In a spartan special-visits room at Wakefield prison, Roy Shuttleworth leans across the bolted-down table and displays his most treasured possessions: letters and cards from his wife, Irene. ‘My darling, innocent Roy,’ one begins, ‘I am as much in love with you as the day we met nearly 40 years ago. My only wish is to spend what life we have left together. I only hope nothing happens to either one of us, because I know the other will die of a broken heart.’
As he speaks of his shattered family, he makes no attempt to hide his grief. His children, Roy junior and Suzanne, cross the Pennines from Cheshire to visit him twice a month. Now 67, the pale, broken man they find is a ghost of the jolly paterfamilias they see in family photos. This former champion swimmer, mining foreman and long-distance truck driver is serving a 10-year sentence for crimes deemed by some to be worse than murder – 11 counts of sexual assault and buggery against boys once in his care.
From his arrest in 1995, he has protested his innocence. Although it could shorten his sentence by two years, he refuses to take the prison sex offender treatment programme: ‘How can I sit there in a so-called therapy group talking about my crimes if I haven’t committed them? And listening to them who has done it – it’s disgusting.’
Tonight, after five months of investigation, the BBC Panorama programme will reveal dramatic new evidence supporting Shuttleworth’s claim of innocence, including evidence from former residents at the home where he worked – Greystone Heath in Warrington – who refute key elements of the prosecution case, contradicting key elements in the stories told by Shuttleworth’s alleged victims. One man, confronted by huge discrepancies in his story, has now changed it beyond recognition from the version he gave in court.
All of the eight men who made allegations against Shuttleworth have criminal records for dishonesty; three were serving seven-year sentences when they testified. Three have since allegedly disclosed they fabricated their claims for money, hoping to be awarded compensation from the government criminal injuries scheme and from civil actions against Liverpool City Council, which owned and ran Greystone Heath. The rewards from this process may run to more than £100,000 for each claimant.
It would be deeply disturbing if Shuttleworth’s story was an isolated case. But it is not. Since the time allegations of sexual abuse in care homes first surfaced in North Wales in 1991, more than 100 former care workers have been convicted and jailed for terms of up to 18 years. Some of them, perpetrators of foul and degrading crimes whose victims were long disbelieved, confessed to the police and pleaded guilty. Others, like Shuttleworth, continue to protest their innocence.
Police investigations into care-home abuse have become an unregulated phenomenon with 90 separate inquiries under way at present, and thousands of former and serving care workers and teachers under suspicion. Officers from a single inquiry in South Wales recently announced they had more than 500 suspects.
All are using ‘the trawl’ – the highly unusual method piloted in North Wales and by the Cheshire force that investigated Greystone Heath. It relies, not on victims coming forward, but on the police visiting hundreds or thousands of men once at a particular care home to discover if they were abused. Shuttleworth’s solicitor, Chris Saltrese, calls it a ‘begging bowl operation, a hunt for allegations’. Some of those identified this way are genuine abusers. But as Shuttleworth’s case shows, it is a blunt weapon, likely to produce false allegations.
The trawl that led to Shuttleworth’s conviction began with a single allegation from a resident of Greystone Heath, a prolific offender sent there by the courts. Early in 1994 ‘Paul’ (the law says alleged victims of sexual offences must have their identities protected) found himself in the custody of the police. He told them that nine months earlier he had been driving his car in Widnes when he saw a former Greystone worker, Alan Langshaw, leaving the magistrates’ court with a boy. This, he said, brought back the horror of the sexual abuse Langshaw inflicted on him at the home during the 1970s.
‘Paul’ made a statement, and in the days that followed, accused a further 17 former care workers, including Roy Shuttleworth. Without independent evidence his claims posed a serious problem for the police. However, two years earlier the media had fiercely criticised the failure of police in North Wales to bring the perpetrators of sexual abuse in local homes to justice. The Cheshire officers talking to ‘Paul’ did not want to expose themselves to similar attacks. The force decided to set up a major investigation – Operation Granite.
Using health, prison and benefit records, the police traced hundreds of former Greystone residents. At least 1,000 made statements, though only a small minority claimed they were victims. When the police arrested Langshaw, he confessed almost immediately and was finally jailed for eight years. Langshaw’s Greystone Heath contemporary, Roy Shuttleworth, was a different matter.
There were striking differences. Langshaw, a gay single man, had a private flat at Greystone Heath where he could lock the door and do as he pleased with his victims, immune from scrutiny. Shuttleworth lived on the campus with his wife and children. He had come into care work in his forties, when his wife Irene, sick of his absences driving HGVs, persuaded him to apply for a joint post as houseparents. The couple did everything together. Why such a man would want to abuse young boys is a matter for psychologists. How he could have done so is a crucial question on which his proof of innocence turns.
