§ Mrs. Curtis-Thomas
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps have been taken to ensure that, when the police conduct a trawl in child abuse investigations, complainants are offered victim support services from an early stage of involvement in the investigation. 
§ Paul Goggins
The Handbook for Senior Investigating Officers produced by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Government's Inter-Agency Guidance both detail steps to be taken to ensure that victims of historical abuse are offered victim support services as an initial step. The Inter-Agency Guidance says that "an unequivocal victim support strategy and protocol should be established at the outset" of investigations, including consideration and support for victims both during and after an investigation.
§ Mrs. Curtis-Thomas
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if the Government will reform(a) the law of similar fact evidence, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, to require a striking similarity in historical child abuse cases and (b) the law of severance to introduce a presumption in favour of severance in cases where the similar allegations are inadmissible on a similar fact basis. 414W
§ Paul Goggins
The Government set out its position on these issues in its response, published in April this year, to the Fourth Report of the Home Affairs Committee (Session 2001–02) "The Conduct of Investigations into Past Cases of Abuse in Children's Homes"415W55. The Committee's recommendation [that the law of similar fact evidence is reformed to require a "striking similarity" in historical child abuse cases] would return the law on similar fact evidence (for these cases) to the position that applied following the case of Boardman in 1975. However, the test for admitting such evidence has developed since then to recognise that its value is not limited to cases of "striking similarity". For example, multiple accusations against an offender have a significance that derives from the unlikelihood that a person will be independently falsely accused of offences of a like nature, whether or not there is a particular degree of similarity. Whilst such accusations do not establish that an incident is true, and issues of collusion need to be considered carefully (as they would if the threshold were "strikingly similar"), such evidence is certainly relevant to assessing the cogency of a witness's account. Evidence of ether incidents might also be relevant when considering an innocent explanation put forward by the defendant—what might credibly be explained as a mistake on one occasion becomes much less so in respect of repeated incidents. Here, too, the relevance of the other allegations does not depend on establishing a particular level of similarity between the events.56. The Government is therefore concerned that reverting to the "strikingly similar" test would risk denying juries and magistrates a range of potentially highly relevant evidence. Our approach, as embodied in our proposals for reforming the law on evidence of bad character in the Criminal Justice Bill currently before Parliament, is to enable juries and magistrates to hear the widest range of relevant evidence that will assist them to reach a fair verdict. The admissibility of bad character evidence should therefore depend on its relevance to the issues in the case, rather than on a particular degree of similarity.57. We are not, however, complacent that dangers cannot arise where evidence is admitted in these circumstances. However, there are safeguards to ensure that trials are fair. For example, in determining whether to admit the evidence, the courts must consider whether it would be more prejudicial than probative. The judge will therefore be able to direct that the charges be considered evidentially separate if necessary. And where this might not be sufficient to secure a fair trial, the judge can order that the various charges are tried separately, ensuring that the jury in each case is not aware of the evidence in the others. The Criminal Justice Bill also proposes that judges should be under a duty to withdraw a case from the jury where it becomes clear that seemingly independent allegations are in fact the result of collusion or other distortion and a conviction would be unsafe.58. The Committee also recommends a presumption in favour of ordering separate trials where allegations cannot be heard as evidence in support of each other on a similar fact basis. In their judgement in the case of Christou (1997), dealing with the severance of charges for sexual offences, the House of Lords held that a trial judge should exercise his discretion to sever to achieve a fair resolution of the issues. This is buttressed by the Human Rights Act 1958, which makes it clear that the courts must act in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights including ensuring a fair trial. Given the centrality of fairness to the issue of severance, it is not clear what the proposed presumption would substantively add. The Committee is concerned that "sexual offences tend to engender greater prejudice than non-sexual offences" (paragraph 96). However, we do not agree that this warrants a special rule to deal with historic child abuse cases: the issue of prejudice will clearly be an important aspect of deciding whether severance is required and to the extent that there is a greater risk of prejudice in any particular case, whether of historic child abuse or any other, the argument in favour of severance will clearly be stronger.