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Knottfield: Witness - "This is our little secret"

Court hears from witnesses on second day of trial

Two people who claim they were abused by the former ‘master’ of a children’s home on the Isle of Man have given evidence at Douglas Courthouse.

The second day of the trial against Joseph Henry Marshall continued today (9 December).

The 85-year-old has been charged with nine offences; six counts of indecent assault, two of gross indecency and one of buggery against three boys who were under the age of 16 at the time

The prosecution alleges that the crimes, which are denied by Mr Marshall, took place between 1974 and 1982 whilst he was the ‘senior house parent’ at Knottfield in Douglas.

Today the jury, of four men and three women, heard from two witnesses in the case.

The first told the court he’d been put into a children’s home at the age of six or seven due to his mother’s ill health – at the age of nine he moved to Knottfield on Woodbourne Road.

He was, he says, around 12 when Mr Marshall took over, telling jurors it was ‘like a regime, it wasn’t very nice.’

“Was there any emotional warmth?” prosecutor QC Anne Whyte asked him: “No,” he responded.

“How do you remember Mr Marshall,” she asked. The response, one word, “Horrible”.

The witness described the layout of the home, and the sleeping arrangements, and described an incident where he claims Mr Marshall entered his bedroom and lifted the sheets off him.

He also recalled occasions where he was taken into Mr Marshall’s office – during one he alleges that the defendant unbuttoned his shorts and touched his genitals.

On another he claimed he was forced to masturbate Mr Marshall.

Asked if he’d ever tried to refuse what was happening the witness replied: “No, we don’t refuse”.

He said Mr Marshall said nothing to him during the incident but afterwards told him: “This is our little secret”.

The witness claimed he was abused ‘a lot’ saying it was ‘maybe 10 or 12 times’ – on each occasion he said the door to the office was locked and no-one ever interrupted.

He confirmed the abuse stopped just before he left the home at the age of 15.

In cross-examination Mr Marshall’s QC – Collingwood Thompson – challenged some of those claims as well as subsequent comments he’d made to a health professional in which the witness allegedly said he had no memory of sexual abuse happening to him.

He also questioned why it had taken so long for the witness to report the alleged abuse saying he’d had ‘ample opportunity’ before making a statement to police in 2016.

In response the witness said he hadn’t wanted to tell anyone adding: “It was something I didn’t wish to talk about”.

The witness also confirmed that in later years Mr Marshall had attended his wedding and he had attended Mr Marshall’s wife’s funeral.

Addressing the court QC Thompson accused the witness of giving ‘false evidence’ adding: “I’m going to suggest that the (police) statement, and the evidence you gave this morning, wasn’t true. There was no abuse from Mr Marshall.”

The second witness called to give evidence told the court he was a visitor, as a child, to Knottfield in 1977 and 1978.

Describing his situation as ‘highly unusual’ he said he was never a resident and never stayed overnight – due to this he never really formed friendships, or relationships, with the other children in the home.

He described Mr Marshall as a ‘scruffy’ and ‘authoritarian figure’ saying he was often called into his office to be told off for breaking a toy or spilling the milk.

These ‘ticking’s off’, he said, started verbally before progressing to a ‘hand or slipper’ being used to ‘smack his backside’.

The witness alleged that they progressed to having a ‘sexual element’ to them whereby Mr Marshall is accused of taking the child’s trousers down and touching his genitals.

“I understood a line had been crossed,” the witness said: “I remember being terrified and frozen”.

He told the court it was ‘hard to say’ how many times he was abused but claimed it was between five and 10.

Describing the alleged abuse the witness told the court: “I never ever remember being taken to the office for no reason. It felt justifiable. The adult is in charge and you do what the adult says.”

Cross-examining this witness QC Thompson told him: “I have to suggest to you that none of this happened.”

“I appreciate that,” the witness replied.

Mr Joseph Henry Marshall denies all of the charges against him.

The trial is due to continue tomorrow (Friday, 10 December).

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