Yesterday an article revealed that the BPS is facing a Charity Commission probe:
Having volunteered in various roles over 15 years I am sad that it came to this. At the end of 2020 I stepped down from all BPS volunteering roles in protest at the premature closure of the Memory-Based Evidence (MBE) task and finish group that was only started in January 2020.
Below I outline the background to that decision including key elements of the controversies that underpin the ‘Memory Wars’ since the 1990’s.
A helpful colleague recently circulated an article of Prof Ross Cheit, a survivor of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), concerning the Taus vs Loftus controversy. In short, Corwin & Olafson (1997) presented a case study that involved video recordings of ‘Jane Doe’ at age 6 and 17 regarding allegations of CSA. Loftus & Guyer (2002) tracked down ‘Jane Doe’ and wrote a two-part article in a news stand publication ‘The Skeptical Enquirer’ based on interviews with various family members surrounding Jane (but not Jane herself). Young Jane, at the time a college student, got very upset and commenced litigation under her real name Nicole Taus that stretched over many years. The costs of the law suit lead to her declaring bankruptcy, and termination of her career as an army helicopter pilot. She retrained as a Psychologist and wrote an article of her experience in the same 2014 journal issue.
Please find below authorised links to all related articles in the 2014 Special Issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence and the original 1997 article series on the website of ‘The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’ (APSAC):
I particularly recommend the Olafson (2014) article.
I also provide below links to articles in ‘The Skeptical Enquirer’ by Loftus & Guyer (2002) and Tavris (2008), the Loftus (2003) Daedalus article as well as a journal article by Geis & Loftus (2009):
Here is a Wikipedia link to the Jane Doe case which curiously does not reference the 2014 Special Issue:
It is helpful to consider this state-of-affairs in the light of the experiences of Dr Ellen Lacter, an experienced Clinical Psychologist based in California, whose website (that I learned a lot from including Extreme Abuse Survey info) was blacklisted by Wikipedia:
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) allegations are notoriously difficult to investigate especially within families.
In the paragraphs that follow I describe in considerable detail my (unsuccessful) efforts to bring irregularities in a specific case to the attention of relevant authorities. The details of this case are deeply disturbing and may be triggering.
I also outline the steps I have taken as a Chartered Psychologist to tackle inadequacies at the British Psychological Society (BPS). Most of my relevant presentations can be downloaded from my ResearchGate profile https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rainer-Kurz or can be requested from me. I will finish with a call to action which appears timely as the BPS is going to be investigated by the Charity Commission as per attached article in yesterday’s Telegraph.
I encountered in a private capacity an extreme case in 2012 which I handled to the best of my abilities. A mother alleged to police that a ‘stalker’ sexually assaulted her toddler and disclosed that as a young teenager she delivered a baby that succeeded from incestuous rape and then ‘disappeared’. She disclosed that she was sexually assaulted by her father since she was a toddler up to age 20. Naturally, we all would expect authorities to take such disclosures extremely seriously and fully document her history in video recorded interviews. Unfortunately, instead a series of mental health professionals acting as court appointed experts concluded she was delusional about these two index incidents resulting in the mother’s loss of custody for her son.
As a volunteer I sat in at the final session with a Clinical Psychologist and from then on listened to the mother’s many stories. She described about a dozen ‘stalking’ situations in South Wales which I briefly described in a 2015 presentation.
I found documentary proof in a police report of the most hair-raising incident (that involved the mother and her toddler being intercepted by a police helicopter on a hiking path) so had to take these very seriously. In this paper I covered three extreme abuse cases (all also in South Wales!) which led to successful prosecutions:
- Conviction of Ian Watkins, former singer of ‘The Lost Prophets’, for attempted baby rape.
- Conviction of Colin Batley for Child Sexual Abuse while running a Satanist cult.
- Conviction of Albert and Carole Hickmann for CSA including ‘sucking blood’.
After 100h of active listening I asked the mother to take me to various locations where the alleged offences happened. Outside her former house she spontaneously reported: ‘This is where he drove up the pavement and nearly ran us over’. At last, I was certain that the mother was not delusional about these staking events but the victim of a terrifying ordeal that culminated in an ‘unbelievable’ sexual assault on the toddler. I asked her whether threats were made after the sexual assault and she only nodded knowingly.
She reported that after being thrown out by her parents late one evening she requested emergency help at Kingston-upon-Thames police station. An officer quizzed her about her parents and shared that her father was suspected of pedophilia related offences. He instructed her to delay reporting of any sexual assault on her toddler by several weeks as it would a, be too dangerous to go up against her father on her own and b, that it would jeopardise an undercover investigation designed to ‘nail him for life’. Across four occasions the mother was consistent in her account of the chilling conversation. On several occasions she exclaimed: ‘This officer saved my life’.
