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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Man cleared of 'false memory' assault
false memory court case graphic
A man is cleared of indecently assaulting a woman who may have suffered from "false memory" after watching a TV programme.

The trial at Chester Crown Court heard that the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, imagined she had suffered sexual abuse as a child after watching two BBC programmes.

One was That's Life, presented by Esther Rantzen, and the other was a spin-off called Childwatch Special.

Ms Rantzen launched the ChildLine charity in 1986, soon after the programmes were aired.

North Wales farmer John Williams, 72, a friend of the young woman's family, was charged with eight counts of indecent assault when she made the complaints following counselling for eating disorders and depression.

But he was cleared when the court decided the woman - who had a long history of psychiatric problems - was suffering from "false memory syndrome" and had imagined the attacks, alleged to have happened 15 years previously.


She was truly suffering from false memory syndrome and genuinely believed in memories that were entirely false

Trial judge Mr Justice Poole
The judge, Mr Justice Poole, said nobody blamed the complainant "who has an unhappy history of psychiatric disorders".

He told Mr Williams: "She was truly suffering from false memory syndrome and genuinely believed in memories that were entirely false.

"You will therefore be leaving this court without a stain on your character," he said.

The jury took just five minutes to acquit Williams of the charges, alleged to have been committed between 1977 and 1985 on a girl between the ages of seven to 14.

Abuse 'imaginary'

Defending barrister, Mr Gordon Cole, had told the court that the woman, a solicitor now aged 30, had "imagined" the events after receiving therapy and was suffering from false memory syndrome.

Psychologist Prof John Morton, giving evidence for the prosecution, admitted: "A typical case of false memory involves a well educated female in her 30s who has had treatment for some psychological problem such as depression or an eating disorder."

Childline programme cited

Defence witness, Dr Janet Boakes, a psychiatrist from London University, said that for there to be false memory syndrome there must be a period of blank memory and added: "There are some conditions to support false memory syndrome here."

She said she believed there could be a "feeling" of abuse rather than a memory, and that therapy could then trigger greater detail.

This detail could be from literature or possibly, in this case, from watching Ms Rantzen's TV programme.

For the prosecution, Steven Everett, said the woman had gone to live in Holywell with her parents when she was seven.

The defendant lived further up the road and was a family friend.

History of disorders

The complainant started visiting his farm on her own and it is then that she alleged Williams behaved in a "sexually inappropriate" way, kissing and touching her in the farm garages or in farm vehicles.

"It had a devastating effect on this young woman, it caused her all sorts of trauma as she was growing up," he said.


Someone had something done to them which I had done to me. It was only then that it dawned on me that I had been sexually abused

Alleged abuse victim
She had suffered anorexia, depression, insomnia and panic attacks resulting from flashbacks, he said.

The court was told that she developed anorexia during her first year at university and weighed six and half stone.

She had counselling from her doctor at the time but did not mention the alleged indecent assault until 1996.

The court was told the complainant first realised she had been sexually abused when she was 18 and was watching a television programme about 'Childline' with Esther Rantzen.

She said: "Someone had something done to them which I had done to me. It was only then that it dawned on me that I had been sexually abused."

Defendant 'devastated'

Mr Everett also said that the complainant told her older brother when she was 10 "that she had a sort of problem with Mr Williams and she didn't want to go the farm".

Edward Williams told the jury the complainant used to visit the farm every weekend but denied having any contact with her except for hugging her on one occasion.

He explained that when her family came to the farm when she was about 10 or 11.

"I put my hand around her shoulder and said she was my little pal," he said.

After the trial Williams solicitor, Ray Woodward, said his client was "devastated" by the court case and did not want to make a statement.

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