The vital principle which trawl inquiries must follow is to avoid ‘leading’ potential witnesses by planting ideas in their minds. Professor Mike McConville of Warwick University, an authority on miscarriages of justice, tells tonight’s Panorama how easy it is to generate a false allegation in this way. The police, he points out, do not simply record what interviewees say: they write up their statements from lengthy question and answer sessions, and it is impossible to tell the spontaneous account from one which has been suggested.
By telling interviewees they were investigating sexual abuse and reminding them of the names of care staff, detectives could sow the seeds of a wrongful conviction. McConville believes that introducing mandatory taping of all detective-witness encounters in trawl investigations is urgently needed.
When talks with police generate untrue statements, says McConville, the witness will almost invariably ‘adopt’ the misleading account as his own. In the present climate, a wrongly accused care worker is the deadly foe.
Panorama’s investigation revealed that this process was at work in Operation Granite. A former Greystone inmate who left the home seven years before Shuttleworth began to work there in 1974 made a graphic statement, describing how Shuttleworth had forced him to masturbate him in the shower. The man sticks to his account now, insisting that Shuttleworth abused him. But the man got Shuttleworth’s name from the police who descended ‘out of the blue’ one day in 1995. The detectives, he says, showed him photographs of Shuttleworth and told him they were investigating claims he was a paedophile.
The case reveals a second, deadly way in which wrongful convictions can be generated by trawls – the lure of compensation. After the man had made his statement, the police suggested he see a solicitor. He went to Abney Garsden McDonald in Cheadle, which by early 1995 was co-ordinating actions for damages on behalf of alleged abuse victims throughout the North-West. (Today there are more than 700 claimants in these actions, all funded by legal aid, 350 of whom the Cheadle firm represents.)
The lawyers told him he had two ways of making a claim: the Government criminal injuries compensation scheme, and a civil action against Greystone’s operators, Liverpool City Council. He began to pursue both courses. Only then did the police realise the discrepancy over dates, forcing him to withdraw from both the criminal and civil legal process.
The police have taken an unusually close interest in the compensation aspect of the case. Senior officers visited the government scheme’s Glasgow headquarters and persuaded them to waive the normal three-year time limit for claimants. They also had meetings with Peter Garsden, Abney Garsden McDonald’s lead partner in the abuse cases, and with other lawyers involved in the civil actions.
‘It very quickly became apparent that it was important for us and the police to have a symbiotic relationship,’ Garsden says. ‘For example, the police would want us to refer any new complaints of abuse that they didn’t know about to them, because it would help them in their process. We depended on them, because we wanted as much information about the pending criminal trials as possible.’
Garsden also appointed a ‘press relations officer’ who succeeded in getting articles placed in the local media which made it clear that victims might be able to claim thousands of pounds in damages. A former Greystone resident, Eric Oldham, went to the firm and lodged a claim after seeing this publicity. Only after he had made his statement for the lawyers did he agree to talk to the police.
In McConville’s eyes, this relationship between criminal and civil justice was risky. ‘You cannot have a cheque book investigation in a criminal case. Victims can be legitimately assisted in pursuing compensation, that’s one thing, but you must not have the issue of compensation colouring their accounts.’
In some cases, the relation between lawyers and police has been closer still. ‘The police have been very helpful,’ says solicitor Keith Robinson, handling over 100 abuse claims. ‘I have had several clients who have been referred to me by officers. They will often supply important documents, such as unused material from a trial and supporting evidence.’
A third and final factor made the position in which Shuttleworth found himself more perilous still.
In 1991, a House of Lords judgment in the case known as Director of Public Prosecutions versus P changed the law. Normally, an allegation of a criminal offence has to stand or fall on its own merits: if a witness accusing someone of sexual abuse was sufficiently credible, or could adduce supporting evidence, then an abuser would be convicted. Until 1991, multiple allegations against the same person could only be held to be mutually corroborating if there were ‘striking similarities’ between the alleged crimes, indicating a criminal’s ‘signature,’ a distinct modus operandi. But the judgment removed this protection. In effect, the courts have accepted the idea of ‘corroboration by volume’.
Peter Garsden insists that every allegation in the 700 cases he is co-ordinating is true, because nobody would be prepared to put up with the unpleasant business of giving evidence unless they were telling the truth. He further believes he is, literally, fighting the forces of Satan: ‘I believe that we’re messing with the Devil, because you know, child abuse is evil, and the people that get involved in it are powerful, manipulative people. And they will do their level best to stop us succeeding and stop us getting justice for the victims.’
Garsden, who is also executive officer of the national Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, says that even when discrepancies occur between allegations and known facts, this doesn’t cast doubt on their story: their memory may have deceived them over some of the details, but the one thing they will always remember is how they were abused, and by whom.
Lesley Cohen from Nottingham, who has prepared reports for more than 100 victims disagreed. ‘You cannot tell from using a psychometric assessment whether a person has experienced [the abuse] they’re talking about.’
