Saturday, 26 May 2007


NORTHUMBRIA Police has been blasted in Parliament for its handling of Operation Rose, a £5million investigation into sex abuse at children's homes across the North East. Experts told the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee that police probes into paedophile rings were like "witch-hunts" which ruined the lives of innocent people. During the five-year investigation, former teachers and care home staff from Sunderland were forced to endure harrowing court cases before being cleared of any allegations of sex abuse. Respected academic Richard Webster, who wrote the book The Great Children's Home Panic, said there were miscarriages of justice because the police were so desperate to track down paedophiles. Mr Webster said: "There is a temptation for the police to divert colossal resources into the pursuit of paedophile rings which don't necessarily exist. "Operation Rose was run by Northumbria Police but it collapsed a few months ago. During the operation, more than 20 people successfully defended themselves against abuse allegations at a trial. "Many, many more were put through hell on earth due to false allegations." Mr Webster added: "The operation started with a policeman publicly asserting the belief that there was a paedophile ring which simply did not exist." The Home Affairs Select Committee, led by Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin, is studying whether methods used by the police lead to frightening miscarriages of justice. The committee launched the probe amid concerns that ex-care home residents and school pupils were making false accusations of abuse. As part of Operation Rose, more than 200 people were investigated during the five-year probe- but only six convicted. Among those whose cases were dismissed were four male workers at the former Witherwack House residential home in Sunderland. They had denied child cruelty. The all-party panel of MPs heard evidence from investigative journalists David Rose and Bob Woofinden and Mr Webster. They criticised the controversial police method of "trawling" - contacting hundreds of ex-care home residents and pupils, asking if they recollect abuse. Statements with so-called victims were never taped, they said. The experts also claimed the lure of huge compensation payouts had encouraged people to concoct allegations. Mr Rose suggested miscarriages of justice could be avoided if compensation was scrapped for "victims" who could not prove they had been abused. And if police taped the statements of victims, the courts could be satisfied they had not been "led" to give evidence. He also suggested imposing a time limit on when people could make complaints - up to six years. The Home Affairs Select Committee said the three witnesses' evidence was "powerful and compelling

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