January 2004

Sex attacker’s jail term reduced

A FORMER social worker jailed for sex attacks on teenagers at an East Staffordshire children’s home has failed in a bid to have his convictions overturned – but has had his jail term cut by two years.

Joseph Hopkins, was jailed for 12 years in November, 2001, after he was found guilty at a trial of one rape, nine indecent assaults and two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. 

The offences were all committed against children who were in care at the Riverside Children’s Home in Rocester between 1981 and 1985. 

The jury cleared the 61-year-old of one charge of rape, one of indecency with a child and three further indecent assaults.

Hopkins, of Ash Grove, Lichfield, denied all the charges made against him during a two week trial at Worcester Crown Court.

After a two-hour hearing at London’s Appeal Court on Friday, Lord Justice Pill dismissed his conviction appeal – but went on to reduce his 12-year term to 10 years. 

Judge Pill, sitting with Mr Justice Aikens and Mr Justice Gray, said the court would give reasons for both rulings at a later date.

Attacking the convictions as ‘unsafe’, Hopkins’ solicitor, Ray Wigglesworth, said that one of the alleged victims had ‘lied in her evidence’ by claiming that she had not made a claim for compensation over her ordeal and “never intended to do so.” She later admitted starting a damages claim after she was confronted with a letter from her own solicitor to this effect, said the barrister. 

Mr Wigglesworth claimed there had been a “massive trawling exercise” before the trial, in which the police placed newspaper advertisements “asking for former residents to come forward for interview.” 

Officers were instructed to begin interviewing residents who came forward with “neutral” questions, but to ask direct questions “if nothing was forthcoming,” he claimed. 

Mr Wigglesworth said there was evidence which “suggested collusion,” with the possibility that some “complainants” may have spent time together and compared notes between leaving Riverside and the start of Hopkins’ trial.

He also criticised the trial judge’s summing-up on the possibility of collusion.

The judges did not indicate when they would give their reasons for dismissing Hopkins’ conviction appeal and allowing his appeal against sentence.

Hopkins was caught after an investigation by Staffordshire Police into allegations of abuse at the Riverside Home during the 1980s.

Operation Thor was launched in 1999 and has since resulted in seven convictions.

The Riverside Home closed in 1989.