In September 1987, an Old Bailey child sexual abuse trial collapsed after a 9 year old girl broke down in the witness box, having been forced to face her parents for the first time since their arrest.
The girl and her three brothers and sisters, aged between six and eleven, along with at least nine other children, were alleged to have been subjected to horrific abuse by their parents, their grandfather, and a network which included ‘at least three inmates at a nearby hostel for disturbed young people with low mental ages’.
Judge Francis Petre said that the girl’s breakdown had caused ‘insurmountable difficulties’, and ordered the jury to find the parents not guilty.
The social workers who had been working with the children said since their parents arrest were not allowed to enter the court. One of the social workers said “Defence counsel refused even to allow the children to sit with their backs to their parents – and one defence counsel even asked the boy of eleven to look around the court as he was giving evidence, adding to his distress.”
The trial took place at the same time as the Cleveland case, where Stuart Bell MP, with help from the Daily Mail, attacked the doctors who had diagnosed sexual abuse, whilst protecting a group of ‘innocent parents’ that included convicted paedophiles. One of the Lewisham social workers said the Cleveland child abuse scandal was “colouring attitudes to the point where children’s rights were in jeopardy”.
The father of one of the other children said “This case seems to mean that you can get a kid under ten and do whatever you want to it, no matter how vile and disgusting, and it is legal, because the courts cannot cope. My son of six turned round to me after I told him of the verdict and said: ‘Why couldn’t I tell them what happened? Is it because they think I’m a liar?”
A mother said that her daughter, aged nine, had asked: “How do you commit suicide? Does it hurt to take a lot of pills?”
Another mother said that her son now took his showers after football at school wearing his shorts and shirt. He had tried to jump from an upper storey window and said repeatedly: “I want to die, I want to die.”
After the trial collapsed, the accused mother applied to Lewisham council to regain custody of her four children. She had given birth to a fifth child, which had also been taken into care.
The Guardian, 23rd September 1987