The seven men who gave evidence accusing Shuttleworth all made criminal injuries claims, most before his trial; all have also lodged civil actions. One already had been convicted and jailed in 1991 for conspiracy to defraud the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
A psychiatric assessment dating from 1983 described this claimant as ‘unable to separate fact from fantasy’. Nevertheless, as the trial opened at Chester Crown Court in May 1996, the police were convinced that he and the other men were telling the truth.
Shuttleworth’s defence scored important points. For example, faced with the difficulty that Shuttleworth had no private space to take his supposed victims, the complainants claimed they’d been abused in public parts of the home. One, ‘Dave’, said he had a key to the swimming pool where he worked alone as a cleaner and Shuttleworth used to abuse him there.
Peter McCudden, the former head of PE, said this was untrue: there were only two keys to the swimming pool, guarded religiously by himself and the duty head, and anyone found alone there would be banned from the pool for life. The discrepancies were ignored by the jury. The judge described the men as ‘coming forward’, and asked the jury to consider how they could have made their claims independently unless they were true. But they had not ‘come forward’.
Panorama tested ‘Dave’s’ story further. He also claimed that Shuttleworth used to wake him in the dormitory and take him away to abuse him at night. We traced two of his former room-mates, both of whom insisted such a thing was impossible: they would have known. They denied Dave’s claim that one of them had also been abused. One, abused by Langshaw, is now a successful entrepreneur who asked to remain anonymous. He said: ‘No, no, not in this world, no, no, never – Shuttleworth never did anything to me.’
This was nothing to the unravelling of the claims of another witness – ‘Jim’. He claimed he was assaulted one afternoon in the shower in a brutal attack which ended in buggery and lasted for 10 to 15 minutes. Finally, he said, he pushed Shuttleworth off him, banging his head against the shower door, and ran wrapped in a towel to the headmaster’s office.
But ‘Jim’ would have had to run 400 yards in full view of the road and passers-by who used Greystone Heath as a short cut – on his account, crying, screaming and bleeding from his anus. Unfortunately, the trial never heard crucial details of the evening shower routine which cast further doubt: the shower was open, with no door against which Shuttleworth could bang his head. The boys showered together in a tightly supervised regimen, with two staff patrolling. ‘There was never any stragglers,’ says Lee Fielding, once ‘Jim’s’ best friend.
Confronted by Panorama with these discrepancies, Jim changed his story: the attack, he said, lasted only ‘a matter of seconds’; and he was no longer sure whether he had been penetrated. His one-time friend Lee then asked how he could have left the building, because the doors were always locked. ‘Jim’ claimed he jumped from a first-floor window – a detail he never mentioned before. Last week we went back to Greystone Heath and found – as Lee had told us – that the windows were restrained by metal brackets, and could not open more than three inches. ‘Oh, aye,’ ‘Jim’ said. ‘I was skinny in them days.’ Our inquiries found problems with the evidence of all the witnesses. The more we checked it, the more it fell apart.
Some of this fresh evidence was available when Shuttleworth applied for leave to appeal in 1999. The most dramatic example was the story of ‘Tony,’ who claimed Shuttleworth bent him over his bed and started to bugger him, and that he screamed and bit Shuttleworth’s finger so hard he fell to the floor in agony. He claimed that another care worker, Phil Fiddler, was drawn by the commotion and was told by Shuttleworth (with trousers, presumably, at half-mast) that ‘Tony’ had attacked him.
In 1997, ‘Tony’ gave evidence in Fiddler’s own trial. This time he claimed that Fiddler bent him over his bed and started to bugger him, and that he screamed and bit Fiddler’s finger so hard he fell to the floor in agony. Drawn by the commotion, he said another care worker, Ted Tipton, entered the room and Fiddler told him (with trousers, presumably, at half-mast) that ‘Tony’ had attacked him. Fiddler’s jury acquitted him of all charges. It was a carbon copy of the evidence against Shuttleworth. As Fiddler’s barrister told the court, he had to be lying. In tonight’s Panorama, another former Greystone resident who met ‘Tony’ in prison describes how he boasted that he was making false allegations for money, adding: ‘You should try it yourself.’
At about the same time as Fiddler’s trial, Shuttleworth’s solicitor, Chris Saltrese, traced ‘Paul’, the man whose claims had first triggered Operation Granite. He admitted he had fabricated his allegations against Shuttleworth, and agreed to consider making a statement saying so. However, after consulting his lawyer, he declined. He is still claiming compensation – although by the time of Shuttleworth’s trial, the police had decided not to call him as a witness. The reason, an internal police memo records, was that ‘doubts must be cast on his competence as a credible prosecution witness’.
Shuttleworth was refused leave to appeal. Last year Irene suffered a heart attack and died. Shuttleworth was allowed to throw a handful of earth on her coffin handcuffed to a prison officer.
‘My life is in fragments,’ he says. ‘I am in darkness. What those men’s lies have taken away can never be put back. All there is left is to clear my name.’
Panorama’s investigation, In the Name of the Children, is on BBC1 tonight at 10.15.
Since you’re here …
… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.
I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I’m happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information.Thomasine F-R.
If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure.