Choose format 

Related topics

GMC and Lazaro: the toothless watchdog bites again: May 2005

Shieldfield news and links

The Cosgrove letter

How our demons fuel witch-hunts

A global village rumour

Crusade or witch-hunt?

Do you care to go to jail?

Care goes on trial

What the BBC did not tell us

Crusade or witch-hunt?

Do you care to go to jail?

End this cruel injustice

The new injustices

Similar fact evidence

Trawling goes on trial

External links

The Nottingham JET report

Byron Rogers on the Pembroke case (scroll down page)

Byron Rogers on the Pembroke case again

Philip Jenkins's review of Satan's Silence by Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker

Alexander Cockburn on the significance of Satan's Silence

Katha Pollitt's review of Satan's Silence (scroll down page)

Witch-hunt links

Modern witchhunts

Cleared: the story of Shieldfield



The Guardian             

31 July 2002 (G2)


Click here for images of the original Guardian storyEight years ago Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie were cleared in court of molesting children at the nursery where they worked. But the accusations continued - in newspapers and in a report commissioned by Newcastle city council - and they had to disappear, afraid for their lives. Journalist Bob Woffinden and writer Richard Webster tracked the pair down to where they were hiding and helped them to find barristers who would work on a no-win no-fee basis. Yesterday they won a historic libel victory. This is their story. For original newspaper story click on the photograph.


IN NOVEMBER 1998, when the report of an inquiry into allegations of multiple abuse at a council-run nursery was published, no one questioned its authority.

The report, written by three social workers and a psychologist, was the most sensational in the history of British child protection. It led to front-page headlines in practically every national newspaper. “Some depths of human depravity simply defy belief”, said the Daily Mail. “Children as young as two were repeatedly molested by staff and … supplied to paedophiles for filmed sex sessions … In scenes of almost unimaginable horror, rapist paedophiles dressed as clowns or animals slashed terrified toddlers with knives”.

The report’s authors had been asked to examine complaints by parents that two trained nursery nurses, Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie, who worked together at Shieldfield nursery, had sexually and physically abused a large number of very young children in their care. Although Reed and Lillie had previously been acquitted in a criminal trial, the inquiry concluded that they were guilty not only of carrying out horrific acts of abuse themselves but also of supplying children to a paedophile ring whose members had raped and abused their young victims, and used them in the making of child pornography.

Esther Rantzen put out a press release. “At ChildLine, we have followed this tragic case from the beginning,” she wrote. “This is one of the worst cases of mass child abuse ever seen in this country.” Later, in the Daily Express, Beatrix Campbell told her readers that the “stringent” inquiry had found “persuasive evidence of sadistic and sexual abuse of up to 350 children”.

In May 1999, Shieldfield was one of the main topics at a major ChildLine conference, chaired by Cherie Blair and featuring as speakers Hillary Clinton and Jack Straw, then the home secretary. A panel discussing “How child witnesses can be better served by the court system” included both David Calvert-Smith, director of public prosecutions, and Clare Routledge, solicitor for the families of the Shieldfield children.

Just for once, everyone who wielded power and influence – the government, parliament, the media, leading charities – appeared in complete accord about what had happened and what needed to be done.

The overwhelming presumption, reflected in leaders in both the broadsheet and tabloid press, was that the criminal justice system had betrayed the young “victims”, because it was not properly equipped to assess the evidence of very young children.

The consensus which grew from the report soon had real political consequences. Two acts of parliament, the Protection of Children Act (1999), and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act (1999), were partly shaped by the Shieldfield story. The first of these two acts was introduced as a private member’s bill by Debra Shipley, the MP for Stourbridge, and sought to prevent anyone who was at any time alleged to have harmed children from ever working with them again. Although described by the Observer as “draconian” the bill was given government backing and passed into law with rare speed.

Shortly afterwards, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act was passed. For the first time children would now be allowed to give all their evidence, including that under cross-examination, on pre-recorded video. Even more remarkably children would be allowed to give evidence via an intermediary. Ironically, many of the key proposals of the latter act only came into force last Wednesday.

