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Six missing words let abuse accused go free - Case Collapses

Former care worker walks free because legal phrase is missing from paperwork

By John Robertson and Jim McBeth, the Scotsman, 14/07/2005

VICTIMS of abuse in children's homes were outraged yesterday after a legal technicality allowed an alleged abuser to escape trial.

James Crawford, 58, who was accused of indecency offences dating from the 1970s against girls in his care, walked away because a formal legal phrase was not included in his indictment.

It is the second time in three months that a case involving alleged historical abuse in children's homes has collapsed.

One campaigner said: "The gates of justice seem to be closed"

In yesterday's case, three appeal court judges, in Edinburgh, said the omission of the legal phrase was "fatal" to the Crown case against Crawford, of Paisley, Renfrewshire.

He was accused of offences against five girls aged 12 to 18 between 1971 and 1976 when he worked in Quarriers Homes, Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire.

Lord Gill, the Lord Justice-Clerk, sitting with Lords Osborne and Johnston at the Court of Criminal Appeal, heard the case had a "chequered procedural history".

In May, at a hearing in Greenock, Sheriff John Herald rejected a challenge by Crawford's lawyers to the competency of the indictment.

But yesterday, Susan Burns, QC, defending, argued that the sheriff was wrong and the indictment was flawed.

She explained the issue involved the wording: "By authority of Her Majesty's Advocate", which ought to have appeared above the signature of the procurator-fiscal on the indictment, but was missing.

Lord Gill said that the opening words of the indictment were in the correct form, indicating the prosecution was being run in the name of the Lord Advocate, referred to in legal terms as "Her Majesty's Advocate."

However, he agreed the relevant words did not appear in Crawford's indictment. He said: "This is an error on the Crown's part, a complete failure to comply [with the act] and, in our opinion, an omission fatal to the indictment."

After the ruling, the Crown Office said it was in the process of preparing a new indictment, but that will be vigorously defended by Crawford's agents.

David Whelan, who runs a support group for alleged victims of abuse at Quarriers, said: "Once more, victims are failed by the justice system."

Mr Whelan, 47, who saw his own abuser jailed for five years for offences committed against him in Quarriers in the Seventies, added: "Others have not achieved closure. This is a dreadful, second failure by our courts."

In June, three cases, involving alleged victims of abuse in Nazareth House, Glasgow, which was run by nuns, were thrown out by Lord Drummond Young, in the Court of Session. He ruled that the claims, raised beyond normal legal time limits, could not continue.

Lizzie McWilliams, 67, from Glasgow, who claims she was sexually and physically abused in Quarriers, said: "I am outraged by today's ruling. We will go to our graves without justice."

And Chris Daly, a campaigner for alleged victims, said: "This is another unfair blow for those who suffer all of their lives."

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