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Cleared: the story of Shieldfield

How our demons fuel witch-hunts

The evidence of Professor Barker

The question of malice

The Cosgrove letter

Shieldfield: how did it happen?

Crusade or witch-hunt?

Do you care to go to jail?

Care goes on trial

A global village rumour

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

Shieldfield news and links

THE JUDGMENT IN THE Shieldfield libel case was handed down on Tuesday 30 July 2002 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. At the end of a six-month trial, Newcastle nursery nurses Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie were completely cleared of the horrific allegations of abuse which had been made against them and awarded the maximum of £200,000 damages each. 

In the trial, which was unique in legal history, the court conducted one of the most thorough and detailed analyses of multiple sexual allegations that has ever been undertaken. Having considered each and every allegation relating to no fewer than 27 children, Mr Justice Eady rejected them all as being without foundation.

This was the second time that the case had come before the courts. Eight years ago the criminal case against Reed and Lillie had resulted in verdicts of 'not guilty'. But the accusations had continued and in 1998 a report commissioned by Newcastle city council claimed  that they had not only sexually abused the very young children in their care, but had also supplied them to a paedophile ring for filmed sex sessions. On the publication of this report Reed and Lillie went into hiding in different parts of the country, afraid for their lives.

The investigative journalist Bob Woffinden and I had known about the case for some time. We decided to track Reed and Lillie down. Having pieced together the story of how the allegations against them had emerged, we brought them to London and helped them to find lawyers who would fight their case on a no win, no-fee basis.

On the day after their historic libel victory, we told their story in the
Guardian A longer version of our article, ‘Cleared: the story of Shieldfield’, is available here.

The ending of the trial on Tuesday 30 July also received extensive news coverage, including a front page story in the
by Clare Dyer and a detailed report by Joshua Rozenberg in the Daily Telegraph.

The next day Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie gave a press conference in London which led to more coverage including a piece by Clare Dyer which described some of the fears which they still feel and their reaction to what has happened to them over
the last nine years.

The Times covered the press conference by suggesting in a headline that Dr Camille Lazaro, the paediatrician and the centre of the case, was to face the General Medical Council. As the
article itself conveyed, a formal complaint has yet to be made.

Natasha Walter's excellent article on Shieldfield appeared in the Independent under the title
The dangers of hysteria over child abuse. David Batty has an interesting piece in Guardian Society on the same day about the implications of the judgment for local authorities and social services departments. A very good article in the Spectator by Barnaby Jones places the Shieldfield case alongside events at Salem.
One of the most ill-informed responses to the judgment so far is an article by
Christian Wolmar in the Guardian on 1 August. Wolmar writes that because those being sued relied on qualified privilege as their main defence, the trial focused on the state of mind of the review team and not on what actually happened - or did not happen - at Shieldfield nursery.

Wolmar, who did not attend the trial, and who has evidently not read the judgment, is simply wrong on this point. The main defence put forward by the Review Team was justification: they argued that the allegations against the two nursery nurses were true. It was because of this that the larger part of the trial was given over to exploring in great detail the evidence relating to allegations made by no fewer than 27 children. It was on the basis of this examination that Mr Justice Eady found that all the allegations were untrue.  His judgment does not simply assert the innocence of Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie; it sings it. 

One antidote to Wolmar's account of the trial is a brief diary piece of the same date by the highly respected legal correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, Joshua Rozenberg. Describing the judgment handed down by Mr Justice Eady,  as ‘one of the most crushing ever’ in a libel trial,
Rozenberg writes that it shows ‘how a single judge trying a libel case can cut through conflicting accounts to establish the truth.’

These very points are made in a letter about Wolmar's article by Richard Osborne of  S.J.Cornish, the solicitor who represented the nursery nurses at the libel trial . The
Guardian letters page also carried a response from Professor Laurence Lustgarten and an account of how Brian Roycroft, Newcastle's former director of social services, had also suffered unjustly at the hands of the report.

