A personal perspective on FACT’s first ten years:
Who would have thought, amongst the 40 supporters of Basil Williams-Rigby attending their first meeting at Kensington Community Centre in Liverpool in November 1999, that the organisation they were about to create would still be alive and well ten years later – an organisation known as F.A.C.T., which has had such an impact on the lives of so many of its members.
Basil had been caught up in the grossly mis-named Operation Care and convicted in the August of that year. So, too, had Dave Jones, ex-Everton and then manager of Southampton who, because of his high profile, was attracting considerable press and media coverage. Police trawling was to produce a large number of complaints against 91 carers and teachers who had worked at St. George’s, Formby (later Clarence House), and David Jones’ appearance in court led to a demonstration by his many supporters, together with placards and even a slot on Sky News. That first meeting at the Community Centre gave voice to the outrage engendered by the injustices of trawling and the whole judicial procedure.
In 1998 Richard Webster had published “The Great Children’s Home Panic”, which was to prove an inspiration to many and, in particular, to Basil’s brother-in-law, Harry Fearns, who became F.A.C.T.’s first Chairman.
In December 1999, the Campaign on behalf of Victims of Operation Care (CVOC) met for a second time and twelve days later a further demonstration took place outside the court where Dave Jones was making another appearance. Again, there was much local press coverage and a TV slot, this time on ITV. Amongst the Fearns, Buckners, Lawsons, Hoskins, Jolleys, Mills and others was a particularly knowledgeable and battle-hardened campaigner, George Willamson of AAFAA, who had formed his support group for domestic cases in 1998 and published their first newsletter early the following year.
It was at the third meeting on 17 January 2000 that CVOC became F.A.C.T., the new name a brain-child of [name removed]. By then, barrister Mark Barlow and solicitor Chris Saltrese were on board; and Gwen Hurst of the Bryn Estyn Staff Support Team (BESST), which she had started with John Rayfield in 1992, and Gail Saunders, of the Friends of Derek Brushett (FODB), had been in touch. There was more publicity for F.A.C.T. when Dave Jones made his first appearance at Liverpool Crown Court, and campaign leaflets were distributed.
Events were unfolding at speed. On 15 February “Lost in Care” (The Waterhouse Report) was published, and Newsnight invited Chris Saltrese and Charlie Mills to take part. It was on that programme that Sir William Utting said: “It may be that innocent people are being convicted, but we ought to be more worried about the guilty who might get away”.
It was immediately after my own successful and remarkably quick Appeal on 20 March that Harry and Bernadette made contact and I attended my first F.A.C.T. meeting eleven days later – outraged by my own experience and appalled by the plight of many I had met in prison. Shortly afterwards, on 8 April, F.A.C.T. had its first Conference at De La Salle High School. It was here that Mark Barlow inspired us all by pointing out that we all had the ability to challenge, argue and petition. Indeed, it was our duty.
And so F.A.C.T. gradually began to spread its wings. Bev Brooks and Phil Sidebottom established a Yorkshire Group, and F.A.C.T. members began attending trials in Manchester, Liverpool, Grimsby and Chester. The second Conference on 15 July at St. Jerome’s in Formby was another important milestone in F.A.C.T.’s journey. Formby MP, Claire Curtis-Thomas, concerned by the number of allegations and arrests in her constituency, courageously identified herself with our cause.
The third Conference on 16 September welcomed David Wood’s much valued legal advice. November was a busy month: an AAFAA Conference, when journalist Simon Caldwell spoke and where we met the redoubtable Bill Thompson for the first time; our own Conference; a hard-hitting Panorama Special “In the Name of the Children” by David Rose and featuring Roy Shuttleworth; and, on 30 November, Dave Jones’ trial started amidst massive public interest. F.A.C.T. attended in numbers and took part in a most impressive silent walk through Liverpool. To great jubilation, on 5 December, the trial collapsed.
Also in December, we took part in the first Christmas Prison Vigil and, in the same month, the United Campaign Against False Allegtions of Abuse (UCAFAA) was formed: a powerful combination of different campaigning groups with a common cause – including F.A.C.T., AAFAA and the British False Memory Society (BFMS).
By early 2000, Claire Curtis-Thomas had arranged a meeting at Portcullis House where we were able to present our concerns to a sympathetic Baroness Shirley Williams and others. It was about this time that Richard Newsham took over as Chairman from Harry. We felt that F.A.C.T. was well and truly rolling.
On 21 April in Warrington, Simon Caldwell spoke on “Anonymity and the Presumption of Innocence” and Bill Thompson on “Erroneous Investigative Procedures”. At the following Conference at St.Anthony of Padua, we heard Kieron Reid on “Complaints Against the Police”, and Satish Sekar on “Appeals Procedure”. Bill Thompson presented the first of his five challenging and fiery “Historical Adult Allegations”. However, in September we experienced the first of many disappointments when the Catholic Church’s Nolan Report failed to reflect any of the concerns we had raised when we had given evidence to their committee. Still, the Campaign continued to gather momentum and F.A.C.T. played an important part in the UCAFAA Conference in London.
