The trial into allegations of historical child sexual abuse heard its final evidence yesterday, as both the prosecution and defence summed up their cases.
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.
At the start of the day, the court heard the final submission from the defence, a written statement from a woman who had exchanged correspondence with one of the witnesses, having previously met him whilst working at Victoria Road Prison.
Defence advocate Collingwood Thompson QC said the woman had provided a statement, sections of which he read out to the court. In this, he noted differences between what was said in court by the and what the former prison PSHE coordinator said the man had told her. This included different forms of abuse than what was said in court and a differing description of Knottfield Children’s Home, including the office where the abuse is alleged to have taken place.
Mr Thompson’s junior partner Anwar Nashashibi also read out the agreed facts of the case. These are facts agreed by both the prosecution and defence.
These included that the third accuser, who died in an accident before the case reached court, was only at Knottfield for six weeks between February and March 1975, as recorded by the then Education Board. It is also agreed that the man said the alleged incidents in the bath began two to three weeks after he arrived at the home and that the alleged buggery in the office happened a further two to three weeks after then.
The two sides also agreed that the man had not responded to the police’s first attempt to contact him about Knottfield and that he had instructed a lawyer to seek compensation prior to the trial.
In her summing up, prosecuting advocate Anne Whyte QC told the court that Mr Marshall was in a position of authority over vulnerable which meant more in the 1970s than it would do now and that children ‘weren’t at the centre of safeguarding’ in the way they are be today.
Ms Whyte said that given the home the children either lived or visited, Mr Marshall was the senior authority figure and with his wife being the most senior female figure the ‘chances of them speaking out was zero’.
Focussing her case on four areas, Ms Whyte admitted there were concerns around the reliability of more than one of the witnesses, including why they hadn’t come forward before. However, turning to their motivation, she said there is no evidence that the three men have colluded some version of events and it therefore there is no reason for them to concoct stories which generally support each other. She also noted that each witness has, in one way or another, said they blame themselves for what happened.
Continuing on that theme, Ms Whyte said while Mr Marshall doesn’t have to prove anything and his defence is that none of the alleged incidents happened, there is no reason for why the men would go through the formal court procedures nearly 40 years after the event if it hadn’t happened.
She added: ‘There is only one motivation and it is to right a longstanding wrong.’
Finally Ms Whyte turned to the common denominators of the case, which is one, the prosecution say, of escalating incidents which led to the normalising of the behaviour of Mr Marshall. She also noted that all three men’s evidence focussed on events which happened in a locked downstairs office.
She added: ‘All of these similarities come out of three different people’s accounts, coming on different occasions, decades later, what are the chance of that.’
Ms Whyte finished by telling the court that Mr Marshall had treated the children in his care like ‘second class citizens’ and ‘abused them with impunity’.
In his summing up, Mr Thompson told the jury that they had to remember that the burden of proof is on the prosecution and that they can’t lose sight of that.
Turning immediately to the motivation behind why the men would come forward now, he said: ‘The devil himself does not know what the thought of man is.’
He said the first witness had clearly not enjoyed this time at Knottfield and that this may have given him motivation to dislike Mr Marshall.
Mr Thompson said that while the allegations of the three men do contain some similarities, they also differ on several key areas.
He told the court that of the most common similarity, the downstairs office, he said that if people make something up, they need to make it somewhere private where there could be no witnesses, in this instance he suggests like an office with a locked door. However aside from this, Mr Thompsons said there are discrepancies in the evidence of the witnesses and that this is where ‘the cracks start to appear in the prosecution’s case’.
He said that when making their decision, the jury had to say ‘At the end of the day, when you look at it all, is that evidence credible?’
Mr Thompson went on to note discrepancies throughout his own life, including medical records and letters he wrote, including one to Tynwald when it launched its own inquiry into Knottfield, from what the first witness told the court.
He later said: ‘These inconsistencies are so large, are they not, that they cast doubt on him and his account?’
Turning to the second witness, Mr Thompson highlighted differences between the map he drew of the home and the one drawn by the other witnesses and how it was remembered by Mr Marshall. He said that unlike the other men he did have an authority figure he could tell, his parents, yet he only chose to do so in later life.
He said the man’s evidence came to a ‘head on crash’ with Mr Marshall’s, who could not remember his visits to the home.
Coming to the statement from the deceased man, Mr Thompson said this had placed the defence in a difficult position because they were unable to cross-examine him.
Criticising the police, Mr Thompson said this had been ‘compounded’ by a lack of note taking by officers when they first spoke to the man. The advocate also criticised that police had failed to notice discrepancies between the man’s statement that he was at the home for up to 10 or 11 months after the alleged abuse occurred and the official government records which say he was there for six weeks before released back into the care of his family. This, Mr Thompson said, had ‘deprived’ the court of evidence.
He said: ‘That sequence of events is impossible to reconcile with his very short stay in Knottfield.’
What was recorded in the man’s statement was that a similar incident had happened to him tow years before, Mr Thompson cast doubt on this and said it would be an ‘enormous coincidence’ if it were true.
Mr Thompson concluded by telling the court, Mr Marshall has always denied the allegations when put to him and has been ‘entirely consistent’ throughout. He added: ‘Consistency is the mark of a true account.’ And closed by saying that the discrepancies he highlighted meant that the defence had ‘failed to make its case’ and asked the jury to find his client not guilty of all charges.
The trial continues this morning, with the jury expected to be sent out by Deemster Bernard Richmond to consider its verdict.