Saturday, June 6, 2015
Accused of child abuse: A family's story Julie's story Julie and Keiron were adjusting to life with their new baby. She worked at home, he was soon to start a new job as a nanny. Then, one day, the police came to the door ...
It's a Tuesday like any other. Then, in the afternoon, there's a knock at the door. The dog starts barking and wakes our 12-week-old baby, Sam. My partner, Keiron, looks out of the upstairs window to see two women at the front door. We assume they are Jehovah's Witnesses and Keiron leans out, saying he can't come down. Then everything changes.
The women are police. They work in child protection services. Keiron, Sam and I go downstairs to find out what's going on. They tell us to sit down and ask Keiron if he knows why they are here. He says no. Then they tell us an allegation about a sex offence made by a child at the nursery where he works.
My stomach turns to concrete. I have no shadow of doubt that this is a horrible mistake. I hold Sam in disbelief, calculating all the ways this is going to mess up our lives.
They take our computer away. I'm self-employed, so even though Sam is very young I am still working. I watch my livelihood vanish through the door and ask the police: "Are there any guarantees that it will come back unharmed?" No, they say, adding that it will be a minimum of four to six weeks until it is returned – assuming that it is clean of pornographic images of children. We're told that paedophiles look at on-screen images of children before moving on to the real thing, so the computer will indicate Keiron's guilt or otherwise.
Keiron is arrested and taken to the police station but released on bail on condition that he does not spend time unsupervised with anyone under the age of 18. This includes our child.
I cannot believe that this can happen. We are a sleepless couple with a baby, already struggling with all the things a new family faces.
My freedom is suddenly curtailed, too, because I will now have to care for our son 24/7. So neither of us can work.
Keiron is currently working out his notice at the nursery – he has resigned to become a nanny. He's just about to start the new job – we will have to tell them what he's been accused of and that he cannot be alone with a child.
In a final blow, we discover that this allegation will never be wiped from Keiron's record. From here on, if he is ever stopped at the side of the road by the police, they will know that he has been accused of one of the darkest crimes.
The following weeks
We discuss who to tell. On one hand, Keiron has absolutely nothing to hide. On the other, there are the cliches of "no smoke without fire" and "mud sticks". At least we know that old friends and family will know the truth. In the outside world, the Jimmy Savile scandal is unfolding. I hear experts explaining that paedophiles seek out jobs that allow them to get close to children. They say nothing about kind, loving men who adore bringing out the best in children.
Four weeks later
We get a call from the police saying both our computers have come back clean. We are delighted – the police originally implied that clean computers would mean an end to the whole business.
Next morning, there's a knock at the door. I'm feeding the baby so Keiron goes to answer. The arresting officer hands over our computers wrapped in plastic. When we unwrap mine, we see that the screen has been broken.
I am beside myself. This is a £2,000 computer, the one I do all my work on and the most valuable thing we own. We have almost no income at the moment. And we haven't done anything wrong. Seeing how angry I am with him for not checking the computer, Keiron breaks down for the first time throughout this whole ordeal. I feel terrible.
Next day, the arresting officer calls to apologise and says the police will pay for repairs. We now have a further 21 days to wait until Keiron's bail to return to the police station. That's another three weeks during which he is not allowed to spend time unsupervised with Sam, our now four-month-old son.
Another three weeks during which he cannot do his job, nor I mine.
Three weeks before Christmas
The end is in sight and we can almost touch it. From next week we can start to reconfigure our lives. Then, a phone call. Keiron is told that his bail is being extended a further three months to give them more time to gather evidence. It is Day One all over again, and I am devastated. Sam, now four and half months old, will have lived half his life without being allowed to be alone with his dad.
Our solicitor says we can request a change in bail conditions so that Keiron can be unsupervised with our child. With relief, we manage this just in time for Christmas.
We get through Christmas and our family are wonderfully supportive. Keiron is subdued and I suspect it's because he worries about what they are all thinking. My brother and two young nephews come and stay. I love watching them play with Keiron as they get on like a house on fire, but I have to keep reminding myself that this lovely scene is somehow wrong and that they can't be left alone in a room together.
On Saturday at 9am, Keiron gets a phone call. I am out with Sam and receive a text. The police have called to say they have no evidence, so the case is dropped.
I thought I would feel relieved when this news came through. This was to be our happy ending. Instead, my overwhelming response is anger. No evidence? Why have our lives been put on hold for three months for no evidence? Why have our son's first few months of life been so horribly tainted for no evidence? Why has Keiron had to quit his new job for no evidence?
We go for dinner to "celebrate". Keiron is morose and says it doesn't make any difference to him. Next week, he could just as easily be accused of murder.
On the news it says that children's charities want to make it easier for allegations to be heard. Of course, I understand why, but I also fear that more innocent families could be hurt because of a string of celebrity paedophile accusations. I hope balance is found.
