The Guardian Addresses False Claims of Abuse — Sort Of

April 20, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Leave it to The Guardian. The British paper is well-known for its routine ignorance of the issues children face in family courts in trying to maintain relationships with both their parents. Along with that comes an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of things like parental alienation, since the great majority of that is perpetrated by custodial parents the great majority of whom are mothers. Closely related is the issue of false claims of abuse (which often make up part of the alienating strategy), which are also mostly made by mothers according to much social science.

So on one hand, I suppose we should be grateful that The Guardian has decided to notice false allegations of abuse (that look to be part of alienation in the case reported on), and unsurprised that the case it chose to report on is one in which it’s the father who’s the bad actor. Still, whether by inadvertence or not, this article makes some points that are worth mentioning (The Guardian, 4/18/15).

The writer is Joe Barrell. She was married to a man she calls “T” with whom she had three children, the oldest of whom was seven when she and T split up. According to Barrell’s description, T wasn’t a good partner during their marriage and went from bad to much worse after they separated.

I slowly came to realise that I had chosen a man who was increasingly controlling, manipulative and unduly suspicious to the point that my life was hardly my own any more…

Eventually he turned nasty, thumping the walls and furniture during rows, refusing to let me sleep by hectoring me until the small hours about the reasons I wanted to leave until I was exhausted and scared. He said: “I will make you suffer for ever for this.”

It got worse, much worse.

My first realisation that this was to be a journey through a special kind of hell came when I returned home one early spring morning exactly three years ago to find the children’s beloved goldfish in our pond floating belly-up, in water poisoned by some cement-dust like substance. Worse, when we let ourselves in the back door, we found Jukebox, our black cat, lifeless on the kitchen floor.

Barrell obviously suspects that it was her ex who’d killed the animals. He still had a key to the house and there was no sign of a forced entry. Sick as his behavior was, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

Four months later, Barrell formed a relationship with another man she calls “S,” the father of a little girl of whom he seems to have had primary custody. They all spent time together at Barrell’s house, when one day…

The doorbell rang and S called up to my study that two police officers wanted to talk to me. His daughter was playing in the garden but mine were away for the day while I worked.

The officers asked to talk to me in private and I showed them into the sitting room, confused, my heart thudding with fear that something had happened to the children. They told me that my ex had reported that S was sexually abusing my children. He had made a film of the children making the allegations and they were here to investigate.

Of course that made Barrell quite anxious. The rest of her story is, to a remarkable extent, one of her own fears.

It’s true that everything goes into slow motion at times of extreme stress. I felt as if I was underwater as the officers watched my reactions carefully (I knew that was what they were doing, even in my distress) and asked me bluntly if I was totally honest with myself…

I stumbled to the garden in shock, turning over what I would say in my mind in those few steps…

I know I forced myself to colour in drawings and laugh at [a child’s] silly chatter while S was with the officers, tried to carry on as though our world hadn’t disintegrated, but quelling the rising panic and questions was hard.

That she was never the one under the police microscope is a bit vague in her description, her reference to the danger he was in consigned to a single sentence. But she does grasp the fact that, if anyone were to have gone to prison as a pedophile, it would have been S.

The next day, police paid a second visit to her home to interview the children, after which they dismissed T’s claims.

After the officers had interviewed the children they told me immediately that they believed T had coerced and coached the children to make the allegations and that while they still had to complete a full formal investigation they were happy for S to continue staying over at the house…

For the most part, that is the story of Barrell’s brush with false allegations. In short, they were never made about her, but about her boyfriend; she learned about them on Day One and by the end of Day Two, she knew that the police regarded them as false. Now, I don’t mean to belittle an outrageous incident that of course threw terror into both her and S, but put simply, false allegations, particularly of sexual abuse can be so, so much worse.

What The Guardian has done by running this particular piece about false allegations of abuse made during the course of a divorce and child custody process is to strongly suggest to readers that they’re not an important issue. Yes they’re scary, but the police ferret out the truth in short order and justice is done. To say the least, that’s not the way many people experience false allegations of abuse. The papers are littered with stories of parents put through a living hell, including losing their children and spending long years in prison because of them.

Barrell’s right about a couple of things, though.

Apart from the horrendous way the children had been used as weapons, S’s job depended on a clean CRB check. What I didn’t know until later was that even an arrest and subsequent complete exoneration would show on his CRB as an indelible black mark, a flag that would end his career, his livelihood, instantly.

‘CRB’ refers to the Criminal Records Bureau. So, at least for some employment, a simple allegation coupled with an arrest can end someone’s career and means of earning a livelihood. To put it mildly, that’s far, far too much power to place in anyone’s hands.

Second, in the most perfunctory way possible, and almost at the end of her article, Barrell admits the obvious.

One lawyer told me that he saw a couple of false claims like these each year when he started in practice 20 years ago — now it’s dozens a year. Usually it’s mothers trying to get back at men who have left them — he told me he has only rarely come across a case like mine.

The data on false allegations are understandably sketchy. Just what constitutes an allegation, what makes it false and who decides based on what criteria can vary considerably from study to study. But Dr. Edward Kruk points out in his book The Equal Parent Presumption that “False allegations of abuse are common in child custody disputes.” British researcher Nicholas Bala reports that over four-fifths of alienating parents are mothers. And small studies indicate that mothers’ claims of abuse by fathers are false two-thirds of the time.

Barrell doesn’t broach the subject of parental alienation, but it’s clear that T’s intention was to do just that. He (a) wanted to get back at her and (b) coached the children into claiming that Mom’s new boyfriend was dangerous to them. It’s somewhat of a backhanded approach, but the gist is clear — to demonstrate that her home isn’t fit for their habitation due to her bad choice of partners.

As far as The Guardian goes, it’s hard to know whether to applaud or jeer. The issue of false allegations is important to bring to the public’s attention. But to present as a case in point one that’s exceptional due to the sex of the perpetrator is misleading at best. The same is true of the ease with which the allegations were disposed of without incident by the police.

If The Guardian wants to give its readers real horror stories that are far more typical than Barrell’s, there are countless fathers in the U.K. who’d be happy to tell theirs. But I doubt any of those dads will be hearing from The Guardian’s editors any time soon.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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