While the Guardian was publishing these letters, on Saturday 3 August, the British Medical Journal carried an article by Clare Dyer focusing on the role played by the paediatrician at the centre of the case
Dr Camille San Lazaro. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that this article should have perpetuated one of the misunderstandings out of which the entire Shieldfield story grew - namely that Reed and Lillie had been acquitted at their criminal trial 'after a judge ruled that the children were too young to give evidence'. Something close to this view may have been a part of the judge's view but it was only a part (and perhaps the least important part) of a much more substantial ruling. One of the responses to the BMJ article attempts to make this point, but goes to the other extreme in doing so. The other response, from Dr Michael Innis, a pathologist from Australia, gives a salutary warning about just the kind of mindset which created the Shieldfield tragedy.

While the BMJ focused on the role of Dr Lazaro and how the Review Team 'clearly fell under her spell', Saturday's Daily Mail devoted a two-page spread to the case. Its coverage focused on the role of Judith Jones as a member of the Review Team and on the fact that, as the social worker at the centre of the Nottingham satanic abuse case in 1989, she had previously been severely criticised (along with her colleagues) by a Joint Enquiry Team (JET) made up of police officers and social workers.

The article in the Mail contained much extremely valuable material concerning Jones's role in the Nottingham case, and her extraordinary persistence in ignoring, or somehow incorporating, evidence which clearly contradicted her preferred version of events.

The Mail's main source was John Gwatkin, formerly Area Director of Social Services for Newark. Gwatkin was joint chairman of the Nottingham inquiry which investigated the claims of satanic abuse. He knew Judith Jones, who was at that time using her married name, Dawson, in her capacity as the leader of Team 4. This was a group of social workers who were investigating a case of multiple incest within an extended family in Broxtowe, Nottingham. This apparently genuine and disturbing case led to a number of convictions in the courts.

At a certain point in the investigation, however, Judith Jones's team became convinced that they had uncovered a satanic cult which practised not only child sexual abuse but also ritual sacrifice and murder. This fiercely held belief led eventually to a breakdown of the working relationship between social workers and the police, who had found no evidence of satanic involvement. The JET inquiry was set up in the summer of 1989 in an attempt to repair this relationship by investigating whether the claims relating to satanic abuse were true or false. 

The article went on to relay John Gwatkin's assessment of Judith Jones, made on the basis of the knowledge he gained during the inquiry:
‘“In my opinion,” he said, “she is totally unsuited to do this kind of work. As soon as we started our inquiry, we began to feel that she was totally ignoring any evidence that contradicted her preconceived ideas.

“For example, she believed a ten-year-old girl who said her stomach had been cut open in the front room of a council house. We learned that the girl had previously been in hospital for an appendix operation, and her surgeon was contacted. He identified his scar and told us the girl was otherwise untouched.

“When we informed Judith Dawson of this, she replied that satanists were clever people and would cut along the same scar so that it wouldn’t be noticed. We put this to the surgeon, who said it was medically impossible as scar tissue heals poorly. But when we told her what he had said, she was dismissive. She didn’t want to know and refused to accept it. It was quite astonishing.”

“Even more astonishing,” he says, “was some months later when he read an article about satanism by her in the New Statesman. She wrote about a girl who had described 'how she was laid on a table and had her stomach ritually cut open'.

“It was as though the evidence we had presented to her never existed,” says Mr Gwatkin . . . “It beggars belief that someone with such a closed mind should be appointed to sit on a panel investigating alleged child abuse at a nursery school in Newcastle.”

‘Retired Detective Superintendent Peter Coles, who was involved in ritual abuse investigations in Nottingham, also remembers Judith Dawson and her team – and a particular incident involving a child who had
, allegedly, been microwaved.

“I was slightly mischievous, and said to one of Judith’s team that I had checked this out and it couldn’t be right – because experts had told me if you did that, the baby’s eyes would explode and the door of the microwave would come off.