In October 2001, the first FACTion was published, with Phil Fiddler as the first editor. It was to play a vastly important part in the campaign. In the same month the inaugral meeting of the All Party Group for Abuse Investigations (APGAI) took place in Portcullis House and we were introduced to another sympathetic and courageous politican, Earl Howe.
There was also another Conference at St. Anthony’s, when we heard from Satish Sekar, Janet Boakes and Bob Woffinden. F.A.C.T. was gradually becoming more and more knowledgeable and consequently able to give better support to its members. By December, the Christmas Vigil had been extended to ten different prisons.
The year 2002 was, I suppose, the year of the Home Affairs Select Committee. As requested, we had sent in F.A.C.T.’s submission. By then Richard Newsham had stepped down as Chairman at the AGM and I had taken over.
At our annual Conference, Roger Scotford of the BFMS spoke on “The Memories of Child Abuse or the Abuse of Memories” and we heard from Pamela Radcliffe, and from Richard Webster on “Waterhouse – a betrayal of trust”.
In May, BESST became F.A.C.T. North Wales and FODB became F.A.C.T. South Wales. By then, F.A.C.T. North East was also up and running.
On 21 May, F.A.C.T. 3 FACT members appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee chaired by Chris Mullin MP. Between 14 May and 11 July many F.A.C.T. supporters gave evidence to the Committee; and certainly some who were not, especially Mr. Garsden (a solicitor specialising in compensation cases for victims of alleged abuse) who said: “As a result of effective campaigning by F.A.C.T. and AAFAA, more and more cases are being thrown out – and more and more defendants are being acquitted because of the fear of the abuse lobby”.
On 22 May, FACT gave evidence to the All Party Group.
Everything seemed something of an anti-climax after that, so the sad news of Daryl Gee’s death in his cell on 27 August brought us firmly down to earth. He would have been 56 a month later.
On 7th September we had our first Conference at Dinas Powys, organised by F.A.C.T. South Wales, and heard Rani Kaur speak on “Appeals Procedures”; and Richard Webster on “Corroboration by Volume”.
By this time, there was some concern that F.A.C.T. did not have the wider organisational ability to respond to requests which were becoming more and more diverse and challenging. In short, we were growing out of ourselves and needed greater National imput on the Committee. This triggered off considerable debate and no little opposition.
Meanwhile, however, we were hit by another tragedy : the death of Andy Shalders in his cell on 11 September.
F.A.C.T. always provides a yo-yo of emotions and the end of the year was proving no exception.
On 16/17 October Basil Willams-Rigby and Mike Lawson were at the Appeal Court. Annoyingly, judgement was reserved until after Christmas, but there was real hope….
A week later, some F.A.C.T. members attended the Ray Wyre Conference, distributed a great deal of literature and had the opportunity to question Sir Ronald Waterhouse.
At the end of the month the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recommendations were made public – and what hope they gave!
Another UCAFAA Conference on 9 November was followed by the annual Christmas Vigil in December.
In early 2003 a “Way Forward paper, was published and mostly elicited a favourable response, particularly from F.A.C.T. North Wales.
Meanwhile, we heard in February that Bill Thompson had been accused and suspended in the most extraordinary circumstances, and later that month, at the Conference on 22 February, we welcomed Claire Curtis-Thomas, who spoke about preparing for the Home Office response to the HASC recommendations.
On 14 March we celebrated another glorious milestone for F.A.C.T. : Basil Williams-Rigby and Mike Lawson were at last cleared at the Court of Appeal. Joy was unconfined (and I don’t mean the Joy we know and love, though she may have been!)
But we soon came down to earth with a bump: the truly awful news of Rani Kaur’s tragic death, followed by a disgraceful Government response to the HASC recommendations.
At our AGM in Warrington on 31 May, the Conference requested a Working Party to look into F.A.C.T.’s future constitution.
This was set up in June and reported back to the Dinas Powys Conference on 6 September. As a result a new National Committee was elected. In October, the Historical Abuse Appeals Panel (HAAP) was launched, spearheaded by Mark Barlow and Mark Newby; and a new North West Committee was elected.
By 2004, F.A.C.T. was forging ahead.
And then jubilation: Anver Sheikh was freed – the Prosecution case “holed below the water line”, but – ominously – a new trial was ordered.
Meanwhile, David Cameron had joined the All Party Group, not particularly relevant at the time, but possibly more significant now.
After all he had been on the Home Affairs Select Committee. At the same time Professor Zellick became the new chair of the CCRC, which was working closely with HAAP.
F.A.C.T. also made a submission to the Bichard Enquiry, following the Soham murders, whose report was to set back F.A.C.T.’s cause in no small way and which would lead to problems with CRB checks and the like – and much more besides.
The F.A.C.T. website was by now vastly improved, the finances in good order and new alliances were emerging. Then AAFAA closed down, which had membership consequences for F.A.C.T.