Concerns for her own safety are understandable as the officer explored with her three violent deaths of adults, and two disappearances of new-born babies that police reportedly linked to the family member. Furthermore, in the 12 months between the police officer briefing and the alleged assault on the toddler three individuals in the vicinity of the mother were found dead. Within a few weeks the half-aunt had died suddenly (ostensibly due to alcoholism) whose toddler was also sexually assaulted according to court documents and put on the child protection register (note that makes three alleged toddler rape victims within one extended family – with one assault medically proven and that victim’s mother suffering a sudden death in the prime of life). Just after Christmas the toddler’s nursery teacher’s friend was found dead in the South Wales village river. A few weeks later the toddler’s godmother was found dead in her burnt-out house across the Irish Sea.
The accounts of her family background and activities had uncanny parallels with the Fred & Rose West case that also involved incest and murder of a daughter with a comparable headcount of alleged violent deaths.
My top priority was public safety so that I raised concerns with many authority representatives. My second priority was the safety of the toddler who I had reason to believe was ‘smuggled’ into the control of an abuse group. My third priority was to fight the social injustice of the Forced Adoption. I counted three dozen tax-payer funded individuals who failed to perform their duties properly.
Role of Psychologists as Expert Witnesses in Family Court Proceedings
Increasingly I turned my attention to the role of mental health professionals in Family Court proceedings. In 2014 I managed to get a reader’s letter into The Psychologist rebutting a misleading article my Prof Chris French at Goldsmith. I put myself forward to a BPS volunteer role in 2015 that enabled me to join the BPS Research Board. In 2016 I convened an interdisciplinary symposium at the 10th Oxford Dyslexia conference shedding some light on the role of neurodiversity issues in the case. I managed to get another interdisciplinary symposium accepted at the 2017 BPS Annual Conference in Brighton. However, following a highly irregular process my symposium got cancelled by conference chair Peter Branney who shortly afterwards became a Trustee of the BPS.
Courageous psychologists at the BPS South-West Branch published later that year published my article on the role of psychologist as experts in family courts which had started off as a Reader’s Letter to The Psychologist but was not only refused print publication by the Editor Jon Sutton but even ‘purged’ from the electronic commentary section!
At the end of 2017 I presented at the ESTD conference in Bern 3 papers and a poster related to psychological assessment issues. This triggered a third Private Eye article critical of my investigations – Prof Alexis Jay was criticised in the same article for speaking at this conference, so I found myself in good company.
Lost Memories, False Prophets & BPS Guidelines
I presented at the 2017 conference a paper with the above title with five parts:
- I Exposing Satanist Ritual Abuse (SRA)
- II False Memories Discourse of Disbelief
- III British Psychological Society (BPS) Guidelines
- IV BPS Publication ‘The Psychologist’
- V Media Spin
I briefly outlined six BPS documents.
I was very impressed with ‘Recovered Memories: The Report of the Working Party of the British Psychological Society’ (1995). Its corresponding article in The Psychologist May 1995 issue revealed that across 1083 survey respondents (overall responsive rate: 27%) 13% of respondents worked with clients reporting Satanist Ritual Abuse (SRA) and believed them whereas 15% had clients reporting SRA overall. These two documents can be downloaded alongside an important report by Prof Jane Ireland (2012) critical of the quality of psychologist expert reports in Family Court proceedings from ResearchGate (see ‘Project log’):
I then outlined the controversial Guidelines on Memory and the Law developed under Prof. Martin Conway and first published in 2008. He had made his name as a memory researcher and in 1997 edited a book that featured a cross-section of contributors including Prof. Chris Brewin and Prof. Bernice Andrews who had contributed to the Recovered Memories report.
Prof. Conway joined the BPS Research Board in 2004 and was its chair 2006 to 2009. He secured an ESRC grant and oversaw the development. Members of the Committee included
- Dr L. Morrison-Coulthard, Scientific Administrator, BPS
- Dr D.B. O’Connor, University of Leeds
- Professor E.F. Loftus, University of California, Irvine, USA
- Dr C. Loveday, University of Westminster, UK
No member of the Recovered Memory working group was listed as a contributor and the only reference to their work was entirely unrepresentative: ‘It is noted that the impact of therapy on trauma memory has been a concern in the arena of the ‘false memory debate’ for recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. This is separate area and is covered in detail elsewhere by the British Psychological Society’.
There is no reference to Davies & Dalgleish (2001) ‘Recovered Memories – Seeking the Middle Ground’ and neither to Brown, Scheflin & Hammond (1998), a 2.2.kg tomb with 786 pages I recently received titled: ‘MEMORY, TRAUMA, TREATMENT AND THE LAW – An essential reference on memory for clinicians, researchers, attorneys, and judges.’ Chapter 12 is titled: The False Logic of the False Memory Controversy and the Irrational Element in Scientific Research on Memory.