I was just kidding, but before long one of the team came back and said disclosures had now been made about babies’ eyes being taken out before they were microwaved. These claims were pure invention.”

One is surely entitled to recall these bizarre incidents,’ wrote the Mail,
in relation to the libel judge’s comments about claims of the Newcastle panel that they “must have known to be untrue”’

The Mail went on to relay John Gwatkin's view that Judith Jones's career was saved because the Joint Enquiry Team report was effectively suppressed by Nottinghamshire County Council. (The full report has never been published and the summary version only became generally available when it was put on the internet in 1997 as The Broxtowe Files. Although Nottinghamshire County Council made a further attempt to suppress this version of the report, they eventually dropped the high court action they had taken against John Gwatkin and the three journalists who had published it.)

As can be seen from these extracts, the Daily Mail article which appeared on Saturday, four days after the libel judgment, contained much material about Nottingham which was directly and disturbingly relevant to the approach which had been adopted by the Shieldfield Review Team almost a decade later. What the article also illustrated, however, was how easy it is for a newspaper to lessen or destroy the value of the information it seeks to impart by the manner in which it presents it.

As was indicated by the intrusive photograph chosen to illustrate it, one of  the targets of the article was Jones's relationship with her fellow-campaigner Bea Campbell. The overall effect of the article's anti-Marxist, anti-feminist, anti-gay and unjustifiably personal approach was to obscure the vital infomation it sought to impart beneath layers of  unpleasant, and deeply misogynistic prejudices. Printed beneath the bold, black headline THE WITCHFINDER, the article itself offered a disturbing example of the witch-hunting mentality at work.

On the same day, Saturday 3 August, a much more moderate (though not entirely accurate) version of the entire Shieldfield story appeared in France where
Libération ran a four-page article about the case written by its London correspondent.

The online news magazine Spiked carried
a well-aimed piece by Jennie Bristow which focused on the Review Team, commenting that 'while two young nursery workers can be pilloried for nine years on the basis of false allegations, there seems to have been remarkably little anger directed at those who brought the allegations.'

Meanwhile a report had appeared in Canada of a case which had interesting parallels with Shieldfield. On 1 August, two days after the Shieldfield judgment was handed down, journalist Margaret Wente filed a story about a police officer who had lived for ten years under the shadow of horrific allegations. These allegations had their origins in a panic which was triggered in 1992 when parents said that their  two-year old child had been sexually assaulted at the local babysitting service. It took ten years for John Popowich's nightmare to end.  This did not happen until last month, when he finally won an apology from the government and a $1.3-million settlement. "The most important part," he told
Margaret Wente, "was getting my name cleared."

On Sunday 4 August the Observer, in addition to running a
leader, carried an account of the Shieldfield case by David Rose based on an interview with Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie. This was accompanied by my article, How our demons fuel witch-hunts, in which I explored the nature of witch-hunts and attempted to place the case in a larger historical context. (For another historical perspective on nursery cases see my review of Jean La Fontaine's book on satanic abuse, A global village rumour.

The Sunday Telegraph ran Bob Woffinden's account of how
Our system of justice has been tarnished, and a news
article. It also carried a sensitive and revealing interview with Dawn and Chris by Olga Craig under the headline They bayed for our blood.

As well as giving interviews to the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph, Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie have been interviewed together on radio and television. The interview which Dawn gave to
Woman's Hour can, for the time being at least, be listened to online.

On Tuesday 6 August, reaction to the Shieldfield story continued in the national press.  Libby Purves’s characteristically lucid and trenchant comment piece opened with the following paragraph:

‘If you pay council tax in Newcastle upon Tyne, you have had an expensive week. You have paid £400,000 in libel damages over a bungled council attempt to blacken the names of two citizens previously acquitted in court. You have also paid about £4 million in legal costs to defend what a judge calls a “malicious” report, and you gave four “experts” £360,000 to write it. None of the team or those who commissioned them is being fined, charged or in any way punished.’

