'Telepathy' of child used as evidence in abuse case

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AN OFFICIAL report into the future of a child's welfare used evidence based on telepathy, in a move criticised by a sheriff as "dangerous".

A psychotherapist told a court an eight-year-old boy mentally communicated feelings of fear through his bad behaviour, leading her to believe he had been abused. The evidence was put forward by a children's reporter to support separating a baby girl from her parents.

Sheriff Alistair Watson, sitting in Kilmarnock, said calling Dr Debbie Hindle as an expert witness had been "diametrically opposed to that of the responsible investigator".

It came as a senior QC warned children's reporters, who protect youngsters vulnerable to abuse, are increasingly from a social work or administration background, rather than a legal one.

Sheriff Watson said: "The danger of relying on evidence of this (telepathic] evidence should be self evident, but apparently is not to the reporter or Dr Hindle."

Dr Hindle provided therapy for the boy, named in court as D, in 2006 following allegations he had suffered abuse. Her evidence was used to support an application for child protection order for a baby girl. Despite approving the order, Sheriff Watson took the unusual step of criticising the reporter.

He said: "Sadly, the interventions of clinical or therapeutic professionals have had disastrous results in notorious cases, and it was to be hoped that lessons were learned, such that this type of evidence would not be produced subsequently. Sadly, it appears the lessons of the past are easily forgotten."

He added: "The role of the reporter is a highly important one in terms of child protection, but it is also an important one in relation to the public interest, which requires that professional judgment be applied before the presentation of materials in court. To suggest that one might take three or perhaps four wholly unreliable pieces of evidence and ask the court to conclude that between them they form one reliable source is a most dangerous approach."

Allegations D had been abused first surfaced in 2002, when he was four. He was interviewed jointly by police and East Ayrshire Council social workers, who also came in for criticism from the sheriff for "a very poorly conducted interview".

D and two siblings were taken into care in 2004. The court heard their mother, JC, had "considerable lifestyle difficulties". The three were adopted in 2006. It was then that D, now eight, made comments to his adoptive mother that made her believe he had been abused.

D started receiving therapy from Dr Hindle in 2006 when he began weekly sessions with the child which lasted two years. She worked for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde but is now retired. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it was unable to comment.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) said the sheriff's observations and the outcome of the case were under review by the head of the practice.

She was unable to say who the reporter was, whether they were still working on cases, what the SCRA's policy was on bringing cases based on telepathic evidence or whether Dr Hindle had given evidence in previous cases.

Janys Scott QC, who specialises in family law, said legal experience among children's reporters had reduced. "Now those at the head of the organisation tend to have an administration background," she said. "With less emphasis on the legal part of things, that is leading to a lack of a critical look at what evidence is going to stand up in court."

Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, said: "We do know that the experiences a child has during the child protection process can have a very serious negative impact if not handled sensitively and consistently."

• This article was amended on February 11. Our original report stated the partner of Child D's mother was a convicted sex offender. This is not the case and his conviction was for common assault only. The Scotsman apologises for the error.He was interviewed again by police, and this time DC was convicted.

It was in 2006 that D started receiving therapy from Dr Hindle, who saw him for weekly sessions for two years. She worked for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde but is now retired. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it was unable to comment.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) said the sheriff's observations and the outcome of the case were under review by the head of practice.

She was unable to say who the reporter was, whether they were still working on cases, what the SCRA's policy was on bringing cases based on telepathic evidence or whether Dr Hindle had given evidence in previous cases.

Janys Scott, QC, who specialises in family law, said legal experience among children's reporters had reduced. "Now those at the head of the organisation tend to have an administration background," she said. "With less emphasis on the legal part of things, that is leading to a lack of a critical look at what evidence is going to stand up in court."

Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, said: "We do know that the experiences a child has during the child protection process can have a very serious negative impact if not handled sensitively and consistently."