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BBC refutes claims against its Quarriers inquiry

By Dorothy Parker, Producer, Secrets or Lies, Sunday Herald 05/10/03

A former resident at the care home alleged in a Sunday Herald article that her words had been misrepresented by Frontline Scotland. In a right to reply, programme editor Dorothy Parker defends her interpretation of events and insists the interview was not manipulated

THREE weeks ago the Sunday Herald published an article in which it was claimed that BBC's Frontline Scotland programme had misrepresented an interviewee's words in a programme transmitted in March of this year. The allegation was made by Irene Whelan who appeared in a programme called Secrets Or Lies.

In the more than five months since the programme was transmitted, neither Whelan nor any of the other interviewees have made any complaint to BBC Scotland. Frontline Scotland takes this charge very seriously which is why we have taken the unusual step of publishing substantial portions of Whelan's interview.

The programme examined the case of John Porteous who was convicted of sexually abusing two boys under his supervision at Quarriers care homes in the 1970s. A campaign alleging a miscarriage of justice was mounted by some of the former residents of Quarriers Homes and others. Frontline decided to investigate when we found the brothers and sisters of some of those who had accused Porteous expressed doubts about whether the abuse had ever taken place. Whelan was one of those.

In the Sunday Herald article Whelan said Porteous "beat her" while she was in care with her brother, David Whelan, and that Porteous was violent and a liar. However, in the interview she gave to the BBC, Irene painted a very different picture of life with the Porteouses.

This is part of the transcript from the interview she gave to the BBC:

Interviewer: Did you see any physical violence, any abuse when you were with the Porteouses?

IW: There was no...I never saw my brother being abused by the Porteous' violently, ever.

Interviewer: Did you see anyone?

IW: I was abused myself for running away once, because I ran away and when I came back I was asked to get washed and I wouldn't wash straight away. I was leaning my head over the sink and John's hand came down on my head and I hit my face off the sink. But that's the only time that I can ever recall any violence at Quarriers Homes.

Interviewer: And you never saw anybody else in the house ever being hit?

IW: No, I've never actually saw anybody being hit. But I've seen drawers getting pulled out, flung on the floors, pillows getting flung around, shoes getting flung, things like that, but I never actually saw anybody else getting hit.

Later in the interview, she continues: "My brother seemed to be happy with Helen and John at Quarriers although, like every other parents, teenagers have their ups and downs and sometimes there was arguments. But I never saw any physical violence directed towards my brother by Helen or John."

Irene's testimony, as told to us, did not suggest a pattern of violence in the three to four years she and her brother lived with the Porteouses, and referred only to this isolated and ambiguous incident.

In the Sunday Herald article Irene stated that she had told the BBC there was no way that her brother would make a false accusation, however she conceded in the BBC interview she was uncertain.

Interviewer: Some doubt has been cast on John Porteous's conviction for these offences against your brother and against another boy who was in the home. Can you think of any reason why your brother would have made up such allegations?

IW: No I've no reason to think why my brother would have said that someone...John had sexually assaulted him when he never.

Interviewer: Could money be a temptation for him...

IW: No, because...I mean money could be a temptation for anyone but he does have money himself, so as I said, why wait for 30 years later or 20-odd years later to do. And take charges against the person of sexual assault when you were a boy. I really could only say that I do not know my own brother that way.

Interviewer: What do you think of the idea that he was abused by John, do you think it's possible, do you feel?

IW: There's always a possibility that he could have been sexually assaulted by John, but I find it horrifying to think that that ever, ever happened to him. I find I'm just absolutely shocked and horrified...

Interviewer: Had you ever suspected that your brother had been abused?

IW: I never suspected my brother was ever sexually abused by John Porteous...

Interviewer: Any doubt in your mind?

IW: There's always an element of doubt because I would have said that I knew my brother quite well and I would never know my brother to actually accuse someone of something they never did. But the element of doubt is there because it means that if this did happen, then I never knew my own brother very well.

Interviewer: How convinced are you?

IW: Ninety per cent. I would think that John is innocent.

Whelan struggles to understand why her brother would make the abuse claim but concludes by saying that she thinks that John Porteous is almost certainly innocent. It was not possible to include a large section of her interview in the programme because of time constraints, but I believe we represented her position fairly. I understand that Whelan may now see matters differently, but we reported the statements that she gave to us at the time honestly and accurately. We are happy to let anyone see the transcript of the whole interview, or to have it published in full.

In the Sunday Herald article Irene's brother gave the impression that the main voices raised concerning the Porteous conviction came from Porteous and his wife. This is untrue. In the programme four brothers and sisters of those who had accused Porteous expressed their serious concerns. We also recorded interviews with three others who had lived at Quarriers at the time and knew the Porteouses and the children well. And we spoke to dozens of others who doubted John Porteous was guilty.

Frontline Scotland has a reputation for strong investigative journalism. We have brought numerous important stories to public attention including the Shirley McKie fingerprint story and, more recently, the deaths of young recruits at Deepcut army training camp. We pride ourselves on accurate and honest journalism, and we would never manipulate an interviewee in the way suggested in this article.

Copyright © 2003 smg sunday newspapers ltd. no.176088

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