The full article,
Hysteria helps no one but the real paedophiles, repays reading.

The following day, in a letter to the Guardian, published under the title
True cost of a libel victory, Bob Woffinden drew attention to the fact that, because of the extraordinary circumstances of the case, Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie will each have to meet significant legal costs from their damages.

Also in the Guardian Rod Liddle, the editor of BBC Radio 4's Today
programme, explored the manner in which the apparent lifting of the taboo on homosexuality seems to have gone hand in hand with increased anxieties about paedophilia. Liddle's article, One taboo gone, another rears its head, cites Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie as 'people who will be able to attest to our latest consuming paranoia'.

Meanwhile in Nursery World, Frank Furedi, the author of Paranoid Parenting, examined the
culture of suspicion out of which the Shieldfield case (and many others) have grown.

In the edition of Private Eye which appeared on 9 August, the lead news story provided an interesting perspective on the case. It drew attention to the close parallels between what had happened to Reed and Lillie and
the fate of another Newcastle care worker - Paul Gillon - who had also suffered unjustly at the hands of Newcastle City Council and who has also recenly been vindicated.

On Saturday 10 August the story was taken up further afield and I was interviewed at length about the case by Radio New Zealand. The following day the Christchurch-based newspaper The Press published David Rose's article  which had originally appeared in the Observer. 

The main reason for the great interest shown in the story in New Zealand is to be found in the close parallels between the Shieldfield case and the case of Peter Ellis, a nursery worker who found himself facing a series of bizarre allegations in 1991-2. Unlike Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie, Ellis was actually convicted at his criminal trial and sentenced to ten years in prison. He continued to protest his innocence in prison, and gained strong support from many people who were convinced that he had been the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice.

The Ellis case remains a cause célèbre in New Zealand to this day, and it would seem that the judgment in the Shieldfield case may have helped to persuade some doubters that Ellis is indeed innocent as so many, including author Lynley Hood, have urged for so long

Meanwhile, back in Britain, Margaret Jervis, legal adviser to the British False Memory Society, added her extremely well-informed commentary in a piece which placed on record the role played by the BFMS in the early stages of the case. After examining some of the dangerous theories which drove the case onwards, she makes a recommendation which deserves to be given the widest possible circulation: 'Anyone involved in this field should read the full judgment; not only does it endorse sound theory and practice in child abuse investigations, but it calls for a return to the fundamental principles of natural justice, reason and humanity.'

The response of ACAL

One of the most revealing responses to the Shieldfield libel judgment has come from ACAL, the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers. This British organisation was founded in 1997 by fomer barrister Lee Moore in order to give support to those who allege they are victims of child sexual abuse and to lawyers who seek to help them. Although the aims of the society might seem to be entirely praise-worthy, there is sometimes a reluctance on the part of its leading members even to acknowledge the possibility that false allegations of sexual abuse are made and can have devastating consequences for people who are entirely innocent.

ACAL's press officer, Peter Garsden, is a partner in the Cheshire firm of Abney Garsden Macdonald, a firm of solicitors which specialises in seeking compensation on behalf of alleged victims of sexual abuse. He gave his views on the outcome of the libel trial to Jon Robins of Lawdirect, an online news service run by the leading legal publishers Butterworths.

One of the most striking features of
Garsden's response is that he expresses no sympathy at all for Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie and makes no reference to their nine-year ordeal. Instead he is said to be 'troubled' by the judgment and concerned that it may deter experts from participating in inquiries to unearth abuse.

The fitting rejoinder to such concerns is that of Professor Laurence Lustgarten on the
Guardian letters page in response to Christian Wolmar's similar views (see above). Mr Justice Eady's conclusion that the qualified privilege which would normally have protected the four authors was destroyed by their dishonesty in '[including] in their report a number of fundamental claims which they must have known to be untrue' is, we are told, not one that Garsden accepts: 'Just as you can say what you like in parliament why should there be an exception here?'

