Knottfield Trial: Accused Takes the Stand

A man accused of historical child sex abuse at a former children’s home has told a court none of the alleged incidents happened.

Joseph Henry Marshall, 85, stands accused of nine offences, including six of indecent assault, two of gross indecency and one of buggery, all against boys under the age of 16 when he was working at Knottifled Children’s Home. He denies all charges.

Today the court first heard the statement of a former resident of the home who died in a road traffic accident before the trial began.

Before his death, the man told police that he was a resident at Knottfield in the mid 1970s. He said the home was ‘a huge building’ and had described Mr Marshall as a ‘horrible fat f****r who sweated a lot’. He also described the accused as an ‘authoritative man’ who was always well dressed.

As a boy, the man was sent to the home around the time of his 10th birthday as his mother couldn’t cope with his behaviour. He told officers that upon arriving at Knottfield, he swore at Mr Marshall and claimed he was smacked so hard he ‘flew across the room’.

He later detailed that during bath time, the younger children were helped to bathe by a member of staff. He told officers that when Mr Marshall bathed him, with the door locked, he was told to stand up and that Mr Marshall ‘focussed’ on his genitals and anus. He said: ‘It was painful and I didn’t like it.’ However, added that he didn’t protest as Mr Marshall ‘had authority’. 

The man also claimed that one night Mr Marshall woke him on the pretence that his mother was on the phone. He said that when they reached the downstairs office, the door was locked behind them and the phone was on the receiver with Mr Marshall saying his mother must’ve hung up the phone. He said he remembers being ‘upset’ that his mother didn’t want to speak to him.

He further claimed that Mr Marshall then began sexually assaulting him. It is from here that the offence of buggery is alleged to have occurred. He added that he remembered being sore for several days and that it was never mentioned again and Mr Marshall did not bathe or abuse him on any future occasion in the 10 to 11 months he said he lived in Knottfield.

As the man has died since making his statement to police, the defence was unable to cross-examine him. However defence advocate Collingwood Thompson QC was able to outline the questions that he would have asked the man had he been able. 

Mr Thompson said he would have asked the man what school he attended before he was taken into care. In his statement, he had said this was Murrays Road, but official records say this was St Johns. He also would’ve asked who was in the hallway when the alleged smacking had occurred and how they reacted to it. He said he would also ask about bath time and who was on duty during this time. 

Other questions he would’ve posed included what room he was in as the man’s statement that he was in a room by himself when Mr Marshall woke him up was inconsistent with other witnesses’ explanation of who used the single room.

Mr Thompson added that he would also have questioned the man’s assertion that he was in Knottfield for 10-11 months after the alleged assault occurred as official records show that he was only at the home for six weeks in 1975 before being released from the care home by an educational board.  The defence advocate told the court that he would have also asked about the man’s own previous convictions and whether he had instructed an advocate to seek compensation. 

Police

Following this, the court heard from two serving police detectives. They outlined their role in the investigation and how they came into contact with each of Mr Marshall’s accusers. This led to officers admitting that they could remember looking at the records for home but could not recall what dates the deceased man whose statement was read out was at the home. They could also not remember if he was asked about the difference between his statement and the dates in the official records.

Turning to an internal police email, Mr Thompson noted that officers had stated an intention to contact one of the accusers as another person had come forward. However there is no record of what happened after that or what was said to the man. Following this Deemster Bernard Richmond QC asked whether there should be a record, to which the officer replied ‘yes’.

Marshall

Following the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, Mr Marshall took the stand. He was questioned by Mr Thompson and said that none of the allegations happened and referred to the claims put forward by the prosecution as ‘nonsense’. He explained that his role at the home was not as a manager but as a ‘senior house parent in charge’. 

Mr Marshall said while he did remember the first accuser, who was a resident of the home, he denied any abuse occurred and noted the man had attended Mr Marshall’s wife’s funeral in the early 2000s. 

He told the court that he had little memory of the second accuser, who was not a resident of the home, but an ‘ad hoc visitor’. Mr Marshall denied the allegations put forward by this man that he had ‘fondled’ him in his downstairs office behind a locked door. 

Mr Marshall told the court that the door was ‘always open’ and ‘never locked’ other than when no one was using it as the office contained confidential files. He said that the door was only ever closed if staff wanted a ‘quiet word’ or if a child came to him with an issue or was upset. He also denied that he physically published the children at the children other than one child he did say he had hit twice. 

The former ‘senior house parent in charge’ said he did remember the third man coming to the home as a boy, describing him as like a ‘lion with a sore paw, he was very angry’. He admitted that the boy had been rude to him on their first meeting, but denied smacking him and said that if he had one of the other people there, including a social worker would have acted. However, after that first meeting, Mr Marshall said the boy left ‘no impression’ on him and he couldn’t remember how long he was there. 

When asked about the allegations around bathtime, Mr Marshall said that the man was wrong to say Sunday was bath day as baths happened on a ‘rotating basis’ between boys and girls every day. He further said that he was ‘rarely on duty on a Sunday evening’ as he often went out that night. He added that female members of staff were responsible for bathing the younger children but the older ones bathed themselves. He further denied all allegations of the third witness, saying they were ‘not true whatsoever’. 

During her cross-examination of Mr Marshall, prosecutor Anne Whyte QC asked him if he had had any falling out with the three men or any meaningful contact since they left the home, he said no fallings out had occurred and that other than the one who attended his wife’s funeral he had not seen the men.

Ms White asked Mr Marshall what qualifications or training he had for the job at Knottfield. He said he and his wife had trained and worked at a live-in centre in England before taking on their roles on the island. They had initially lived in a separate building before moving into Knottfield with their own children some two years after taking up their roles. 

During the cross-examination, Ms Whyte said that he knew the children in their care were ‘vulnerable’ and unlikely to tell the authorities what had happened to them. Mr Marshall accepted some were but said others were ‘hardened’ to the system. 

The QC noted that in 2016 Mr Marshall had told police that he couldn’t remember if the door to his office, which he said was the home’s office not his, could be locked, but now he said it could be with what he referred to as a ‘church hall’ key. Mr Marshall said that he had remembered the key but said the room was only ever locked from the outside and again refuted the allegations that he had ever locked it when he had children with him inside the office. ‘It was never locked from the inside, ever’, he told the court. 

When asked about the alleged phone call which the deceased man said Mr Marshall used as a pretext to wake him and take him into the office, Mr Marshall said there wasn’t a phone in the office at that time and that it was hung up on the wall in the entrance hall. 

Ms Whyte later asked Mr Marshall about the allegations relating to the bathing of one of the men when they were boys. He again told the court that female members of staff did the bathing and that ‘there was no lock on the door of the bathroom’. He added: ‘I did not bathe any child, of any age, in that bathroom.’ Mr Marshall described the other allegations by the deceased man as ‘absolutely false’.

The trial will continue on Monday.

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