Prosecutors: decision to drop case of one witness’s claims of child sex abuse ‘was wrong’

By Mark Conrad | 6 August 2014

CPS to reinstate key charges after error over Elm Guest HouseProsecutors are to reinstate key charges under ‘Operation Fernbridge’ after Exaro exposed how they had wrongly assessed evidence of child sex abuse.

The mistaken assessment of the evidence led the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) late last year to withdraw charges that were based on one key witness’s allegations of sexual abuse by two men – a manager of a children’s home and a priest.

Simon Danczuk, Labour MP, intervened following Exaro’s disclosure by asking Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions (DPP), to review the dismissal of the charges. As a result of research for his book on Sir Cyril Smith, the late paedophile MP, Danczuk also realised that the CPS’s understanding of the case was flawed.

The witness said that he was “delighted” by the CPS’s reversal, and thanked Exaro and Danczuk for uncovering the error.

Exaro revealed last December that the CPS had withdrawn four charges based on accusations by one witness, but had made a serious mistake about the evidence gathered by the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit under Operation Fernbridge. It led to an adverse view of the witness’s credibility.

The operation is investigating historical allegations of sexual abuse of boys at Grafton Close children’s home in the London borough of Richmond, at the nearby Elm Guest House and other sites.

The CPS had only levelled the charges the previous July. But the CPS then dropped the charges that were based on accusations made by what detectives regarded as their key witness.

It changed its mind about prosecuting three out of 11 charges against John Stingemore, who used to run Grafton Close children’s home in south-west London – including the most serious accusation that he faced.

The CPS dropped the charge against him of conspiracy with persons unknown to commit buggery, and two counts of indecent assault. Stingemore, of Stonehouse Drive, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, still faced six charges of indecent assault against five boys aged between 11 and 15, and two counts of taking indecent images of a child.

The CPS also dropped one charge of indecent assault against Tony McSweeney, the priest, of Old Brighton Road North, Pease Pottage, West Sussex. McSweeney still faced two charges of indecent assault against a boy aged between 11 and 15, three counts of making indecent images of a child, one of taking indecent images of a child and a further count of possessing indecent images of a child.

The two have always denied the charges against them, and their trial is due to start on February 2 at Southwark crown court.

The CPS dropped charges that related to a specific witness because, it said, he was the only person to claim to have been sexually abused at Elm Guest House. None of the charges against Stingemore or McSweeney relates to the guest house.

But, as Exaro revealed, the CPS was mistaken. Another witness told Exaro that he was sexually assaulted at Elm Guest House while in care as a boy in Richmond, and that he had informed the police.

In addition, Danczuk talked to a former masseur at Elm Guest House, who revealed that he had told the Met in 2012 how he was sexually abused there.

The witness asked Exaro to arrange and attend a meeting with Danczuk and Jonathan Bird, operations manager at the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC).

As a result, Danczuk wrote to the DPP to ask her to review the dropped charges.

The CPS’s re-assessment was not about the specific allegations against the two accused, but concerns the credibility of a witness.

Corinne Wilson, a specialist prosecutor, has written to the witness to say: “I have concluded that the previous decision not to prosecute this case was wrong.”

“I have decided that the case should now be reinstated against Mr Stingemore and Mr McSweeney.”

“I will now refer this case back to London CPS for them to make the arrangements with the police for the proceedings to be reinstated.”

The witness said: “I am delighted by the CPS’s decision, and want to thank Exaro, Simon Danczuk and NAPAC for all their help.”

Wilson also apologised to him on behalf of the CPS “for the distress caused to you by the previous decision.”

Update 15 August 2014: The Met today announced that the charges dropped by the CPS against Stingemore and McSweeney late last year were today formally reinstated.

In addition, the Met announced new charges against Stingemore, including one count of buggery of a boy under 16 in 1980 or 1981. He also faces a further charge of indecent assault of a boy under 16 during the same period.

The Met said in a statement that all these charges related to one victim who was aged between 10 and 11 at the time of the alleged offences.

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread

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