AS SUCH LEGISLATION was drafted no one, it seemed, had paused to consider the possibility that the court had been right all along and that Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie were indeed innocent. The Sun had been so convinced of their guilt that it made a direct appeal to its readers:


       Do you know where perverts Lillie and Reed are now? Phone us 
       on  0161 935 5315 or 0171 782 4105. Don’t worry about the cost
       - we will call you straight back.

The inquiry team knew the consequences their report might have for Reed and Lillie. The police had told them that there were those “still walking around” in Newcastle “who are going to kill these people”. But no attempt was made to warn them that the city council was about to publish a report which would put their lives in danger.

Dawn Reed, who was living with her husband Mark, was working in a mini-cab office when she first learned of the report’s publication from newspaper headlines. Chris Lillie, whose girl-friend Lorraine was also named in the report, was working as a chef. He found out when he bought a copy of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle: “There was a photo of me and Dawn on the front page. I just couldn’t believe it.” Both of them fled Newcastle. For the first time in living memory, two people found not guilty in a British court of law had become fugitives, living in fear of the lynch mob.

It was at this point that we decided to investigate. We had known about the case for some time. We knew about the acquittals, and, partly because we found the story as related in the press inherently implausible, we obtained a copy of the report. This raised further doubts.

We therefore set out to find Reed and Lillie. Eventually a trail which started in Newcastle, where we interviewed a number of the story’s protagonists, led to a secret rendezvous in Kent. Here we met Dawn Reed and her husband Mark. Hollow-faced with anxiety and quite literally shaking with fear, Dawn told us her story.

A week later, in a coastal town in the north of England, we met Chris Lillie, who told us how each day he would scan the national newspapers to check whether they carried any pictures of him. Only then did he dare walk through the streets, looking over his shoulder as he did so. He was afraid that if he returned to Newcastle, he would be killed.

By this time we had already interviewed Jane Wilson, the mother who, five years earlier, had made the first allegation. Her story, full of inconsistencies and related with a disturbing degree of self-dramatisation, had immediately reinforced our doubts.

Our task now was to examine the documents in the case and attempt to piece together the entire process whereby a single unreliable allegation made by one mother had led by degrees to a criminal trial involving six children, a report which reversed the verdict in the trial, and the subsequent claim that as many as 350 children might have been abused.

WE SPENT MONTHS ON the task. We used solicitors’ notes to reconstruct the video interviews of the children and found that children had been coerced into making implausible allegations through an unrelenting series of leading questions. We discovered inconsistencies in the records kept by social workers and police officers. We also looked at the role played by the consultant paediatrician at the centre of the case, Dr Camille Lazaro.

We took her reports to three independent medical experts. They raised serious doubts about her findings. They expressed surprise that, in a case as important as this, there was no photographic evidence and had been no joint examinations. From their analysis of the medical findings it became clear that there was in fact no objective medical evidence at all. There was only Dr Lazaro’s subjective account of what she said she had observed. The more closely we examined Dr Lazaro’s role, the more disturbing the case became.

At this stage the main outline of the story was already clear. It had all begun when Jane Wilson had become anxious about her 2½-year-old son Stephen. On 11 April 1993, Easter Sunday, she went to her local police station to make a complaint.

She had not previously expressed any concerns about the nursery. But a few days earlier the local press had begun reporting the case of Jason Dabbs, a young student who had pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting children at another Newcastle nursery.

Mrs Wilson now told the police that Stephen had been distressed when Chris, the only male nursery nurse at Shieldfield, approached him. According to the police record, she went on to say that her son had ‘indicated’ that Chris ‘had been touching him in the genital area’. Two days later a social worker checked this version of events with Mrs Wilson who confirmed that the child ‘had pointed to his penis’.