The only reasonable inference one may draw from these words is that Garsden believes that members of an inquiry team should be protected by the law even if they dishonestly conceal evidence which might point to the innocence of those accused, and even if, as in the Shieldfield case, such dishonesty plays a part in driving completely innocent citizens to the brink of suicide.

What is most extraordinary about the views Peter Garsden expresses is not so much the fact that he has voiced them but that a leading legal publisher should take them seriously and relay them to the world.

Garsden's views on the Shieldfield case are entirely in keeping with
the evidence he gave earlier this year to the House of Commons Select Committee during their inquiry into police trawling.

Although those of us who campaigned to bring this inquiry into existence have always acknowledge that sexual abuse in care homes is a real and serious problem, Garsden is evidently unable to recognise that there are two sides to the debate. He does concede that some witnesses may have exaggerated or even invented allegations of abuse. But he simultaneously makes the extraordinary claim that no one who has been convicted as a result 'is entirely blameless'. In an even more remarkable pronouncement he refers to those who are campaigning against miscarriages of justice on behalf of innocent care workers as belonging to 'the abuser lobby'.

The views Garsden has expressed both about Shieldfield and about trawling are also in keeping with the general position adopted by ACAL. This organisation, whose inaugural conference in 1999 was chaired by the journalist Christian Wolmar, presents itself as offering help and support to victims of child abuse. But its role is in practice rather different. It is in effect an organisation which provides help and support to those who make allegations of sexual abuse. In particular it supports claims made for financial compensation. It even offers to train witnesses in the art of giving evidence. Its general presumption appears to be that allegations of sexual abuse are always, or almost always, true.

This presumption is one which ACAL appears more than happy to extend not only to retrospective allegations made against care workers, but also to allegations of satanic ritual abuse. Indeed, as is acknowledged on
ACAL's own website, the founder of the organisation, barrister Lee Moore, actually believes that she is herself a victim of ritual abuse and that she 'experienced Satanic ritual abuse throughout childhood'.

An article about Moore which appeared in the Times Literary Supplement (29 January 1999) implied that she had no memories of the twelve years during which, from the age of three to the age of fifteeen, she had been brought up inside what she later identified as a satanic cult. 

According to the article her life during this period had been so traumatic that she had 'dissociated' herself from it. It was only after she had a nervous breakdown forty years later that she had, 'with the help of her psychiatrist, pieced together her life of fear growing up in an organised abuse ring' where she had been 'abused by carers, friends and acquaintances both male and female'.

Anyone who sincerely believes that they spent twelve years of their childhood being systematically abused inside a satanic cult, that they repressed the memory of this abuse and only recovered it forty years later with the help of a psychiatrist, deserves the utmost sympathy and understanding.

What is truly disturbing, however, is that this belief has become one of the foundation stones of a professional organisation of lawyers which is now acting as a pressure group on behalf of those who make allegations of abuse. 

Even more disturbing is that this organisation appears to be taken seriously not only by the publishers Butterworths, who have on occasion offered it sponsorship, but also by the Law Society itself.

The response in Newcastle

One of the most disquieting features of the Shieldfield case has been the response of the local press and the local media to the libel verdict. Whereas the national press gave the story wide and at times even massive coverage, the response of the press in Newcastle has been muted.

In the early stages the outcome of the trial did receive some coverage. On the day the judgment was handed down the front page of the Evening Chronicle carried the story on its front page under the large black headline 'INNOCENT'. Since the Evening Chronicle had itself been sued (and had settled a few weeks into the trial when it became clear that the case was likely to result in the vindication of Reed and Lillie), this headline was very welcome.

Yet, after only a few days, the local papers in Newcastle seemed increasingly to treat the story as an unwelcome intruder. On August 9, the Evening Chronicle carried
an article which made it clear that some families involved in the case had already received compensation from Newcastle City Council. It quoted Clare Routledge, of David Gray's solicitors in Newcastle, who has represented 41 families whose children attended the nursery, as saying 'The libel verdict was not unexpected. The parents are very upset. We piloted six test cases and the council has admitted it was negligent in the running of the nursery in those cases.' What the paper did not record was that Newcastle City Council had reached a settlement with some of the parents shortly before they were due to appear in the witness box to give evidence for the Council in the libel trial.

