Cleveland child abuse scandal
The Cleveland child abuse scandal was a 1987 wave of suspected child sexual abuse cases, many of which were later discredited, in Cleveland, England.
At this time, the administrative county of Cleveland, established in 1974 from parts of Yorkshire and County Durham in the Teesside area, included four main towns: Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Redcar. It ceased to exist in 1996.
In the years prior to the scandal, levels of reported child abuse in the Cleveland area were consistent with those of other parts of the United Kingdom. However, in 1987, during the period of February to July, many children living in Cleveland were removed from their homes by social service agencies and diagnosed as sexually abused. The 121 diagnoses were made by two paediatricians at a Middlesbrough hospital, Marietta Higgs and Geoffrey Wyatt, using the later-discredited diagnostic of reflex anal dilation. When there were not enough foster homes in which to place the allegedly abused children, social services began to house the children in a ward at the local hospital.
Later, the test being used to establish child abuse was contested by the area police surgeon, and cooperation between the social workers, police and hospital doctors involved in diagnosis began to disintegrate. In addition, there was public concern regarding the practices being used by the local social service agency, such as the removal of children from their homes in the middle of the night. In May 1987, parents marched from the hospital where their children were being held to the local newspaper. The resulting media coverage caused the social service agency's practices to receive public scrutiny and criticism. In response, the Butler-Sloss report was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Social Services in July 1987 and published in 1988.
The report was led by Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and it concluded that most of the diagnoses were incorrect. As a result, 94 of the 121 children were returned to their homes. An editorial in The Lancet concluded: "The kindest description of Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt would be to say that they were naive, but naivety should not number among a consultant paediatrician's characteristics. By their bull-headed approach, Dr Higgs and Dr Wyatt... have set back the cause they sought to promote." In July 1988, six MPs tabled a House of Commons motion for charges of indecent assault and conspiracy to be brought against Higgs and Wyatt.
In 1997, a controversial television documentary, The Death of Childhood, claimed that "independent experts under the guidance of the Department of Health later found that at least 70 per cent of the diagnoses" were correct. According to the documentary, two years after the scandal a number of children were again referred to social services and determined to be at risk for child abuse.
In February 2007, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, who was the regional medical officer at the time of the scandal, said of the original diagnoses: "The techniques that have been used have not been reliable and it does look as if some mistakes have been made." A few days later, two of the children who had been the focus of the scandal asked the Middlesbrough police for an investigation of their 1987 experience. Lindsey Wise said: "My mother and father were accused of an unspeakable offence. It has almost destroyed their lives. My father was never strong enough to work again. My mother can never forget the trauma of nearly losing her children. Now I want answers. I want an apology. I will not be silenced." Her sister Paula said: "We were abused by the very people - the doctors and social workers - there to protect children. We were put up for adoption. Now we want to know why."
- Charles, Pragnell. "The Cleveland Sexual Abuse Scandal". Children Webmag. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
- "20 years on from the Cleveland Child Sex Abuse Scandal". GazetteLive. 8 July 2008.
- Staff writer, The Cleveland Report digest by Robert Shaw, Children Webmag 2011, accessed July 17, 2014
- "Cleveland doctors defended". The Times. London. 15 July 1988.
- Pragnall, Charles (December 13, 2014). "Torn from their mothers' arms What are social workers for? Charles Pragnell considers some disturbing cases". The Independent. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
- "Cleveland abuse children 'were sexually assaulted'". The Observer. London. 25 May 1997. p. 8.
- Streeter, Michael (May 26, 1997). "Child abuse scandal resurfaces". The Independent. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
- "The world's eyes were on Teesside". Evening Gazette. Middlesbrough. 8 July 2008. p. 10.
- Staff Writer (February 24, 2007). "The women who went through an ordeal beyond belief". Daily Mail. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
- Bell, Stuart (1988). When Salem Came to the Boro, The True Story of the Cleveland Child Abuse Crisis