By the following day, however, when a case conference was held, the documents suggest that the mother’s story had changed. The initial account of  a child silently pointing to his penis was transformed into a verbal complaint supposedly made by the child about his bottom.

On the day after the case conference Stephen was examined by a consultant paediatrician. There was nothing to indicate abuse. The following morning, police and social workers conducted a video interview with the child. At one point, asked directly if Chris had ever hurt him, he replied “No, he hasn’t”.

However, because of the seriousness of the complaint, and because of the anxiety generated by the Dabbs case, Lillie was immediately suspended.

In the days and weeks following this initial incident, Mrs Wilson progressively enlarged her complaint. She suggested that her son had been taken to houses with black doors and abused there by strangers, and that Dawn Reed was also involved. Despite being told not to discuss her allegation, Mrs Wilson told another parent, Sandra Beech, of her concerns.

On Friday 7 May, Newcastle social services took a crucial decision. Instead of re-instating Lillie it held a meeting for Shieldfield parents. Social workers told parents that a member of staff had been suspended after an allegation of abuse. John Beech, Sandra’s husband, went round to Lillie’s flat. “I hit him a few times”, he later told Tyne-Tees TV.

At this point Mrs Wilson began to make suggestions about Dawn Reed, claiming that her son was now saying that she had smacked him and sworn at him. On 12 May, Reed, too, was suspended.

Mrs Wilson now gave an interview to the local press, saying her son had undergone “a complete personality change”. Her allegations had set in motion a train of events it was all but impossible to halt.

THE PANIC GRADUALLY SPREAD as parents were encouraged to treat day-to-day problems – such as bedwetting, nightmares, or ‘clingy’ behaviour – as being potentially symptomatic of abuse. Beech told the nursery manager that he believed there was a paedophile ring which involved the abuse of Shieldfield children.

By now a number of parents were becoming deeply anxious about their children. The earliest interviews, however, drew a blank. On 22 June two-year-old Laura Seaton was interviewed at the NSPCC video suite in Newcastle. She said nothing that could be construed as a sexual allegation. Five weeks later, however, she was interviewed again. She began by saying “Chris done something naughty again”. This was in spite of the fact that she had had no conceivable contact with Chris Lillie since leaving Shieldfield on 5 February 1993, almost six months earlier.

The police interviewer was unable to elicit any coherent allegation from the child. However, towards the end of the interview, Laura’s mother entered the room with a friend and asked a series of leading questions. Laura then assented to the suggestion that Lillie had inserted “all his fingers” into her vagina. The allegation defied both medical possibility and common sense, but Laura was profusely praised and the interview concluded.

John and Sandra Beech’s daughter, Sharon, was interviewed on 12 July, some nine months after she had left the Red Room in November 1992. Eventually, the interviewers got her to say that “Chris” had hurt her. Asked what he used to hurt her, Sharon looked directly at some crayons lying on the table in front of her. She then said, “He was using a crayon”,  picked one up and pointed it towards her crutch.

Asked another leading question, Sharon said that Dawn had been present. “She gonna get locked up a’well, ‘cos she did tickle me a’ well”. Asked where Dawn had tickled her, Sharon pointed to her bottom. Although she was asked several times who Dawn was, she was unable to answer. Eventually she said “Dawn’s a silly girl”.

In the form that they had emerged,  the ‘allegations’ had no substance and were evidently a product of the investigation itself. Eight days later, however, Sharon was taken for a medical examination. Dr Camille Lazaro reported that her findings were “diagnostic of previous penetration through the hymen by an object”. Lillie and Reed were both arrested. The two nursery nurses, powerless to resist the black tide of rumour and allegations spreading through the nursery, were remanded into custody. Reed was sent to Low Newton Remand Centre and Lillie to Durham prison.

So insubstantial was the case against them that they hoped to be given bail. However, on 15 September, another mother, Karen Rogers, asked why no one had seen her about her daughter, four-year-old Tracy. Even though it was 14 months since Tracy had attended Shieldfield, social workers immediately visited Mrs Rogers at home. They advised her how to question her daughter, suggesting that it would help if she encouraged the child to draw pictures of naked bodies and include the genitals.

