There has been a considerable response to the child sex abuse/trawling article referred to here on February 8 and published in Inside Time.
I understand the piece has been reproduced by campaigners in Scotland (where there is a great deal of controversy surrounding a former approved school) and presented to members of Glasgow City Council, Scottish MPs and MSPs.
I have been contacted by two prisoners claiming to have information about cases. This is being passed to lawyers working on the Historic Abuse Appeals Panel.
A friend of a man serving his time in Usk Prison also contacted me. I haven’t seen the details of his case but it appears he was supported by some schools at which he had worked. “I have known few, if any, more professional and decent people during my career in education,” said the friend. “There are so many things that just do not add up in his case.”
I also received the following from Gail Stack, of North West FACT, who described the article as “a well illustrated and documented review”.
She said it was “unquestionably right” that every effort was made to “eliminate any opportunity for evil and sinister people to gain access to children”.
But she claimed there were questions about the quality of evidence in historic cases, saying that by their nature they required “the jury to perform mental gymnastics”.
It is a case of “guilty until proven innocent”, she concluded.
I’ve said before that these cases are exceptionally difficult to investigate. They are also difficult to review, discuss and write about.
Our initial feeling is one of revulsion at the alleged crime and we understandably feel sympathy for the victim and admiration for the investigating detectives.
But so many who have looked closer at these cases feel something quite different now: a deep sense of concern that justice might not have been done.
That is why it is so important to ask questions.
Shirley Ann Morris’ life was shattered two years ago when her son travelled to Ghana and became the centre of a £79m cocaine bust.
Alan Hodgson went from being a council carpenter and leading light in a small west Wales community to a drugs baron in one frightening move.
Within months he had been sentenced to 20 years hard labour in a prison where one in three inmates is on death row.
Shirley has not seen him since. Instead of enjoying her retirement, she now spends every day campaigning on Hodgson’s behalf.
As a mother, it is understandable that Shirley defends her son. She says the 47-year-old had never been in trouble in his life and that, frankly, he has “neither the wit nor the wherewithal” to be a drug smuggler.
But she says she has more than blind faith in her boy, claiming to have very real concerns about the prosecution’s case.
Hodgson spent most of his life in the Gwendraeth Valley community of Carway, where he sat on the sports club’s committee and was a fancy dress star at the annual carnival.
He has been married to Theresa for 23 years and spent a lot of time encouraging their son, Dean, 19, to follow his dream of becoming a footballer.
He worked for many years as a carpenter for Carmarthenshire County Council – where he was known by colleagues as Ianto – and finished work a few years ago after becoming ill.
But he had a chance of some light work in Ghana with his uncle and Shirley’s brother, Kevin Gorman, who has lived in Africa for more than 30 years and, after illness, was having trouble running his fishing company. Gorman has a number of ex-wives and a large number of children – he is a “philanderer”, in Shirley’s words, but not a criminal.
In January 2004 Hodgson went to visit Gorman. The morning after he arrived, police raided Gorman’s home and found 650 kilos of cocaine.
Hodgson and Gorman were arrested, along with a small group of others. In June 2004 they were found guilty of illegally importing cocaine and possession of illegal drugs.
At the trial, a policeman picked Hodgson out as having been on the beach in Accra when the cocaine was brought ashore (having been dropped in the sea in sealed bales).
But Shirley says his passport shows Hodgson was not even in Ghana at the time.
She says the only other piece of evidence presented against him was that he had made the cupboard where the drugs were stored. This too, she says, is untrue.
She also claims that a key witness, who was staying at police headquarters during the trial, may have been coerced.
Gorman – who had heavy debts – has admitted agreeing to look after the bales for a fee of £50,000 but said he didn’t know what was in them.
He blames himself for Hodgson’s predicament. Shirley, 66, says she has forgiven him and wants to help them both. Hodgson and Gorman, who has prostate cancer, are being held in Nsawam Prison, near Accra.Hodgson recently lost an appeal against conviction.“I want to get my son out of there as he has done nothing wrong,” Shirley said. “But I feel I have been pedalling up hill in the dark for the last two years.“I had a text from Alan this morning asking me if I have anything to give him hope.
