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March 18 2016.

Denis and Aideen Jones of Sandgate Close in Seaford say that their lives have been devastated by false accusations of child cruelty in a case dating back to the mid 1970’s.

The married couple have spoken out this week after a jury at Chester Crown Court took less than 30 minutes to return a unanimous not guilty verdict on all seven counts of child cruelty levelled against them. The two accusers, now in their 50’s, were cared for by the Jones’ 40 years ago.

The couple have been on bail for the past two and a half years after they were arrested under Operation Pallial, a police investigation into child abuse claims at care homes in North Wales.

Following their arrest in August 2013, Denis, 66, and Aideen, 63, both lost their jobs and have been forced to spend over £100k in legal costs. Despite a full acquittal, they cannot claim this money back and are unlikely to return to their careers.

The allegations against the couple date back when they worked at Bryn Alyn, a residential home with education for children and young people. The main charge against them was said to have occurred between 1973 and 1974, but during their nine day trial, the couple were able to prove that they did not start working in North Wales until two years later.

The accusers are former Bryn Alyn residents who the Jones’ believe were motivated to make up the allegations by the prospect of financial compensation.

“This prosecution should never have been brought. The evidence against my clients was fabricated by suggestible complainants egged on by hopelessly biased police officers,” says the Jones’ solicitor, Chris Saltrese.

Other former residents of Bryn Alyn have come forward in support of the Jones’. Some of them willingly acted as defence witnesses, as did former colleagues who worked with the couple at the time the alleged cruelty took place.

Despite alleged police failings and a lack of substantiated evidence, the case went to trial in what some considered a politically motivated move. Operation Pallial was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Teresa May after a false accusation of child abuse was made against Lord McAlpine by the BBC in November 2012. This led other former care home children to make allegations, many of which have since proved to be false.

Seven members of care staff from Bryn Alyn have faced 31 allegations in court with 30 acquittals and 1 guilty finding. A closed group on social media website Facebook is claimed to show potential collusion between accusers in the other cases.

Both Mr and Mrs Jones have worked with vulnerable children and adults throughout their careers. At the time of their arrest, Denis was the national Research Officer for CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Social Services) and Aideen was Chief Executive of Southdown Housing Association. While on bail in 2014, Aideen was awarded an OBE for services to the intellectually disabled.

Until now, the Jones’ have been unable to speak publically about their case. It took 18 months for them to be charged. In that time it is claimed that they were harassed by a national newspaper, threatened on social media and forced to leave their home for periods of time.

“There is no shred of truth whatsoever in any of the allegations, but we never dreamt that it would take nearly three years to prove our innocence. The impact on our lives has been catastrophic. Our life savings have been wiped out and our future is uncertain. We have only survived this ordeal because we are surrounded by people who know without question that we are completely incapable of any degree of child cruelty,” says Denis.

Aideen says: “Operation Pallial manipulated damaged individuals who were then made to look foolish in court when their lies were exposed. We are angry at our accusers, but are more concerned about a system that gave credence to, even encouraged, these wild accusations. False allegations divert resources away from keeping children safe and undermine genuine victims of abuse.

“The jury made up their minds within minutes, which is very telling. Our innocence has been proven, but we will have to live with the repercussions of this for the rest of our lives."

Dr and Mrs Jones are well known in East Sussex for their active involvement in charity work. They are both passionate about horticulture and regularly open up their own garden to the public to raise money for good causes.