How false accusation of our child’s attempted murder tore our lives apart

'Mark Taylor', whose name has been changed for this article, has fought for three years to clear his wife's name. Pic: Tony Johnson
'Mark Taylor', whose name has been changed for this article, has fought for three years to clear his wife's name. Pic: Tony Johnson
  • A Yorkshire mother and father were forced to embark on a three year battle to clear her name after she was falsely accused of a horrifying crime. Rob Parsons reports.
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As Mark and Mary Taylor approached the Yorkshire village where they were due to pick up their daughter from respite care, they had no idea that what was about to ensue would cast a shadow over their lives for the next three years.

As Mark and Mary Taylor approached the Yorkshire village where they were due to pick up their daughter from respite care, they had no idea that what was about to ensue would cast a shadow over their lives for the next three years.

'Mark Taylor' saw his wife Mary arrested after a false attempted murder accusation. Pic: Tony Johnson

'Mark Taylor' saw his wife Mary arrested after a false attempted murder accusation. Pic: Tony Johnson

Waiting for the door to be answered, the couple, whose names have been changed for this article, noticed police officers approaching them from either end of the quiet country road before finally at least eight were surrounding them.

One of the North Yorkshire Police officers then stepped forward and told Mary she was under arrest for the attempted murder of Sophie, their severely-disabled 15-year-old daughter with a condition on the autistic spectrum.

According to a complaint later lodged by the couple, “Mark asked if Sophie was dead, he was reassured that Sophie was fine and told he had to let go of Mary as she had to go with the officers, Mark’s hands were prised from Mary and she was marched away down the lane with a male officer holding each of her arms.”

The arrest on May 31, 2011, described as “humiliating and disproportionate” by the couple, resulted in a distraught Mrs Taylor being placed into a police riot van and held in custody in Northallerton for six hours.

The ordeal he has suffered has led to the destruction of his family and livelihood. Eventually the police apologised but by then it was too little, too late.

Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner

In the short term it led to Mr and Mrs Taylor’s home being searched, Sophie being placed in a children’s home for three months and, according to Mr Taylor, ultimately the break-down of the couple’s marriage.

After protesting Mary’s innocence throughout, and heavily critical of the approach that North Yorkshire Police took in dealing with their case, the couple were in December 2013 able to extract a categorical assurance from the chief constable that she had not committed the offence and would not be prosecuted. They later received an apology.

But the protracted battle to achieve this, which included reviews of the case by two police forces and the service watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, took a heavy toll.

It sheds a light on the workings of the police complaints system, that, even in the words of the county’s crime commissioner, is “bureaucratic, complex, slow and lacks independence”.

Tim Madgwick wrote to the couple confirming that Mrs Taylor had not committed the crime she was accused of.

Tim Madgwick wrote to the couple confirming that Mrs Taylor had not committed the crime she was accused of.

Mark has now revealed details of his ordeal for the first time, though he has asked for his details and those of his family to be changed to protect his children’s welfare.

He said: “It took three or four years of my life to get Mary’s name cleared. It cost me my job and even my marriage. I applied for compensation but by then Mary and I had separated.

“If someone like me can’t get anywhere, I have got a first class honours degree, I have got legal people in the family, I know how to pull the levers. I couldn’t get anywhere and it destroyed me. What chance has anyone else got?”

The accusation against Mary, and one that she vehemently denied, was that she had told a younger relative during a trip to New York that she had previously attempted to suffocate Sophie with a pillow.

'Mark Taylor', whose name has been changed for this article, has fought for three years to clear his wife's name. Pic: Tony Johnson

'Mark Taylor', whose name has been changed for this article, has fought for three years to clear his wife's name. Pic: Tony Johnson

It later transpired that, after this unverified allegation was raised at a meeting of social workers, child specialists and the police on the Friday before a Bank Holiday weekend, police interviewed the accuser before going to arrest Mrs Taylor on the Sunday.