On the same page the paper published a statement in which the editor acknowledged the complete vindication of Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie but attempted to minimise its own role in disseminating the libel by pleading ignorance of the report's unreliability.  The editor's statement was reported sympathetically in 
the Press Gazette which repeated the claim made by the Chronicle that the initiative to settle the libel action had come from counsel representing the two nursery nurses. It also claimed that the Chronicle had settled after paying costs in the region of £60,000. Since the true figure was £650,000, and since it was the Chronicle itself which had first mooted the idea of a settlement, this was a serious misrepresentation of the facts.

Thereafter both the Evening Chronicle, and its sister paper, the Journal, appear to have deliberately ignored what should by rights have been the biggest local news story since the Poulson scandal of the 1970s. Whereas, in the wake of the publication of the report in 1998, the two papers had been strident and seemingly robust in their willingness to harry anyone who might be deeemed responsible for the alleged abuse, they now fell almost completely silent.

As if as a result of a carefully considered strategy, however, the story was not buried completely . Instead, the Sunday Sun, a down-market member of the same group of newspapers, went through the motions of pursuing it. On
25 August it reported that the role of paediatrician Camille Lazaro in the Shieldfield story was under investigation by the local health trust; it also raised questions about Professor Richard Barker, quoting a spokesman for the University of Northumbria, in Newcastle, as saying 'When Professor Barker was leading that panel he was employed by the Newcastle City Council. He was acting independently and was not in any way representing the university.'

On 1 September in a brief inside story headed
'Give it back', the Sunday Sun, reported the demand made by the campaigning group Action Against False Allegations of Abuse (AAFA) that Dr Lazaro should return the OBE she was awarded in 1999 for 'services in the care of sexually abused children'.

In the meantime the two main Newcastle local papers, the Chronicle and the Journal have preserved their virtual silence. Not only this but local television journalists working for both BBC and Tyne Tees Television have seemingly ignored the story.

So far as local coverage is concerned, it seems almost as though an iron curtain has been hung around the north east, in an attempt to limit the damage which might be caused to local reputations if the story was properly followed up. The effect has been  to prevent the people of Newcastle knowing the full truth about the actions which have been performed, and the millions of pounds which have been spent, in their name.

The real tragedy of this response is that the lessons which are contained in a detailed judgment on one of the most disastrous sexual abuse investigations there has ever been, seem likely, in Newcastle especially, to remain unlearned. 

The judgment and Newcastle City Council

Mr Justice Eady’s judgment is now available online at the court service website. Because of its length it has been divided into three parts. A link to each of these parts will be found here: 
(1)    (2)    (3).  The judge's own summary, which inevitably does not convey the detail and power of the full judgment, is the last section of the document. This summary, which is what Mr Justice Eady read out in court, can also be found on the Guardian website.

A file of key extracts from the judgment, including the reasons why the report of the inquiry team was found to be misleading and dishonest, will eventually appear on this site.

In a judgment which found that Newcastle City Council had been formally correct in their claim that the report was protected by qualified privilege, it is clearly no coincidence that Mr Justice Eady chose to end his summary, and his long judgment, by powerfully criticising the very public authority he had been obliged to release from judgment on a point of law:

'Although parents had been calling for a public inquiry in 1994, their legal advisers were pressing for procedures compliant with the principles of natural justice. That was clearly right, but the Council allowed the team to proceed as they thought fit, and natural justice seems to have fallen by the wayside.

