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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Abuse conviction concerns raised
By James Shaw
BBC news

Glasgow City Council issued a report on Kerelaw
One of the UK's leading experts on child abuse has raised doubts about the conviction of a social worker after an investigation into a residential school in Ayrshire.

Ray Wyre, who works as a consultant to police investigations and public inquiries into child abuse, said staff at Kerelaw School found guilty of physical assaults were judged by standards which did not apply at the time the offences were said to have happened.

The trial of Matt George and John Muldoon, two former staff members at Kerelaw, took place in early 2006. There were 85 charges against them.

Mr Wyre was in court as an expert witness for the prosecution, but he was not called to give evidence.

He has now claimed this was because he made no secret of his doubts about some of the prosecution evidence.

When the prosecution finished, he closed his laptop and went to speak to Mr Muldoon. He said he told him he ought to be acquitted.

Restraint techniques

The Crown Office said it was a matter for the fiscal to decide who was called to give evidence.

But a few weeks later, Mr Muldoon was found guilty of four charges of abuse and given a jail sentence of two-and-a-half years.

Mr George was sentenced to prison for 10 years. Since then, Mr Wyre has not spoken about the Kerelaw case, until now.

"All I can say is that when the verdict came out I was surprised in relation to John Muldoon and I felt that, had he been tried separately, there may have been a different verdict," he said.

He claimed the staff at Kerelaw were judged by standards of behaviour which did not apply in the 1980s and 90s, when the abuse was supposed to have happened.

Back then the idea of the short, sharp shock was in favour. This would have included restraint techniques which would not be acceptable today.

Mr Muldoon was released on licence two weeks ago. He believes he was badly let down by his employer, Glasgow City Council, and by the ex-Kerelaw pupils who gave evidence against him.

We are scared to question anybody who says they may have been abused and yet the consequence of not asking critical questions of some of these allegations is not in the best interests of children
Mark Smith
Edinburgh University

Catherine Glen was one of those witnesses against Mr Muldoon.

She has stood by the evidence she gave in court, describing a regime in which residents were hit or thrown to the floor as punishments and brutally restrained if they were out of control.

She said she was angry that different accounts of what happened at Kerelaw were starting to emerge.

Ms Glen added: "Now that it's been found out and it's been a massive, massive scandal, these people are trying to say, 'didn't happen when I was there', when it did. It happened right under their noses."

But some observers believe there is a wider problem than last year's trial.

Mark Smith, a social work lecturer at Edinburgh University, said the Glasgow City Council report which claimed there was widespread abuse at Kerelaw was deeply flawed.

An investigation which took two years to complete resulted in a document less than 10 pages long, which contained no actual evidence of abuse.

He said he believed the first unsubstantiated allegations led to a panic reaction by the city's social work managers, who immediately suspended senior staff and called in the police.

Evidence, he claimed, was gathered by means of a technique known as "trawling". In other words, investigators spoke to as many people as possible to ask if they had suffered abuse.

Concerns have been raised over evidence gathering techniques

It is a method which has come into question in recent years, particularly in a report on child abuse investigations by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

Mr Smith claimed there was a widespread unwillingness to look critically at allegations of child abuse.

He added: "We are scared to question anybody who says they may have been abused and yet the consequence of not asking critical questions of some of these allegations is not in the best interests of children. It makes children far too hot to handle."

When the first allegations were being made, the man in charge of Kerelaw, Jim Hunter, heard reports suggesting an emerging "litigation culture" among pupils, an awareness that claims of abuse might result in compensation pay-outs.

He claimed that has led to more allegations being made and he said everyone who worked at Kerelaw between 1979 and 2004 has now been tarred with the brush of being complicit with child abuse.

Mr Smith said the only way to repair the harm to individual lives and to the work of looking after children in care was to hold a public inquiry.

Scotland's minister for children, Adam Ingram, has been looking at information passed to him about Kerelaw, but a spokeswoman said he was not yet ready to make a decision on the way forward.

Crown Office drops Kerelaw cases
21 Jun 07 |  Glasgow and West
'Up to 40 staff' abused children
14 Jun 07 |  Glasgow and West
Care law 'anomaly' to be probed
14 Jun 07 |  Glasgow and West
Jail terms for school abuse pair
01 Jun 06 |  Glasgow and West
Action plan for troubled Kerelaw
15 Oct 04 |  Scotland
Closure plan for troubled Kerelaw
13 Oct 04 |  Scotland
Inquiry at school for vulnerable
18 Jun 04 |  Scotland
Kerelaw 'has not learned lessons'
28 Apr 04 |  Scotland
Measures to tackle young offenders
08 Jan 04 |  Scotland

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