Review of Wrongful Allegations of Sexual and Child Abuse


The only contemporary commentary in criminological literature addressing the controversial issue of wrongful allegations of abuse and victims of untrue allegations.

By: Ros Burnett (Editor). Publisher: Oxford University Press. Date (2016). Hardback £75.00.


This is a ground-breaking book. It will undoubtedly become a major reference work for criminologists, sociologists, legal researchers and legal professionals. It deserves also to be read by policy makers, parliamentarians and social commentators. Burnett has assembled an impressive list of contributors: leading scholars, legal experts and social commentators. The reality of wrongful convictions and the terrible impact on the lives of the falsely accused and their families is conveyed with poignancy and a sense of immediacy. The arbitrary nature of false allegations are discussed with a clarity that is thought-provoking. In chapter 2, the editor introduces six case studies. These accounts, rich in contextual detail, are moving and it is not an exaggeration to state that they incite horror. The book is divided into five distinct sub sections, each of which delineates the causative, ideological and motivational influences which engender false allegations. The contributors treat these converging themes in a lively and provocative fashion. Important judicial and legislative changes are considered in a clear and well-reasoned analysis. Shifting attitudinal perceptions to child abuse are brought to the fore with lively and stimulating essays which provide a useful historical context to contemporary policy developments. The closing chapter is bold and strident, laying bare a multitude of factors which can lead to wrongful abuse allegations. Burnett pulls together the central threads of the narrative and shines a torch on significant judicial and legislative changes. The weaknesses of an adversarial criminal justice system, cognitive dissonance, and popular misconceptions about memory are discussed with reasoned argument and balance. An authoritative and ambitious book which exposes the injustice of untrue allegations. (Dr Kevin Felstead, BFMS)


The book, part academic, part polemic, is an essential read for any and all involved in the criminal justice system – which means everyone: investigators, interviewers, social workers, police, prosecutors, defenders, judges and the public (as potential jurors). To me, this book is a genuine 21-faceted diamond – and how, how, I wish it was available some 25 years ago. As a whole, it is one large cautionary tale. To finish on a practical note for criminal lawyers: this book is a virtual directory containing a gallery of experts, their expertise and their experience, with excerpts of their work. If for no other reason than that, you may want to think of acquiring it – or, at the very least, consulting a copy. But if you do just try to use it as a directory, I venture the thought that the content, its substance and its strength, will lay a hold on you. (Nigel Hampton QC, LawTalk)


This is an important book which raises serious issues not only for academics but also for criminal justice policy-makers, practitioners and commentators. It illuminates some troubling features of the justice system in Britain and the United States and of modern western society more generally. It deserves to be widely read, not least by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse which the British Government set up in 2014. (David Faulkner CB, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford)


The one thing this book isn’t, most emphatically isn’t, is a demolition of any particular claims of sexual abuse. It is far, far, cleverer than that. It is a careful analysis, expert by expert, of the psychological pressures that might lead to a wrongful allegation; of the ways in which policing methods may contribute towards this; the economic pressures on therapists and personal injury lawyers; how judicial thinking is formulated and best of all, several chapters on how we could move forward in the future, in the best interests of both complainants and defendants … I hope that people, particularly journalists and activists, from both sides of the great divide as the issue of historic allegations of abuse has become, will read this book, cover to cover. If you are going to argue, debate, or be an activist on the subject – then you should be in possession of all the facts. (Susan Cameron-Blackie)


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