“The prison conditions are appalling. Alan’s been in hospital twice already with malaria and a blood infection.”
Shirley’s campaign to highlight her son’s case has met with varying degrees of success. She has written to politicians in the UK and Ghana from her home in Turkey, where she retired in 1997 after spending 25 years as a health visitor in Pontyates.
Appeals to Tony Blair and Jack Straw have gone unanswered, but Fair Trials Abroad has expressed its concerns to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and there is a chance of a fresh legal appeal this summer.
Now Shirley is putting her faith in people power. She wants anyone who cares about Hodgson’s case to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Failing that, as a mother fighting for her son, she would be happy to receive a simple message of support.
First published: Big Issue Cymru, Feb 13-19, 2006
On March 18 there will be a demonstration in Parliament Square against a war on Iran.
It seems likely that this will have to be the first of many such protests.
While only a few months ago Jack Straw was saying military action against Iran was inconceivable, it now appears the warmongers and liars of the US and UK are attempting to lead the international community down that path.
Iran is already being billed as a threat to our security. There is no weapons programme but ‘our’ world now follows a policy of preventive, not even pre-emptive, action. Almost any aggression by the strong over the weak is justified.According to a report this week by Brandon Garcia, of freemarketnews.com, Scott Ritter, the former United Nations weapons inspector who said Iraq disarmed long before the US-led invasion in 2003, has warned his fellow Americans to prepare for a war with Iran.“We just don’t know when, but it’s going to happen,” Scott Ritter he told an audience in Sante Fe on Sunday night.Ritter described how the US government might justify war with Iran in a scenario similar to the buildup to the Iraq invasion. He also argued that Iran wants a nuclear energy program, and not nuclear weapons, but the Bush administration refuses to believe Iran is telling the truth.He predicted the matter will wind up before the UN Security Council, which will determine there is no evidence of a weapons program. (The matter has now been referred to the security council.) Then, he said, John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, “will deliver a speech that has already been written. It says America cannot allow Iran to threaten the United States and we must unilaterally defend ourselves.”“How do I know this? I’ve talked to Bolton’s speechwriter,” Ritter said.Ritter also predicted the military strategy for war with Iran. First, American forces will bomb Iran. If Iranians don’t overthrow the current government, as Bush hopes they will, Iran will probably attack Israel. Then, Ritter said, the United States will drop a nuclear bomb on Iran.The only way to prevent a war with Iran is to elect a Democratically-controlled Congress in November, said Ritter, a lifelong Republican. He later said he wasn’t worried his advice would be seen as partisan because, “It’s a partisan issue.” Most of 44-year-old Ritter’s hour-long speech focused on Iraqi weapons programs from shortly before the Gulf War in 1991 to 2003, when the US invaded Iraq.Ritter was in charge of UN weapons inspections until he resigned in 1998. Before the Iraq invasion, Ritter said, he told Congress that inspections needed to continue.Throughout the 1990s, Ritter said, America’s real policy for Iraq was regime change, not forcing Iraq to disarm and destroy chemical, biological and nuclear-weapons programs. The US insisted on regime change, he said, because it believes transforming the Middle East countries into democracies will help ensure American access to oil.The policy, he said, was borne from a political problem, not a threat to national security.Ritter said the CIA knew Iraq had no ballistic, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by 1995. “We knew there were no WMDs in Iraq,” he said.Ritter blamed Americans’ apathy for allowing Bush to claim there was an intelligence failure. Presidents can lie to the public too easily about national security issues because Americans aren’t paying attention, he said.
For those interested in the issues surrounding investigations into historic child abuse (but who are not in prison to read Inside Time), the newspaper has posted my most recent article here.
Today considering the latest dilemma thrown football fans’ way by the FAW: whether to travel to Graz in Austria to see a Wales friendly against Trinidad and Tobago.
Bearing in mind the May 27 fixture falls only a fortnight before the World Cup kicks off one wonders what sort of side T and T will put out.