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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 16:16 GMT
Abuse evidence 'must be reliable'
Children playing
Child abuse convictions may be overturned
Care workers convicted of sexually abusing children could be freed because of unreliable evidence, an MP has warned.

The Court of Appeal will free many people innocent and guilty of abuse because of flawed police investigations, Claire Curtis-Thomas told the BBC.

The Labour MP for Crosby has urged all police interviews with child sex abuse witnesses to be tape-recorded to make convictions more secure.

And the Home Affairs Select Committee is reportedly launching an inquiry into child abuse prosecutions of the last 30 years, as lawyers are braced for dozens of appeals.

These cases must be fair and transparent and currently they are not

Claire Curtis-Thomas MP

Ms Curtis-Thomas is a member of an all-party parliamentary group campaigning for changes to the way in which police investigate allegations of abuse in care homes.

Some MPs fear the issue has been sidelined following the public outrage at the conviction of known sex offender Roy Whiting for the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne.

The Crosby MP said the appeal cases would "most certainly" uncover wrongful convictions of care workers, some accused of abuse 20 or 30 years before any complaint.

'Cash incentive'

She told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "We may not only be releasing people who are innocent, but people who may well be guilty.

"But, because of the inefficiency of the way that this evidence has been collected, the convictions against them are felt to be unsafe.

"That is totally unsatisfactory."

She believes the police have operated "trawls" of former care home residents, including prison inmates, over the last 30 years, looking for potential complainants.
Claire Curtis-Thomas, Labour MP for Crosby
Curtis-Thomas wants taped interviews

The Independent reported on Friday that lawyers were expecting "dozens" of convicted paedophiles to have their cases reheard.

The paper also claimed the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee had agreed to launch an inquiry into the issue.

The parliamentary group headed by Ms Curtis-Thomas has raised particular concerns about cases brought by Merseyside Police in the 1980s and 1990s.

But Merseyside Deputy Chief Constable Mike Tonge told the BBC there was no cause for concern.

Fears

He told the World at One programme: "All we do at this moment in time is treat these allegations, when they come along, in a serious way and fairly and impartially collect evidence and put that evidence before the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts."

Ms Curtis-Thomas said the interviewing of witnesses may be open to abuse and called for evidence taken to be taped.

She said: "These cases must be fair and transparent and currently they are not."

Campaigners are worried that the compensation paid out to victims of convicted paedophiles may act as an incentive to make false allegations.

See also:

20 Nov 01 | England
Care manager sexually abused girls
17 Dec 01 | England
Woman awarded abuse damages
20 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Demand for action on child sex trade
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