Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by scrub »

sejintenej wrote: Sun May 19, 2019 7:49 pmSeems to me that it might be appropriate to inform the present Bishop of Chichester that two of his staff were staff at CH at a "difficult" time and gave character references in this trial - just in case he did not know.
I've a feeling the Bishop is probably a little distracted at the moment what with the recently released IICSA report into Ball and third round of inquiries starting.
Still find it surprising that the media reporting hasn't mentioned Dobbie's links to the Chichester Diocese, or even referred to him as the chaplain. Thought at least one of the mainstream papers would have been all over that.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by richardb »

There are two fundamental rules which underscore the admissibility of evidence in a criminal trial: (i) it must be relevant; and (ii) its probative value must outweigh its prejudicial effect.

Evidence such as: "I always got on well with him and found him a sympathetic listener" is unlikely to be either relevant or probative.

A defendant calls character evidence to show he is a man of good character. The Crown Court Compendium (which is used by judges in preparing their legal directions to juries) says:
For centuries it has been accepted that evidence of the accused’s good character is admissible in criminal trials. In the modern era the courts have accepted that good character evidence may admissible (i) to bolster the accused’s credibility and (ii) as relevant to the likelihood of guilt.

Where a defendant is of good character – i.e has no convictions – and calls character witnesses, the jury will be told:
You know / it is agreed that the defendant has no convictions or cautions for any criminal offence and you have also heard unchallenged evidence from witnesses who spoke about the defendant’s personal qualities. {Here summarise the evidence or tell the jury that this will be summarised later}. The defendant is a man/woman of previous good character. This does not mean that the defendant could not have committed the offence/s with which he/she is charged but his/her good character is something you should take into account in the defendant’s favour in two ways. First: D gave evidence and you should take D’s lack of convictions/cautions and D’s personal qualities into account when you are deciding whether you believe D’s evidence. Secondly: the fact that D is now {specify} years old, that D has the qualities about which you have been told and that D has not committed any previous offence may mean that it is less likely that D would have committed the offence/s of {specify}. You should take D’s good character into account in D’s favour in the two ways I have just explained. It is for you to decide what importance you attach to it.

As should be apparent, the purpose of calling character witnesses is to show that the accused’s character is such that he is not the sort of person to commit the offences charged and to bolster his credibility – i.e the extent to which he is capable of belief.

The pre dominant factor in assessing good character is whether the accused has previous convictions. Dobbie did, so he can only have been relying on character witnesses to say that he was a man of the church and not the sort of person who would commit the offences with which he was charged.

Personally speaking, I cannot see what purpose character witnesses could have served in the most recent trial except to seek to persuade the jury that he is a thoroughly decent man who would not have committed the offences he was being tried for.

My own personal view is that character witnesses became largely pointless once Dobbie had been convicted of the earlier offences, as it showed that he wad indeed capable of committing offences of the type the jury was considering. The earlier convictions showed that the character witnesses were wrong in their continuing assessment of Dobbie.

I personally would not have called the character witnesses but we all make different tactical decisions.

There isn't any reason why you can't know what the evidence was but will probably need an official transcript to find out.

I hope that this assists.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by graham »

max_ratcliffe wrote: Mon May 20, 2019 1:53 pm The devil's in the details here, surely.

On the one hand the Higginses may said something as relatively harmless as "I always got on well with him and found him a sympathetic listener".

The other extreme would be a blind refusal to even entertain the idea that Dobbie (as a man of the cloth, blah blah) could possibly have done all those things, and would basically be implying some sort of conspiracy or mass hysteria.

I don't think they should necessarily be condemned for a statement like the former. The latter, conversely, would be quite staggering in the face of all the victim testimony.

The reality is no doubt somewhere in the middle. Does anyone know the content of the testimony? Are we allowed to?
There have been a diversity of reactions to the volume of abuse cases and abusers among those of us who were pupils at the time. Some seem to have been well-aware of what was going on. Some of us heard rumors or found specific individuals "odd" and so are not at all surprised. And others had no clue and so these revelations are startling.

The same must be true of staff (although to what extent they can have had no clue, I cant imagine). Some individuals may have interacted with the offenders on a day to day basis and, for whatever reason, been oblivious to what was going on. Its pure speculation on my part and Im not defending her choice of actions here (they're concerning and upsetting) but I wonder if Mrs Higgins is simply incapable of processing the idea that Dobbie and Husband could have assaulted children under her watch (Im referring particularly to overseas trips here) and that this opened her up to exploitation as a character witness.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by richardb »

I agree with you Graham, although I wonder how many pupils knew about the actual abuse as distinct from the notion that Dobbie had favourites.

The scale of the offending that Dobbie was convicted of last year - 8 pupils - tells its own tale which it is difficult to ignore.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by graham »

richardb wrote: Mon May 20, 2019 3:57 pm I wonder how many pupils knew about the actual abuse as distinct from the notion that Dobbie had favourites.
I cant answer this question but my guess would be that it was a relatively small number. I think he was universally seen as weird, but in a funny rather than dangerous way. I can look back on his behavior, particularly interacting with us in the trebles, and see flags but as 11 or 12 years old we weren't looking for those and we just assumed he was this jovial, comic-book character of a priest or something. Even remembering back to the comments of friends in Mid A when he was housemaster, we knew he had favorites but most teachers did in one way or another and so from the outside there was nothing overly odd.

