The Times

May 28 2000

After being wrongly accused of abusing his daughter Jim Fairlie is hitting back, writes Lynn Cochrane

by Lynn Cochrane
The Times

Last week on his 60th birthday, Jim Fairlie's five children threw him a surprise party. More than 100 old friends and political colleagues from the Scottish National Party attended, including the former leader, Gordon Wilson, whom he hadn't seen for 10 years. The event, in the Jeanfield Social Club in Perth, was a celebration of a man of truly independent mind who was a former deputy leader of the SNP.

His son Jim toasted his father and read Rudyard Kipling's If, a poem about how to be an honourable man. "There was a lot of emotion that night," says Fairlie.

That emotion ran much deeper than one would normally expect at a birthday celebration. It was a show of support for a man who, five years ago, was falsely accused of abusing his daughter, Katrina. The accusation, based on the now widely discredited recovered memory therapy, tore the close Fairlie family apart.

Now they are reconciled and Katrina, who withdrew the claims, attended the party. "For years we hadn't really had the heart for socialising. But we had a great time. It was a kind of final making up for everything that happened," says Fairlie.

The story is not yet over. Fairlie is suing the NHS and social services for defamation.

When he announced his legal action in 1998, other victims of false memory syndrome applauded his courage. He has needed it.

Two years on, and almost six years since Katrina first made the accusations while allegedly undergoing the controversial treatment, his efforts to clear his name have been almost as traumatic as the original crisis. Even though he has still to step into a courtroom, his legal bills are running into tens of thousands of pounds.

The damage the traumatic events have done to Katrina, now 30, his family relationships and his reputation are inestimable. Yet few would blame him for throwing in the towel and getting on with his life.

Fairlie is fighting on with the support of his wife Kay. He says: "Kay and I said right from the beginning that we were going to see this thing through even if it means selling everything and going bankrupt. It's the only way to make these people take responsibility. We want to encourage others to take a stand against the system."

We meet at his whitewashed Crieff home, which has sweeping views over the Perthshire hills. It may have to be put on the market to meet his legal fees.

The litigation has become an obsession. Every day the family picks over the latest legal titbit or worries about Katrina's well-being - she still harbours suicidal thoughts. Their life is on hold, says his wife Kay. "There was a time when I couldn't see past getting to court. We have all aged."

It was in their son Philip's house on October 16, 1995, that Fairlie and Kay were summoned by four of their five children and confronted with Katrina's claims. Initially Kay, a former nurse, thought the call was to say Katrina had killed herself.

Katrina had been admitted to hospital more than a year previously, originally to have her appendix removed. The doctors found nothing wrong but removed her gall bladder as a further precaution. When that too was found to be healthy and the pain continued, they believed the symptoms were psychosomatic and admitted her to the psychiatric unit.

Katrina had been abused by her paternal grandfather as a child, which both her parents knew.

The family had found out when Katrina was 17, after it came to light that two other children had been abused by the grandfather. Kay questioned her children and Katrina revealed that she too had been a victim.

She pleaded with her mother not to tell Fairlie. Her sister Sharon says: "It was because it was his dad. She thought the women in the family knowing was enough. It was an awful position to put my mother in, not being able to tell her husband."

Fairlie remained in ignorance until he found out by accident two years later. He immediately telephoned his father to confront him and, after an angry exchange, severed all contact. The social work department was informed, but the grandfather, who died three weeks ago, was never charged.

After the abuse emerged, Katrina appeared to cope well. She had her own flat and a steady job. Sharon says: "She was always the independent one of the family. She got on with everyone, but she had a rebellious streak. The rest of us were interested in politics, but she always made it clear she found it boring."

Katrina was admitted to the psychiatric unit of Perth's Moray Royal Hospital from December 1994 to March 1996. Her parents wondered if the early abuse might be a factor in her troubles and told the doctors. They came to regret it.

Katrina was allegedly treated using recovered memory therapy, which relies on mind-altering drugs, hypnosis and prolonged interviews. The technique has since been condemned by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Katrina's mental health deteriorated rapidly in hospital. Her weight dropped to six and a half stone. She tried to commit suicide. Encouraged to keep a journal and talk about nightmares which turned into hallucinations, she began recalling bizarre experiences attributed to recovered memory.

In the course of the treatment, Katrina accused her father of raping her, then of beating to death another six-year-old girl. Seventeen other men were, she said, involved in the paedophile ring, including two MPs.

Katrina's psychiatrist told her sister Sharon in August 1995 of the abuse, convincing her there was overwhelming evidence that Fairlie was not the loving father he seemed. He said he couldn't say more, Sharon recalls, because of patient confidentiality.

She says: "The only word to describe my feelings is numbness. I just couldn't reconcile two things: either Katrina was lying or my father was an abuser. Both were compeltely unpalatable to me. I just went into shock."

The psychiatrist asked Sharon to keep the information to herself. However, she couldn't fool her brother Philip, 34. He knew she was deeply unhappy. Eventually she broke down and told him. Andrew, 36, and Jim, 31 were informed and the four children confronted their parents. Kay says: "I just remember being so angry that they were giving credence to the claims."

Fairlie too was furious. He stormed out of the house, booked into a bed and breakfast and downed a bottle of whisky.

The more Kay thought about the allegations, the more she was convinced her husband could never have done such awful things. When he returned home the next day, she told him she didn't believe the children and was standing by him.

Anger and bitterness split the family. Kay and Jim spent their first Christmas without seeing their children and grandchildren. Fairlie couldn't bear to look at his children or be in the same room.

Kay says: "It was the most miserable time. Jim and I didn't have the heart to stay at home so we went to a local hotel. It was terrible."

Fairlie spent long hours alone, walking in the hills or riding his horse. He felt it necessary to inform the local stables about the allegations because he was mixing with young girls there. He is still never alone with his grandchildren. The decision is his, to protect him from further suspicion.

Copyright 2000, Times Newspapers Ltd.