Police raid at expert's home

March 22, 2002

An academic criminologist whose expert legal testimony helped to expose flaws in child sex-abuse investigations and overturn convictions has had his office and home raided by police in an investigation into child pornography.

William Thompson, a Reading University expert on miscarriages of justice in sex cases, confirmed in an interview with The THES this week that controversial images of children may have been among materials seized by the police. But he said that any material found would be legal case material, held legitimately.

He said that he had been warning for years that academic expert witnesses in such sensitive cases were in an "invidious situation", as procedures for legitimate access to controversial material are ambiguous. He also claimed that he may have been the victim of a deliberate attempt to discredit him as he had made enemies.

A spokeswoman for Reading police confirmed that the force had executed two search warrants and had seized computer equipment. She said the equipment had been sent for analysis and that no arrest had been made and no charges had been brought.

Dr Thompson said: "What will I have on that computer? Information, data, analysis relating to cases. I do pornography, sadomasochism, child pornography... This is case material. They have stolen case material from my house. If possessing case material is illegal, which is isn't, then I'm guilty.

"If I find the client is guilty ,their barrister or solicitor will be told in no uncertain terms... I specialise in false allegation cases, I don't go around getting criminals off."

The charity Action against False Allegations of Abuse and others regularly ask Dr Thompson to review case material to help them prepare defences against charges or appeals against convictions.

Dr Thompson said the police obtained the search warrants on the grounds of alleged distribution of child pornography. He is confident that he will not be charged.

He said the police had taken three computers from his home and two from the university. Other items were also seized. He said he was considering taking legal action against the police.

Academics have legal protection against prosecution for possessing obscene material if it can be established it is for bona fide academic use, usually after appropriate ethical approval. Dr Thompson said he had not been conducting any study of pornography of any kind on the internet, and had not downloaded any images.

Although much of his early career centred on pornography and the sex industry, he had focused for the past few years on sex laws. He said material in his home and office related to that.

Dr Thompson's critiques of police and social workers' interviews in child-abuse cases were used in Bishop Auckland, where the charges against four families accused of satanic abuse were dropped. He was an adviser for the accused parents and children in the Orkney child abuse case and is a practising associate of the British Academy of Experts.

He said he was about to give evidence to a home affairs select committee inquiry investigating "the possible miscarriage of justice arising from the conduct of investigations in alleged abuse in children's homes".

A spokeswoman for Reading University declined to comment on the case but confirmed that an unnamed member of staff had been suspended. Staff and students were told that Dr Thompson was absent on "health" grounds.

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