I wonder what experienced trauma therapists make of the following under the heading ‘3.ii ADULT MEMORY FOR CHILDHOOD; (p.13):
‘Thus, when gauging the accuracy of childhood memories recalled by adults, and by
children older than about 10 years, the following rules of thumb are recommended:
■ Detailed and well-organised memories dating to events that occurred between
7 to 5 years of age should be viewed with caution.
■ Detailed and well-organised memories dating to events that occurred between
5 to 3 years of age should be viewed with considerable caution.
■ All memories dating to the age of 3 years and below should be viewed with great
caution and should not be accepted as memories without independent
In general the accuracy of memories dating to below the age of about 7 years cannot be
established in the absence of independent corroborating evidence.’
The BPS Expert Witness group was not consulted as Prof. Conway judged that their members did not fit his group’s definition of what constitutes a memory expert. Even with protest from this very important stakeholder group and others it took two years to change just one sentence in the Key Points:
x. A memory expert is a person who is recognised by the memory research community to be a memory researcher.
x. A memory expert is a person who is recognised by the memory research community to possess knowledge relevant to the particular case.
Prof. Martin Conway became a member of the British False Memory Society (BFMS) Academic Advisory Board in 2011. His profile at City University lists numerous professional activities but omits the BFMS role:
At the BPS until recently an international Panel existed featuring Prof. Loftus. Prof. Catherine Loveday has been the Chair of ‘The Psychologist and Digest Editorial Committee’ for almost 6 years. She published many articles with Prof. Martin Conway and is an Affiliative Member of the Memory & Law Centre at City where Prof. Elizabeth F. Loftus is a Visiting Professor:
Kurz (2017) outlined that numerous articles in The Psychologist were by authors with False Memory associations. I also cite Appeal Court judge rulings 2010, 2011 and 2012. Here is an excerpt of what the judges wrote in 2012:
Case No. 2011/04796/C3
Although not now relevant to this appeal we feel we should mention that this is not the first time that Mr Barlow and his instructing solicitors have attempted to overturn a conviction on the basis of Professor Conway’s evidence as to the reliability of childhood memories. His reports are controversial. Only once to our knowledge, in an “unusual” case, has this court accepted his evidence (see R v JH and R v TG  1 Cr App R 10). However, the court was unaware at that time of significant criticisms of Professor Conway’s methodology which have led to the court’s declining to receive his evidence (see R v S  EWCA Crim 1404, R v E  EWCA Crim 1370 and R v H  EWCA Crim 2344). In the light of those decisions, we have our doubts as to whether JH and TG, which was restricted very much to a specific set of facts, would be decided the same way today. Professor Conway may wish to consider amending his CV in which, we note, he mentions only R v JH and r v TG.
Unperturbed by such criticisms Prof Martin Conway in the 10/2014 issue of The Psychologist went on with two co-authors to describe those who do not share their view on memory as ‘the zealots’, ‘the Old Guard’ and ‘the Fantasists’.
Memory-Based Evidence Task & Finish Group
I helped to bring about in 2019 a promising exploratory meeting that was held with view to developing an up-to-date BPS document.
In January 2020 expressions of interest applications for the Memory-Based Evidence tasks and finish group closed and in March 2020 for the associated Expert Review Group – which never actually met. Why? Tensions arose between the members of the task and finish group, and BPS leaders. Following a recommendation of the BPS policy unit headed by Dr Lisa Morrison-Coulthard the BPS Research Board voted to close down the MBE group. I voted against the motion and made five recommendations to Prof. Daryl O’Connor who for more than 5 years has been the Chair of the Research Board and is a Trustee of the BPS. Both were members of the original Guideline development team.
You can find a range of Reader’s Letters here where BPS members can add their voice:
The dissenting voices are increasing – I am pleased about the ‘Fake BPS’ blog and postings:
(with a link to my blog at the bottom)
Constructive criticisms of BPS shenanigans can be found here:
From the blog:
When retired Clinical Psychology Professor Peter Harvey nudged the BPS about his letter a response was received from the BPS Director of Knowledge and Insight [sic]. This confirmed the fact that the Group has been disbanded and that the reason for this was that “…the standards of evidence for the report and the need for consensus and a convergence of evidence from experimental work and clinical practice, as defined within the Terms of Reference for the group, could not be met.”. In response to my query about informing the wider membership I was told “…To date, we have only received two enquires about this issue, including your enquiry, so we have not disseminated a wider statement to members.”.
If you disagree with the decision to close the MBE group, please email (preferably with cc. or bcc. to email@example.com):
Dr Rainer H. Kurz
Member of the BPS Committee for Test Standards 2010-2015
Member of the BPS Research Board 2015-2020