The very next day Mrs Rogers reported that Tracy “started to say things about Shieldfield”.

However, when the child was interviewed at the NSPCC video suite on 4 October, she  proclaimed Reed’s innocence and made no allegation that Chris had harmed her.

Tracy was interviewed a second, and then a third time. The third interview stopped when Tracy herself, tired of being cajoled by her mother, the police and social workers, walked out, saying, “Howway, Mum, let’s go home”. But after a mysterious 13-minute break, the interview was resumed.  After prompting, Tracy made an allegation of rape. Later, she said, “That’s the bit I had to tell you”.

On the same day, 22 October, Dr Lazaro, who had examined the child two weeks earlier, made a statement for police that Tracy had a complete transection of the hymen. This appeared to confirm the allegation.

ALL THIS TIME DAWN REED was in the hospital wing of the remand centre for her own safety. She had suffered repeatedly from tension headaches. On one occasion she had vomited from stress. Some days she barely ate at all. But she fixed her thoughts on being granted bail. On 13 October 1993 she wrote: “I’ve decided to keep a diary when I get out. There are 120 sheets but I’ll need them all, as my life is going to go on and on. I’m only 22 and it’s all out there waiting for me, some day soon. I can beat this. I know I can as I am innocent.’

Lillie had been segregated for his own protection in Durham prison but he had still been hissed at, called a ‘nonce’ and assaulted with a metal tray until blood streamed from his face.

On 22 October they were both successful in their bail applications. As they walked to freedom, however, police officers were waiting to re-arrest them for allegedly assaulting Tracy. They were returned to prison.

Gradually police and social workers collected allegations from numerous children, four of whom would eventually join Sharon and Tracy to form the basis of the criminal  prosecution.

The allegations against Reed and Lillie were nearly all based on fragmentary remarks made by children who had been anxiously questioned by their parents. The children had then been interviewed by social workers and police officers who were evidently committed from the outset to the idea that abuse had taken place. When the children said something that could be construed as evidence of sexual abuse, they were praised, rewarded and enthusiastically believed; when they said that nobody had hurt them, or proclaimed the innocence either of Reed or Lillie, they were disbelieved or ignored.

In the atmosphere of anxiety which had been generated by the Jason Dabbs affair and in an attempt to protect its own reputation, Newcastle social services insisted on holding disciplinary hearings in advance of the trial. Without access to any of the vital documents (including the video interviews) they relied on second- and third-hand hearsay evidence provided by social workers. Both nursery nurses were found guilty and dismissed.

Now, demonised as members of a sinister paedophile ring who abused children behind black doors, Reed and Lillie became the evil protagonists in a mythology whose grip became stronger as it grew more fantastic, commanding belief not only from parents but from social workers, local councillors, paediatricians and therapists.

The myth was so powerful it survived the criminal case. Having examined Tracy’s video evidence in detail, Mr Justice Holland had concluded that the evidence was so weak that it should not even be put before a jury. When the not-guilty verdicts were announced a near-riot took place in the courtroom, with cries from the parents of ‘Hang them!’. That same day, 14 July 1994, Tony Flynn, acting leader of Newcastle city council, stood before the television cameras and said: “We do believe that abuse has taken place … we have dismissed the employees and rejected their appeals and there is no question of us or anyone else employing these people again.”

Under pressure from distressed and angry parents who had been led by the council itself to believe that their children had been abused, Newcastle city council commissioned an independent report from a review team consisting of Dr Richard Barker, a lecturer in social work at the University of Northumbria, independent social worker Judith Jones, psychologist Jacqui Saradjian and retired director of social services, Roy Wardell. They would receive £360,000 between them for their work.

Although Reed and Lillie were advised by lawyers not to give evidence to the inquiry, and were not legally represented at it, the review team had no hesitation in finding them guilty of some of the most horrific criminal acts it is possible to imagine.