Two weeks later
Keiron comes home in tears. He has been sober for seven years, now he says he has an overwhelming urge to go out and get hammered. He feels ashamed, hopeless, angry and unsafe. All the emotions that had been suppressed while he was under suspicion are coming to the surface. He has been out running a lot, but it's not enough. He feels too vulnerable to go back to childcare. Who would hire a male nanny with suspected child abuse on his record? While he establishes a new career, our savings are dwindling fast. Because of a wrong accusation, our lives can never be the same ever again. Our happy ending still feels a long way away.
Two plainclothes police officers turn up and after some initial confusion I let them in. They take me – and Julie's computer – to their car. I am being arrested on child-abuse charges. A Kafkaesque nightmare is beginning to unfold.
As a man working in a nursery, I think a part of me has always been expecting this. When I started in childcare five years ago, I wasn't sure if I would ever become a dad, but I knew I loved kids. Nursery work filled that gap for me until I met Julie and our son came along. Soon after getting back from paternity leave, I decided to set myself up as a male nanny – to work more flexible and fewer hours, giving me more time with my new family.
Instead, I am at a police station. It takes nearly two hours to be booked in. Thanks to Julie, a solicitor calls the station and says he will represent me. I feel safer with this extra help.
The most upsetting part is that the allegations are repeated to the sergeant several times in full earshot of other people at the station. I'm there being charged with "sexual abuse on an under 13" and at least a couple of people hear. I just hope I'm not recognised by them while I'm out and about.
Up until now I've been trying to figure out who might have said something about me. Could I have done something at nursery that a child has found abusive and sexual? I can't think of anything that could possibly be thought of that way. Then I hear who has made the allegation and I'm shocked, mainly because this child and I hardly ever interact.
I give my statement and am given the bail date. Just before they let me go, they tell me that they will let me live at home, although they state there must be no unsupervised contact with any under 18s, including my own son. I am told to consider myself lucky to be allowed home. I get home at midnight, more than six hours after being arrested. I don't feel lucky.
The next day (Wednesday)
I wake up and call work – and find out that they had known this was coming for a few days. They say they won't suspend me as they are sure I'm innocent, so I'm on paid leave for the time being. I call the mother of the boy I'm due to start looking after and explain my situation. I have to apologise and say that I can no longer be left unsupervised with a child.
Julie and I meet the nursery bosses and have an informal chat about what has happened. They tell me they were able to track the day-to-day movements of the child from activity plans and observations, and could work out my movements from job rotas and planning. Before I was arrested, they had shown the police that the boy in question and I were never together, and certainly not alone together at any point.
I tell the managers that they can let my colleagues know why I'm not at work. I want them to know how important the safeguarding procedures are for keeping the staff, as well as the children, safe.
"To call someone a paedophile is to consign them to the lowest circle of hell – and while they are still alive," London mayor Boris Johnson writes on the false allegations against Lord McAlpine. I feel a rare moment of agreement with Johnson.
The police ring to say they have checked our computer and found no child porn. This morning they dropped the computer off and I signed for it. I took it upstairs to Julie only to find a huge crack across the screen. This is the point at which I feel totally broken.
Julie tells me how resentful she is, getting over my stupidity in this situation. I feel huge waves of shame washing over me. I go to the spare room and cry, trying not to sob too loudly, but it's there: real, hard crying.
Julie comes in and sits next to me with our boy and he starts to cry. I look up at Julie and say: "Now you have two babies." This makes us laugh heartily, and our boy cheers up too.
Julie says she would like some space so I leave the house. It's midday and I walk through the busy cold streets with the salt of my tears sticking to my cheeks. I buy groceries and sit in a park, waiting until 5pm before I head home. Waiting, thinking and writing. I briefly entertain the notion of getting drunk, but as I haven't had a drink for seven years, I decide it's a very bad idea.
My phone goes in the morning. It's the police. The officer says it's over. There is insufficient evidence. I think she is expecting some sign of relief from me, but I'm not feeling that. I ask if there is some way of getting a fuller explanation, some evidence that someone had told the boy to say those things or evidence that he had been abused by someone else.
She says I know everything there is to know. When I ask, she tells me that any future police checks on my name will bring up my arrest with a note about no further evidence, and that if I were under more suspicion a different report would be issued. I thank her for letting me know and spend the morning looking after my boy until Julie returns.
We go out for dinner to celebrate, but hardly speak. Julie tries to raise a toast to justice but I refuse, going into a rant about justice being bullshit. I go out and get drunk, looking for some release from all the anger I'm feeling.
We are getting a lot of messages of support from friends and family. Most talk about moving forward. Julie and I hold each other and agree that we will be all right. But we know that this is not really over – there will be aftershocks from this experience that will affect the rest of our lives and the life of our son.
Names have been changed
Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs By Anne Elizabeth Moore, Truthout | News Analysis
Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs By Anne Elizabeth Moore, Truthout | News Analysis