SOURCE: The Times      DATE: 13 January 1995     PAGE: 3 

Sex abuse charges against couples dropped

Paul Wilkinson

 FOUR married couples were cleared yesterday of involvement in an occult child-sex ring after the prosecution offered no evidence. The court was told that allegations by four children of devil worship and ritual animal slaughter could not be substantiated.

  The eight, who live close to each other in a middle-class residential suburb of Bishop Auckland in Co Durham, endured a year of being ostracised by many in their community after they were arrested last year. The children,aged from six to 16, claimed that they had been subject to sexual abuse during witchcraft and satanic rituals in an attic, that they had been drugged during the sessions and that photographs had been taken.

  But yesterday David Robson, QC, for the prosecution, told Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court that the charges were being dropped because much of the evidence was uncorroborated.

  John and Patricia Staines, Brian and Pauline Marsh, Robert and Vivienne Crosby, David and Victoria Thomas and a 14-year-old boy who cannot be named denied a charge of conspiring together to indecently assault five children between June 1990 and last February.

  Mr Robson offered no case against the adults. There was, he said, a case against the 14-year-old, already a convicted sex offender receiving treatment, but he felt it would be unfair if the boy carried the entire burden of the allegations. Mr Justice Holland entered formal verdicts of not guilty in the case of all nine.

  The offences were alleged after an investigation into the abuse of two children by a 14-year-old. The teenager was sent to a medical centre under a supervision order but the children claimed soon afterwards that they had also been assaulted by the Staineses.

  As the investigation continued, friends of the children came forward alleging abuse. Mr Robson said that ``warning bells began jangling'' as the claims became wilder and involved more adults, including a policewoman.

  Outside the court Mr Marsh, 46, a junior school teacher, said: ``We would have preferred a trial because that was our best hope for the truth to come out. What is more worrying is that it can happen to anybody. There will be nothing to stop it once a kid points a finger. It is just one long slide from that to the day you appear in court.

  ``The police were quite fair and always gave the impression they knew the children were talking a load of rubbish, but behind them were senior officers, people in social services, who pressed ahead. It all got totally out of hand. Everything they (the children) said was automatically believed. They were encouraged to say more and more.''