The publication of the report had led newspapers to believe that they could say anything about the two nursery nurses, At one point the Newcastle Evening Chronicle quoted a Shieldfield mother as saying of Reed: ‘She tortured my son and to be honest I would trust Myra Hindley with my children more than I would her.’

Chris and Dawn had only one possible remedy: to sue for libel. We brought them to London (it was the first time they had met in over five years) and introduced them to leading lawyer Geoffrey Bindman. He in turn took the case to Adrienne Page QC. Having read our 200-page analysis of the case, she agreed to act on a conditional fee basis. When Bindmans had reluctantly to withdraw because of a conflict of interest, their place was taken by solicitor Richard Osborne of the Devon-based firm S. J. Cornish.  For two years Adrienne Page, barrister Adam Speker and a team of solicitors worked for Lillie and Reed without the certain prospect of receiving any fee at all.

The action was taken against Newcastle city council, the four members of the review team and the local Evening Chronicle. It was decided not to sue the national media; this was always going to be a David versus Goliath action, so it seemed prudent not to take on everyone.

The case began on 11 January this year. It was to become the longest, the most expensive and the most important libel case ever fought in the British courts on a no-win, no-fee basis. It was only as a result of the six-month trial, and the avalanche of new documents that had to be disclosed, that the full story of Shieldfield emerged. It was a story even more disturbing than we had suspected.

Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie each spent five days in the witness-box. Asked how low she had been in the weeks and months that followed publication of the report, Reed replied ‘Low enough to think my family would have an easier life without me . . . I would sit at the top of Marsden cliffs in my car with the engine running.’ She said she had lost the desire to have children, and explained that her husband Mark – who has never doubted her innocence and who had supported her throughout the first five years of her ordeal – was unable to take the pressure and eventually left her.

Lillie told the court of how he had spent eighteen months unemployed and depressed in a strange town, before finally overcoming his anxiety about applying for a job. Lorraine also gave evidence. “I love Chris,” she told the court, “I loved him then and I still love him now.” She went on to say that if she had ever had any doubt or any suspicion that he might hurt a child, then as much as she loved him, she would not have stayed with him.

At the heart of the trial lay the conduct of the review team and the manner in which they had made their extraordinary findings. Just before the trial started the city council disclosed a letter which made it clear that they were aware almost from the beginning that the report was deeply flawed. Soon after it had been published Tom Dervin, the director of social services, had written privately to three senior council executives. “In the context of equivalent major enquiry reports, this to me is without exception the worst I have read. I mean the worst in terms of quality of information, consistency, judgement, evaluation, etc.”

After citing this letter Adrienne Page submitted that the conclusions of Richard Barker and his colleagues were “completely divorced from reality and common sense”, and had only been reached “after a process from which the most elementary notions of natural justice, fairness and impartiality were absent”.  The case against the review team went further than this, however. The key question was whether the review team, in compiling their report, had been so driven by their determination to find Reed and Lillie guilty that they dishonestly concealed or misrepresented evidence which pointed to their innocence.

One of the most disturbing instances of this was manner in which the report dealt with the judgment of  Mr Justice Holland at the criminal trial. He had made it clear that one of the main reasons for the not-guilty verdicts was that in two video interviews four-year-old Tracy, the key witness in the trial, had explicitly declared Reed’s innocence. Yet in their account of the judgment the review team made no reference to this fact.

at the criminal trial, Patrick Cosgrove QC, had been deeply disturbed by this omission. Soon after the publication of the report, he too had privately written a six-page letter to Newcastle city council in which he had characterised the report as dangerous and dishonest. Aidan Marron QC – the prosecution counsel in the criminal case – added a note saying that he wished to associate himself entirely with the contents of the letter.