She was detained at the end of May 2011 and 12 weeks later her case was marked with ‘no further action’, meaning there was insufficient evidence to charge or caution a suspect, but leaving open the possibility of further action.

The couple went to pick up their daughter straight away from the children’s resource centre where she had been staying.

“[The police] knew within a day or two this was not going anywhere but they spun it out for another three months”, Mr Taylor said.

“They thought they were arresting a couple who lived in a council house. Instead they got a nice middle-class family who were extremely well connected. They didn’t get any support from any of the other agencies, who thought they were making a mistake.”

Furious that the lead detective in the case, Mark Pearson, now a member of North Yorkshire Police’s major crime unit, had taken what Mr Taylor claims was drastic action based on a “fictitious and prejudiced” statement, they complained to the force.

'Mark Taylor' saw his wife Mary arrested after a false attempted murder accusation. Pic: Tony Johnson

'Mark Taylor' saw his wife Mary arrested after a false attempted murder accusation. Pic: Tony Johnson

They were also angry that Dr Jonathan James, Sophie’s paediatrician, who wrote a report on the case for the police’s use, later met with officers from North Yorkshire Police’s vulnerable people unit at the Tithe Bar pub in Northallerton.

Mr Taylor said: “They were using Jonathan James as an independent expert, what the hell are they doing going to the pub with him?”

In his statement to police at the time, Dr James said he had provided a detective with a copy of his report into the case and later met with him at the pub to discuss it. He said Mark Pearson turned up after the discussion about the report, though Mr Pearson says he was not at the pub that night at all.

John Bosomworth, who carried out the original interview with the accuser, was also present and admitted later that “with hindsight it wasn’t the best place to have the conversation”. But he said there was no breach of confidentiality.

He told investigators that as his own criminal probe progressed, he respected Mrs Taylor ever more for being a loving mother, but insisted the allegations had to be looked into.

The couple’s initial complaint against North Yorkshire Police, made in the spring of 2012, made more than three dozen allegations of misconduct against the officers involved in the case. All but four were deemed to be unsubstantiated by the force’s professional standards team.

The officer investigating their claims did recommend strong management advice be given to the serving officers from the vulnerable people unit who met Dr James in the pub.

He wrote: “Although there is no evidence to indicate that confidentiality was compromised, a bar room to which the public have access is not a suitable venue for the conduct of police business with members of other agencies.”

Dr James told The Yorkshire Post he took an opportunity to speak to the police informally at a social event in a pub to try to understand “why the arrest went ahead in the way that it did in order to help the family understand”.

He said: “I wanted to know why did this happen in this particular way and could there have been a better way of managing it. What emerged was that the allegation was so serious that the police had to act quickly.”

He added: “In all these cases, what makes life harder for parents is that the legislation says the child’s interests have to come first. Over the years the guidance to professionals has tightened considerably so any discretion we used to have has gone.

“If I saw someone with injuries that I thought were a little suspicious but I wasn’t sure were inflicted, whereas once I might have reviewed the child in a few days, now I would refer straight to the authorities.”

Mark Pearson, in his statement to police, said he believed the arrest was necessary because of the serious nature of the allegations and the fact that the “threshold of significant harm” had been met.

In the face of claims that he failed to challenge the credibility of the relative’s account, he insisted that challenging her statement could have compromised the integrity of the investigation.

Still aggrieved by the lack of an apology and what they claimed was a lack of accountability for the officers who had “torn their lives apart”, Mr and Mrs Taylor appealed, this time to the IPCC, who referred it to another police force.

An October 2013 report by Detective Superintendent Jon Green, head of professional standards for Cleveland Police, ruled that the arrest was lawful and that the decision not to bring a misconduct case against the North Yorkshire Police officers was correct.

But Mr Green’s report did criticise the performance of the detectives in the case. He said the investigation was “compromised” by the fact that the detectives never looked into why one account of the alleged crime said there were two attempts at suffocation, and another just the one attempt.