More than anything, these trials and the revelations regarding the magnitude of his offending have made clear that the man was a masterful predator who knew how to manipulate the role of a teacher and priest to his advantage. Its for that reason that Im not surprised (but am saddened) that some of his former colleagues continue to be blinded by the truth. My remaining concern is that those blinkers might prevent others from seeing justice.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by peter2095 »

Wonder whether either or both of them know Anna Glenton who is the chaplain at Lewes Prison (according to google). She must be seeing a lot of peers from the diocese of Chichester and neighbouring diocese come through the door.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by max_ratcliffe »

richardb wrote: Mon May 20, 2019 2:59 pm There are two fundamental rules which underscore the admissibility of evidence in a criminal trial: (i) it must be relevant; and (ii) its probative value must outweigh its prejudicial effect.

Evidence such as: "I always got on well with him and found him a sympathetic listener" is unlikely to be either relevant or probative.

<snip>

I hope that this assists.
Richard, many thanks for this, which must rank as one of the clearest explanations of legal niceties anywhere.

As I now understand things, to appear on his behalf, the Higginses must genuinely believe in his innocence. Disturbing. I would still lay the blame with Dobbie for placing his friends in an invidious position. Why bother? He had already been convicted of other crimes. Did he think that this subsequent case was some sort of appeal versus that earlier conviction?!?
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by max_ratcliffe »

graham wrote: Mon May 20, 2019 5:50 pm

I cant answer this question but my guess would be that it was a relatively small number. I think he was universally seen as weird, but in a funny rather than dangerous way. I can look back on his behavior, particularly interacting with us in the trebles, and see flags but as 11 or 12 years old we weren't looking for those and we just assumed he was this jovial, comic-book character of a priest or something.
Dobbie taught me Div in 84-85, some time before he began his offending (I think). He did seem weird then, but I agree with Graham - he was weird in the sense of being a caricature of a ridiculously posh person. Even with the benefit of hindsight, I'm not sure that I was aware of any danger there.

I can't say I thought that much of him, but then I didn't think that much of any of the chaplains or Div lessons for that matter. By and large a load of sanctimonious waffle often with a lot of focus about sex.

Would I have believed allegations against him at the time? I'd like to think so, but would I really? I didn't initially believe the allegations about Webb, and even when the stories became more numerous, didn't understand their seriousness or the damage that they would cause. I genuinely assumed that Webb would just be told to knock it off, and perhaps would have to cease being a housemaster.

Anyway, not sure where I'm going with this. But I doubt most pupils would have the foggiest idea what was happening. Not so much of an excuse for the other teachers, though, even back then.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by yossarian »

I've been meaning to reply about this for a while, since I do have some details. I hope it's OK to share them.

Statements from the two CH-related character witnesses were read in court, following video link problems.

One, from a former CH pupil, was largely perfunctory, but did state that while living in Middleton he didn't see anything untoward.

The other, much more detailed, was from Sheila Higgins, who said Dobbie was a family friend. She described his habit of inviting in pupils for dinner, the gender breakdown of his tutees, etc. She stated that she assisted in Mid A in the early 90s while he was housemaster, was involved with trips to Albi, and was aware of gatherings involving Husband. She said her only concern about Dobbie's behaviour towards pupils was that he was too lenient, that it was "never inappropriate, to my knowledge".

Since the court had already heard a catalogue of previous convictions, including incidents in Mid A, it's hard to see this as evidence of much beyond her own lack of perceptiveness and/or judgement.

On the subject of religion, Dobbie grandly announced that he was being "received into the Catholic Church". I have no idea why he shared this detail; but then he came out with various other strange, irrelevant pronouncements, delivered in the mode of a jocular donnish eccentric lecturing the untutored, rather than a disgraced teacher facing trial for sex offences.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by richardb »

Thanks for posting this yossarian. Very illuminating.

I have struggled with colleagues to understand what the point was of calling character evidence. Personally I cant see any point.

At the end of the case the judge will have directed the jury as to the use they could make of it. It had no value at all given all the previous convictions they had heard about.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by postwarblue »

I'm sure the RC 'church' will welcome Dobbie with open arms, he would fit right in.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by sejintenej »

postwarblue wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2019 10:37 am I'm sure the RC 'church' will welcome Dobbie with open arms, he would fit right in.
Given the Pope's reported statement at the start of a conference on abuse you seem to be right.

Perhaps intended but in fact not so tongue in cheek. Read the transcript in

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/p ... t/10847770

Chris is a judge, was a RC priest and teacher at the seminary before leaving and marrying. As staunch a Christian as I have ever met. IMHO for him this is mild!
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by rockfreak »

Lesson from all this? Keep your children close. Don't send them away to be brought up by strangers on account of some social prestige that you think it will give you. Or them. OK, I know it happens at Catholic day schools, but that is because some Catholics are dumb enough to believe that the local priest holds the keys to heaven (however you perceive heaven). My three daughters went to state secondary schools and there was no whiff of a scandal in the twelve or so years that they were there, nor has been since if the local papers and the local grapevine give a true reflection. Get real, public school products - the system is outdated and DANGEROUS - and all the more so at CH because the pupils don't always have the social confidence of those at Eton or Harrow. Witness the girl from the dysfunctional background who was the victim of Husband and Dobbie.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by J.R. »

I have to agree with 'Freaky'.
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Re: Sheila and Peter Higgins - character references for Gary Dobbie

Post by sejintenej »

rockfreak wrote: Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:07 pm My three daughters went to state secondary schools and there was no whiff of a scandal in the twelve or so years that they were there, nor has been since if the local papers and the local grapevine give a true reflection.
You are lucky. My local state schools had (?has) all sorts of problems and after I reported a problem to one it turned out that I was foretelling a death.
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