Having asked whether the authors of the report had read Mr Justice Holland’s judgment, Cosgrove wrote: “If they have not done so, they have been grossly negligent; if they have read it, their conduct is disgraceful”. He wrote that in 22 years at the Bar, “I have never heard a High Court judge be so emphatic that the evidence pointed to someone’s innocence”. He continued: “Why have the report’s authors hidden that from their readers? Why have they deceived them into thinking otherwise? Why have they misled opinion formers and policy makers like the Council and Members of Parliament? Why have they fed the feeding frenzy of the tabloid press?”

Cross-examined about this omission, Richard Barker, who had recently been appointed to the Chair of Social Work at the University of Northumbria, invoked the report of a psychologist: ‘her interpretation … was that the child was saying the opposite of what she meant there’.

The suppression of Tracy’s insistence on Dawn’s innocence and the significance accorded to it by the judge was merely one example of the report’s dishonesty. Another concerned the quality of  the video interviews. The report recorded that ‘the Review Team saw the evidential videos made by the children. These would not support the view that questions were in any way leading.’

In reality it was sometimes difficult to find questions which were not leading. The psychologist Maggie Bruck of Johns Hopkins University gave evidence on behalf of Reed and Lillie. She said that the video interviews were “among the worst that I have encountered … extremely young and bewildered children were brought in and interrogated by interviewers [who] used the full array of suggestive techniques to elicit allegations of abuse When the children denied they had been abused, they were bombarded with more suggestions, they were scolded, threatened and bribed. When some children whimpered, moaned or begged the interviewers to end the questioning, the interviewers continued.”

The four members of the review team had, in other words, given a completely misleading account of the interviews. The explanation for this particular inversion of the truth came in the form of a document disclosed during the trial. This was the transcript of an interview with a senior police officer. It clearly indicated that, in order to gain access to the videos, the review team had entered into an understanding with the police: if they were allowed to see the videos they would refrain from criticising the interviewing techniques.

The claim made in the report that the videos ‘would not support the view that questions were in any way leading’ was a flagrant untruth. Barker himself, in the notes he made, had written that one video interview contained ‘some leading questions, very focused on getting answers.’  In her closing submission Adrienne Page suggested that the team’s conduct in doing a secret deal with the police ‘was dishonest and unforgivable’.

Cross-examined about these and other matters Professor Barker repeatedly gave answers which were evasive, misleading or less than truthful. Soon after he left the witness box the Evening Chronicle withdrew from the case entirely.

now relied on by the review team was psychologist Professor William Friedrich of the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota. In his report to the court, he wrote: “It is my clinical impression, based on a review of the documents and videotapes provided to me, that the majority of the evidence points to sexual abuse of these 28 children …The weight of the evidence indicates that the perpetrators were Lillie and Reed”.

Subsequently, it emerged that Friedrich had not, at this point, seen the video interviews; he had not even been provided with transcripts. When he did actually see the videos, he changed his views, and acknowledged the many flaws, such as the frequency of leading questions. It was with some restraint that Mr Justice Eady observed during the trial, “As things stand, Dr Friedrich’s report is not worth the paper on which it is written”.

The only witnesses on whom the review team could now seek to rely were the parents of the children. Yet, as parent after parent was ushered into the witness box, the evidence which emerged only strengthened Reed and Lillie’s case.

Most disturbingly of all, the parents’ testimony repeatedly returned to the role played by the consultant paediatrician at the centre of the Shieldfield story, Dr Camille Lazaro. She had admitted at the time that she had become emotionally involved in the case. Her fervent conviction that abuse had taken place had driven the entire investigation. Her views were highly influential, both on the other professionals involved – the police and social workers – and especially on the parents.

Again and again mothers who, in their quest for reassurance, had taken their child to be examined by Dr Lazaro, had come away convinced that their child had, after all, been abused at the nursery. Sometimes they were told that there were clear physical symptoms of abuse. On other occasions the ‘diagnosis’ was based purely on a hearsay account of the child’s behaviour.