Remarking that the couple’s strong view was that the allegation made by the relative against Mrs Taylor was malicious and untrue, Mr Green added: “I’m not sure if this was ever considered as a hypothesis by the investigators”.

He added: “Even if it hadn’t then it still leaves the anomaly within the evidence, regarding how many attempts of suffocation were made, unresolved.

“Witnesses have a fundamental right to be believed, but investigators also have a duty to check and test that evidence ahead of any criminal proceedings, as part of the investigation - the overriding need is to find the truth.”

Mr Green wrote: “I do believe that all those involved acted with the best interests of [Sophie]. However, the quality of the investigation in this case could have been improved, both in terms of how the evidence was captured and the overall length of time it took to complete.”

He added: “In this respect there has been a collective failing on the part of the investigators.”

In a letter to the IPCC sent only after the investigations had been completed, Karl Podmore, the head of assessment and commissioning at North Yorkshire County Council, was scathing about the police’s approach.

He wrote: “The allegation made was very limited, had little contextual information and could not be verified. Against that stood Mr and Mrs Taylor who had been diligent parents of a severely disabled teenager.

“I consider that the arrest of Mary Taylor was inappropriate, outside of both Working Together and accepted Child Protection procedures. I remain unconvinced that the allegation warranted such a dramatic course of action over that weekend.

“The arrest of Mary Taylor set in motion an extremely traumatic experience for the family and I believe that they have never recovered from it.”

It was in December 2013, after talks between the couple, senior figures in the force and the office of recently elected crime commissioner Julia Mulligan, that North Yorkshire Police took steps to end their ordeal.

In a letter, chief constable Tim Madgwick, who would later go on to apologise for the “dissatisfaction” they had experienced, said he wanted to “clarify matters” about the 2011 arrest.

He said: “A thorough investigation has since taken place and North Yorkshire Police have concluded that you have not committed these offences and no prosecution will be brought against you.”

According to Mr Taylor, though a strategic review was promised, it took place in secret and he never found out the result or even if it took place.

Mr Taylor said he was promised a meeting with Mark Pearson to discuss the case and that this was cancelled several times, but that they eventually spoke on the phone.

In November 2013, crime commissioner Julia Mulligan highlighted the couple’s plight in an anonymised article about how the police complaints system “undermines trust in the police and demonstrates the case for change”.

She told The Yorkshire Post this week: “I met Mark Taylor during my first month as Police and Crime Commissioner about four years ago. The ordeal he has suffered has led to the destruction of his family and livelihood. Eventually the police apologised but by then it was too little, too late.

“The case demonstrates three things; that far greater independence needs to be injected into the police complaints system; that the police need to be prepared to quickly address complaints as comprehensively as possible and that they put the complainant first, rather than themselves.

“In Mr Taylor’s case, North Yorkshire Police followed the process to the letter, but lost sight of the family at the heart of the issue. This highlights all the problems endemic in the system and why reform is badly needed.

“With Mr Taylor’s situation firmly at the forefront of my mind, I have campaigned for change over the last four years, leading on behalf of all PCCs.

“I am very pleased that the Government listened and we now have a renewed complaints system about to be approved by Parliament, which I am looking forward to implementing in full locally.

“I hope that it goes some way to ensuring other families do not have to endure the ‘secondary trauma’ caused by fighting ‘the system’ as has Mr Taylor. On a personal note, I hope also that Mr Taylor knows I am there to support him as best I can.”

The Yorkshire Post approached North Yorkshire Police, who put the couple’s allegations to Mark Pearson for a response.

A force spokeswoman said: “The police service has a duty to investigate all reports of abuse of vulnerable children and adults. In this case, both the subsequent IPCC investigation and the investigation by Cleveland Police found the arrest was lawful and there was no evidence of misconduct.

“At the time of the report, our overriding concern was for the child at the centre of the allegation and to do nothing would have been neglectful. Nonetheless, we deeply regret any distress caused to the family as a result of the investigation, and have apologised to them.”