Welsh Couple Accused of Child Abuse To Sue
A couple wrongly accused of child abuse are planning to sue Newport City Council after their three children were put into care for two years. A court judgement on Tuesday cleared Gina and Tim Williams of failing to protect their children from sex abuse.
The council has apologised to the family but said it acted in good faith given the strength of the evidence.
The outcome of the case has prompted calls for an overhaul of the British system for investigating similar cases.
Cardiff Civil Justice Court heard how the family’s ordeal began in May 2004 when Mr Williams went upstairs to see an 11-year-old boy lying on top of his five-year-old daughter. Both had no clothes on their bottom halves.
The police were called and the Williams children were put into care after a medical examination in found evidence that one of their children had been abused.
But the case against them collapsed after Dr Astrid Heppenstall-Hegar, a leading US-based child sex abuse expert, said there was no evidence of abuse.
In light of this, the council asked for the case to be dropped and the children be returned to their parents.
However, Judge Crispin Masterman said he had decided continued with the case to “publicly exonerate those on whom suspicion had unfairly rested” and to find out why the initial diagnoses was wrong.
He criticised British medical procedures, and called for them to be altered.
He said Dr Heger, the American expert, believed “the UK should either be giving more weight to the US evidence or doing research of its own”.
Speaking after the hearing, she said: “I certainly think it (the UK) needs to step back and re-examine where they put the emphasis, and their efforts to protect children, and certainly the emphasis cannot be in just looking at a medical exam as the definitive reason for removing children form the care of their parents.”
Judge Crispin also criticised the local authority for failing to follow recommended procedures.
Mr Williams said the way the family was treated was terrible, and was considering taking civil action against the council.
He said: “They didn’t keep us in the picture, they would have meetings without us being invited and they would make decisions without telling us.
“There’s got to be changes in the way they do their job.”
The Williams’ barrister, Robin Tolson QC, said the outcome of their case could “affect many families who have been victims of the same kind of misdiagnosis”.
“This case is not about the failings of one local authority or one doctor, although serious failings there were,” he said.
“This case is about a set of nationally applied diagnostic criteria… They should be reconsidered by the medical powers that be immediately so that the same mistakes are not repeated.”
In a statement, Newport Council said the judge concluded that they “acted in good faith given the strength of the evidence presented to it from three medical specialists”.
It continued: “The local authority deeply regrets the removal of these children from their parents and home and we are already carrying out a full and detailed internal review to ensure that any lessons can be learned and fully taken on board.”