During our own investigation one of the people we interviewed described Dr Lazaro as ‘a legend in her own imagination’ with ‘a penchant for playing God’. Now, her working methods and records were submitted to an unremitting scrutiny. The results were disquieting. For example, genital scarring in young girls is a very rare finding, but it was one that Lazaro recorded with such frequency that it put in doubt her competence to make accurate findings or interpretations.

Under cross-examination, she made a number of startling admissions. She agreed that she could not draw, and that her notes were an embarrassment and unreliable; she acknowledged contradictions between her diagrams, her notes, her reports and her police statements. When she pleaded carelessness, Mr Justice Eady said to her, “You did realise, I suppose, that it was quite possible that somebody was going to get a sentence of life imprisonment for these offences?”

The case of four-year-old Tracy, who had made the allegation of rape only after three video interviews, was the most disturbing of all. Dr Lazaro examined the child on 8 October and said she had found a partial tear in the hymen; however, normal variants are sometimes misinterpreted as partial tears. On 22 October, after Tracy had been cajoled into making the rape allegation, the police paid an urgent visit to Dr Lazaro. Without having seen the child in the meantime, she now produced a statement claiming that she had found a complete transection of the hymen. This finding was indeed consistent with the allegation freshly made by the child. But it was not consistent with the paediatrician’s own medical records.

In the witness box Dr Lazaro actually conceded that her reports on behalf of supposedly abused children to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board were “overstated and exaggerated”.

If Dr Lazaro’s conduct had been exceptional it would have been disturbing enough. But what is most troubling about the Shieldfield case is that the presentation of conclusions in a manner which was dishonest, misleading or in some other way less than truthful, sometimes seemed to be closer to the rule than to the exception.

end had been used to justify the means and what has been called ‘noble cause corruption’ had triumphed – or would have triumphed but for the libel trial. If it is the case that the more noble the cause, the more likely it is to engender dishonesty and deception on the part of normally honest citizens, then allegations of child sexual abuse may be particularly prone to lead to just the kind of untruthfulness which was repeatedly exposed in the trial.

Honesty, however, was not the only quality which frequently went missing during the Shieldfield case. The other quality notable by its absence was common sense.

Dawn and Chris were each in a stable relationship. They did not socialise outside work. Shieldfield was a busy, inner-city nursery. Parents arrived regularly to pick up or drop off children, staff were on shifts and students were present. Yet children were supposed to have been raped at unknown locations and to have suffered routine abuse of a kind which would have caused acute pain, perceptible injury and bleeding. All this was meant to have happened without any child making a spontaneous complaint and without any parent or member of staff noticing. The scenario was incredible. Yet it was this scenario that Professor Barker and his team chose to believe and publish to the world.

More than a decade after Cleveland, and the publication of the Butler-Sloss report which warned about the suspension of disbelief amongst professionals, and specifically pointed to “the complex forces which can affect judgment and action in dealing with emotionally powerful material”, all the same mistakes were repeated in the same part of the country.

Dawn and Chris were not the only victims of these mistakes. Many children who attended the nursery, although they were not abused, did suffer harm. Questioned and interrogated, subjected to intimate examinations and then re-examined, constantly reminded of traumatic incidents which had never happened, some Shieldfield children became anxious or withdrawn and began to exhibit disturbed behaviour. They were the victims not of a paedophile ring but of police officers, social workers, therapists and paediatricians, driven on by the best and most noble of intentions, but utterly blind, because of the nature of their training, to the terrible harm that zeal such as theirs can inflict.

Yesterday, after nine long years, Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie finally had their reputations, which were taken from them by this same zeal, restored by the court.

As they study the long judgment of Mr Justice Eady, they will inevitably reflect upon the past. But what they want most is to get on with their lives. Lillie plans to go back to his work as a chef and to live with Lorraine for the first time in almost four years. Reed recently embarked on a university degree and has received an award for being the best student of her year. She is studying law.


The names of parents and children have been changed. This is a longer version of the article which appeared in the G2 section of the Guardian on 31 July 2002. 


© Richard Webster, 2002