12:43, March 04 81 0 theguardian.com

2019-03-04 12:43:06
Ruth Marchant obituary

Ruth Marchant, who has died aged 57 of cancer, was a pioneer in the field of children’s rights – specifically the rights of even very young children, or those with complex needs, involved in giving evidence to the police and in court.

As one of the first registered intermediaries (RIs) and co-founder in 1997 of the organisation Triangle, Ruth developed child-centred approaches that have not only shifted practice in the criminal justice system but have also changed thinking on the ability of children to be compelling and credible witnesses – if only the adults “get it right”.

From early on in her career, in the NHS and at various special schools, she set up consultative groups of children so that they could have some control over their lives. Later on, through Triangle, which she co-founded with Mary Jones, an occupational therapist, Ruth provided children with skilled support if they were involved in legal proceedings.

There are now around 120 RIs – specialists who facilitate children’s communication to police and in courts – but Ruth stood out for the innovations that brought about real change in the system.

She initiated the first use of a tent for a child to sit in and feel safe while giving evidence in court, and recommended that barristers move to the live link room to conduct cross-examination of children in person rather than via a monitor. She was directly involved in the first attempted prosecution with children using eye-pointing (1991), and, in 1999, the first acceptance in family proceedings of children’s unspoken communication.

Many of these changes are now accepted practice and have brought about a marked increase in very young children giving evidence. Ruth herself worked with the youngest ever child witness (aged three, in 2011), and for the youngest ever witness to murder (aged four). In 2014, she also worked with a 20-month-old child – the youngest referred into the intermediary scheme.

In 2013 she assisted with the first interview conducted with a child entirely in drawing and writing, and she was the first witness intermediary to be used in a trial in Ireland (2016).

As well as her practical solutions, much of her radical thinking – such as believing that children’s communication is a two-way process with adults, and can be enabled or constrained by adult behaviour – fed into Triangle’s values. Ruth believed that involvement in criminal justice processes, done well, can enable children to begin recovery from trauma.

At Triangle, child consultation groups are involved in every aspect of the organisation, from staff recruitment to venue design and furnishings.

Ruth was born in Birmingham. Her mother was a teacher and her father a Baptist minister, and the family moved to Newham, east London, where she went to Ravenscroft primary school, then Cumberland comprehensive. As part of her Duke of Edinburgh award, she volunteered at a children’s home, and it was there that she began to understand the devastating effects of parental abuse.

At the University of Sussex she took a degree in developmental psychology, graduating in 1982. She worked first as a play leader for Save the Children at Mile End hospital, then managed a residential home in Brighton, working with boys with challenging behaviour (1982-86).

From there she moved to the Chailey Heritage centre, a school for children with complex disabilities near Lewes, East Sussex. Ruth set up consultative groups of children to support them to write their own charter of rights – the Chailey Heritage charter, the first of its kind in the world. It states that children have a right to be safe, to be listened to and heard, and to be respected as an individual.

She and Jones met at Chailey. They both wanted to create an organisation in which children were the drivers of change, and so they set up Triangle.

Ruth trained thousands of childcare staff, police officers, paediatricians, barristers and judges in her methods over the years. In 2018, she completed a PhD at the University of Portsmouth, setting out practical guidance for working with children in a wide range of settings. Colleagues and friends, such as myself – I was mentored by Ruth – will find solutions to challenges by asking themselves: “What would Ruth do?”

She is survived by two children, Amelia and James, from a marriage that ended in 2004, her parents and her siblings.

Ruth Marchant, intermediary and forensic interviewer, born 9 April 1961; died 12 December 2018

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