's entry read: 'Difficulties in interviewing children of tender years without any interference, never mind someone with best intentions putting words in their mouths, if true, jeopardizing the whole investigation, agreed to stop, parted on good terms.'

The policewoman was involved in the Shieldfield investigation from July 1993 to March 1994. She told the high court she could not recall the conversation, nor the context or complaint it arose from, or whose mouths words were being put into. Mr Justice Eady was told there appeared to be no documents setting out the complaint.

'Do you know if it stopped?' Miss Page asked.

'I presume it did or I would have gone back,' the officer replied.

DC Kinghorn told defence barrister, Gordon Bishop, that police had not carried out a fishing expedition when they visited the homes of Shieldfield parents.

'In all cases, the parents were given a very open and free decision as to whether or not they wished the police to become involved with disclosures made by their children, and the manner in which the investigation was carried out in each case,' she said.

'In most of the cases, as far as I remember, where the parents contacted confirmed that their child had made disclosures of possible abuse to them, they were extremeley keen that the police should conduct an investigation relating to their child.'

DC Kinghorn said she interviewed some staff at the nursery under caution, after their names were mentioned by a child in a video interview.

'However, I recall that, unlike Lillie and Reed, the names of these other staff did not come up repeatedly in the evidence of a number of children, and a decision was therefore taken that no further investigation need be made of those particular allegations,' she said.

'My recollection is that virtualy every child who made relevant disclosures of possible abuse in the course of video interview mentioned the names of either Lillie or Reed or both, whereas no other member of staff was mentioned so repeatedly.'

Yesterday, detective constable Helen Foster repeatedly told Mr justice Eady she could not remember events surrounding the re-arrest of a nursery worker just as he was released from prison on bail.

DC Foster told the libel trial she re-arrested Christopher Lillie on 22 October 22 1993 - in relation to a rape claim - as he walked out of Durham Prison having been granted bail on charges of indecent assault.

Earlier that day, in a third videoed interview conducted by DC Foster - after a 13 minute break in the video - a little girl had made the rape claim against Mr Lillie, leading to the decision to re-arrest him.

Mr justice Eady put it to DC Foster that she 'must have a clear recollection' about that day. In a very short period of time, a rape claim was made, a statement obtained from a doctor, the detective went back to the police station and then to the prison gates.

He said it must have been 'quite unusual' to turn up at prison gates when someone was released to re-arrest them, but DC Foster said she could not remember the details.

DC Foster gave evidence on behalf of Newcastle City Council and the four-member team it commissioned to investigate complaints about Newcastle's Shieldfield nursery.

The court has been told about a little girl who was video interviewed three times. Between the first and second interview, her mother said the girl told her of being raped but the girl did not disclose this in her second interview.

DC Foster conducted the third interview, on the day Mr Lillie was due to be released from prison. The court was told the girl made the rape claim after a break in the video of 13 minutes.

Under cross-examination from Adrienne Page, QC for Mr Lillie and Ms Reed, DC Foster said there was nothing sinister about the break. She said people who were not experienced with video equipment could have been involved.

On this occasion, she thought someone had forgotten to switch the machine on again after there had been a break.

DC Foster said she cannot remember the circumstances of how the doctor's statement was obtained after the rape claim was made.

Mr justice Eady remarked that the last thing the mother said in the videoed interview was 'now they can't hurt nobody any more'.

'Does that mean it was now open to you to go and stop Mr Lillie being released; you had now got what you wanted - the allegation of rape,' the judge said. 'You hotfooted it back to the station and then re-arrested Mr Lillie. Does that not stick in your mind?'

DC Foster replied that there had obviously been some urgency attached to the situation.

'The mother makes several references throughout the interview to the effect that if the child doesn't come up with the allegation, then effectively Mr Lillie will be released,' the judge said. 'Does that really not ring any bells with you?'

But DC Foster said it did not, she could not really remember the circumstances.

Miss Page suggested the officer had been under enormous pressure to extract for the mother an allegation against Mr Lillie in particular and also Ms Reed.

But DC Foster said she would not use the word 'extract', saying that the situation was that the child was said to have made a claim to her mother.

'It must have been obvious to you this was a child under enormous pressure at home and highly suggestibly questioned, at best, by her mother?' Miss Page asked.

The detective replied that she believed there had been some questioning of the child, but as she was not present she did not know whether it was suggestible or not.

'You had good grounds to fear this child had been coached?' Miss Page asked, to which DC Foster replied 'no'.

She disagreed with Miss Page's suggestion that there was no proper basis on which to place any reliance on what the child said in the videos.

'Once you raced off and made the arrests of Christopehr Lillie and Dawn Reed and charged them, there was no going back,' Miss Page said. 'There was no way you could then, or now, accept this child was an unreliable source.'

'I disagree,' DC Foster replied.

The hearing is continuing.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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