'I characterised these arrangements in a ruling in February as a "shambles". That still seems to me to be an apt description. The fault cannot be laid entirely at the door of the Review Team since none of them was legally qualified, and I concluded at an early stage that it was mainly the Council's fault for sanctioning an inquiry into the commission of acts tantamount to criminal offences, with a view to the ultimate publication of a report, but without appropriate safeguards for the "accused". The exercise has cost a vast amount of money for the citizens of Newcastle and I have no doubt years of unnecessary heartache for many of those directly involved. Unhappily, the Council has only itself to blame.'

The Council responded to these severe words of criticism by almost immediately issuing a
press release. They claimed that Mr Justice Eady's decision to uphold their defence of qualified privilege meant that 'he has confirmed that the Council acted properly in publishing the Independent Review Team's report'. They omitted to inform the people of Newcastle that the judge had specifically said that  'the Council had allowed the team to proceed as they thought fit, and natural justice seems to have fallen by the wayside.' They made no mention either of  his description of the Council's arrangements with regard to the inquiry as a 'shambles', or of his conclusion that 'the Council had only itself to blame'.

In the note they appended to this statement the Council offered its own version of the Shieldfield story. In this version they did not refer to the fact that they had prejudged the issues by holding disciplinary hearings and finding Dawn Reed and Chris Lillie guilty in advance of the criminal trial. Nor did they mention that, on the day the not guilty verdict was announced, their acting leader had stood on the steps of the City Hall and reaffirmed the Council's own findings of guilt.

The Review Team also issued a brief statement saying that they were 'shocked and upset' at the judge's findings on malice. They added that although they were going to make no further statements that day, they might be able to answer questions later in the week. 

They did not do so.

The question which now remained was whether there would be an appeal against the judgment - and in particular of the finding of malice against the Review Team. On 18 September 2002, two days before the deadline by which any appeal had to be submitted, Newcastle City Council issued a
press release in which they announced that there would be no appeal as the Council could not justify spending any more public money on the case.

In a significant development, the Council for the first time publicly accepted the judgment. While it did not offer an apology to its two former employees it did make a welcome gesture in this direction by expressing regret:

'The city council fully accepts Justice Eady's judgment and that Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie are innocent of all the allegations against them. The council regrets the suffering these events have caused them.

'Our sympathies remain with all the people affected by this case.'

As was reported in the Newcastle
Journal the next morning the Review Team also issued a statement.  Significantly this statement contained no acknowledgment of the innocence of Reed and Lillie and no expression of regret for the suffering they had been caused.

In a sequel to the news of the decision not to appeal, Liberal Democrat councillor Greg Stone discovered that the Council had taken a
secret decision to spend £56,000 on hiring a media consultancy to handle the publicity surrounding the the judgment.

In an attempt to justify this expenditure, a Council spokeswoman said: 'The council has a responsibility to communicate the meaning of the judgment to the people of Newcastle, via the media, as soon as possible.'

It would seem rather more likely that the Council had employed the media consultancy in an attempt to hide the implications of the judgment from the people of Newcastle, as far as was reasonably possible. In particular, as noted above, the Council had, in its original press statement, failed to make any mention of  the severe criticisms Mr Justice Eady had made of its own conduct. Instead it had attempted to represent the judgment as a vindication of its actions.

In its recent statement the Council revealed that it had commissioned its Head of Legal Services 'to prepare a report on issues to learn from the judgment'.

The report is awaited with interest.

Lib dems challenge council over libel action

The most welcome consequence of Council's decision not to appeal against the judgment is that the 19-strong Liberal Democrat opposition group on the City Council is now free to probe the entire conduct of the Shieldfield investigation. On Tuesday 2 October the Lib Dem group fired a carefully-aimed and well-prepared volley of questions at leader of the Council Tony Flynn. In its report  the Evening Chronicle spoke of 'a stormy public meeting' and quoted councillor John Shipley as saying 'I feel a great sense of shame that at the time I did not realise what was going on. We must ensure this never happens again.'  Answers to the written questions, which, like the oral answers, were deeply unsatisfactory, can be found
here. Details of further developments will follow. 



© Richard Webster, 2002