When we began researching the film on behalf of Channel 4, which had commissioned and paid for it, the response from individual child protection workers inside and outside Cleveland was universally positive. Everyone we met wanted what they saw as the true (and hidden) story of Cleveland to be told at last: the story of how very young children – many of them pre-verbal – had been abused, first sexually by an adult, then systemically by courts and lawyers who returned them to abusive families. Each of these workers had knowledge of individual children from the crisis. Some were still working in the Middlesbrough area. Yet none had any contact with the families, none had been allowed to retain documentation and none knew of any official child protection agency that had tracked what happened to the children after the three fraught summer months of 1987.The key to resolving the puzzle of Cleveland was the children. What had actually happened to them? Had they been abused – or had the paediatricians and social workers (as public opinion held) been over-zealous and plain wrong? Curiously — particularly given its high profile, year-long sittings and £5 million cost — this was the one central issue never addressed by the Butler-Sloss judicial testimony and sifting of internal evidence, the inquiry’s remit did not require it to answer the main question. Ten years after the crisis, my colleagues and I set about reconstructing the records of the 121 children at its heart to determine exactly what had happened to them.(p19)In the film we dealt with several of these cases. One case concerned one of the first families to be ‘reunited’ — the word, the very loaded word, used by all newspapers and television covering the case — with their children. Yet the social services file not apparently considered by the courts — makes very uncomfortable reading. It shows that the family — mother, father and three children — had been known to social services for some time prior to the 1987 crisis. • All three children were said to have behavioural problems – including an incident in which they dug up the floorboards and set fire to the family home. • They were listed as having an alarming number of bruises and scars on their young bodies. • All were seriously underweight. • They had contact with a close family relation who was recorded as having abused other children as an adolescent. • One of the children had drawn a picture for a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) officer working with him — a picture of an adult man apparently buggering a boy. • At least one of the three children had expressed extreme reluctance to return home. This information and the risk to those children it implies was never properly tested in court. Faced with the juggernaut of press reporting and public opinion, the protection of children took a back seat. (p21)


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