But still F.A.C.T. motored on. The Conference and AGM at Dinas Powys on 11 September concentrated on a broader overall strategy, a re-examination of F.A.C.T.’s methodology, promotion of academic research, and the Innocence Project. A new lobbying campaign was also launched.
At the end of the year F.A.C.T. members attended a Conference, organised by APGAI: “Abuse Investigations – Systemic Failure”.
Early in 2005 Anver Sheikh returned to court and was again found guilty. So much for the case being “holed below the water line”.
We were cheered up, however, by the March launching at Portcullis House of Richard Webster’s beautifully researched and immensely compelling “The Secret of Bryn Estyn”. Meanwhile, Margaret Jervis and George Willamson had been hard at work producing background research for the lobbying campaign, part of which eventually became “Operation Release – The Right of the Innocent to be Heard”. In October, Ian Argyle became the new treasurer.
Other developments included increased media cover: Teachers TV and Private Eye, for example. Indeed, many parts of the media were by now expressing our concerns. As Mark Barlow remarked recently, public perception has changed: “It’s all about money, i’nit?” (anonymous sage).
A Research Fund was suggested at about this time. A Cambridge University Research Project was proposed jointly by HAAP and F.A.C.T. In April 2006, Daryl Gee’s conviction was finally quoshed and we were able to celebrate with his wonderful mother, Molly, at the May Conference.
Meanwhile, George Willamson continued to crack the lobbying whip, urging support whenever and wherever possible, though ACPO’s reluctance to tolerate us in June was disappointing. On 9 September, at our Birmingham Conference, it was a particular pleasure to welcome John Easling, our generous benefactor, and Dale Dunlop of Nova Scotia fame.
A month later, Anver Sheikh won his appeal in a landmark judgement, and justice was finally done.
In January 2007 George Jensen published his “Parole Matters”, and George Williamson’s ‘National Awakening Day’ proved popular. He was also keen to lobby not only the respective Parliaments and Assemblies but also, as he put it, other symbols of our concern.
By now F.A.C.T.’s role was evolving and becoming clearer: on one hand, it was providing a wealth of advice, help and emotional support, and on the other, it was campaigning to have innocent prisoners released, with convictions quashed and names removed from the Sex Offenders Register, and to bring an end to false allegations and wrongful convictions.
At the same time, the investigative focus was moving from children’s homes, residential and non-residential schools to welfare and community based services. The challenge was increasing.
And then some more sadness in the North. The new North West Committee had been ably led by Laurie Sutcliffe, so it was a considerable shock to learn of the death of this wise and kind man on 9 July.
On the other side of the world, Tom Easling was on trial, whilst back in England, at our October Conference, we heard Hermann Kelly telling Kathy’s Real Story, a forensic dismantling of an accuser’s false allegations; and hoped it would gain maximum publicity.
We had been concerned by George Willamson’s poor health after the Spring Conference. This deteriorated further throughout the summer and, on 13 November, he died. Many F.A.C.T. members attended his funeral on 19 November in Yorkshire.
To say that we miss George is an understatement; not only his crusading zeal and sheer hard work, but George as a man: funny, quirky, passionate, stubborn and occasionally infuriating, but always a loyal, true friend to F.A.C.T.
But Joy’s Christmas Gathering and Candlelit Vigil reminded us of those who had been unjustly accused and convicted, and who were languishing in prison.
With the New Year, 2008, came the hysteria surrounding the so-called discoveries in Jersey, stoked by the usual media exaggeration.
At our Spring Conference in April, Sir Roger Singleton and Adrian McAllister gave us details of the new Independent Safeguarding Authority.
Our sceptical response was soon justified in June by a report that 11.3 million people would now need to be vetted by the ISA, under the new requirements. No surprise there, then. And it wasn’t long before further reports revealed a large number of CRB errors on their database. The misery caused cannot be quantified.
Meanwhile Jim Hepburn was taking up some of the lobbying work, and Iris Jensen was appointed Correspondence Secretary.
There was more sadness for F.A.C.T. in June, when we heard that Harry Dickson had died, and then Norman Owen in July : both loyal F.A.C.T. members, who are greatly missed.
I look back on my time with F.A.C.T., from that first meeting on 31 March 2000 to today – the 10th Anniversary Conference – with a great deal of gratitude for the opportunity to work with some wonderful people, many of whom have become friends. Together, we have seen F.A.C.T. develop from a local campaign group, focused on righting the injustice which had come into their lives, to a National – even International – Organisation responding to the needs of so many falsely accused and their families; and fighting for justice alongside enlightened lawyers, politicians, journalists, writers and fellow campaigners to eliminate this gross injustice in our society, which makes all of us vulnerable adults. We have demonstrated over the years that, unlike Sir William Utting, we are just as worried about the innocent people who are being convicted as the guilty who might get away.
This is an edited version of a talk given in October 2009 to celebrate FACT’s ten years of being in existence.