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Ray Wyre: expert on sex crimes and police adviser

Original Source:  TIMES: MONDAY 30 JUNE 2008
From June 30, 2008

Ray Wyre

Ray Wyre was one of the world’s leading experts on sexual crime. He was renowned for his pioneering work with people who sexually abused children and championed the idea that, for a society that rarely locks anyone up for life, rehabilitating offenders — rather than punishing them — was the only effective way to prevent reoffending.

In 1988 he founded the Gracewell Clinic, the world’s first residential clinic for sex offenders. It was controversial, and in fact was closed after five years, but Wyre believed that the ideas behind it were sound: “People say that abusers don’t deserve therapy and that they should be locked up and the key thrown away.” he said in 1995. “But these people are forgetting the children. We are not working for the offender but for the children, because they never defend themselves.”

Wyre was also called as an adviser in important police investigations and court hearings. He had an extraordinary ability to enter the mind and world of suspected offenders, whatever their techniques to avoid it, and among the landmark cases he worked on was that of Robert Black, who at the time had been sentenced to life imprisonment for a vicious sexual assault; Wyre was asked to assess Black by his defence lawyers and Black cancelled his appeal on reading the report; he was subsequently convicted of the murder of three girls.

Wyre also worked on the case of Fred and Rosemary West, interviewing one of their surviving children, Anne Marie.

Ray Wyre was born in Hampshire in 1951. His father was a chief petty officer, and Wyre joined the Navy at the age of 15. When he was later discharged because of trouble with his feet he went to theological college and became a volunteer warden at a working men’s hospital. He abandoned the idea of ordination and was taken on as a trainee probation officer at Winson Green prison in Birmingham, where his first client happened to be a sex offender.

From 1981 to 1986 Wyre worked with Category A prisoners at Albany prison on the Isle of Wight. He appeared to be immune to shock, a quality which gave him credibility among the prisoners as he took his first steps to understanding and interrupting their distorted thinking.

During this time he pioneered group therapy for sex offenders, simply by giving three or four of them appointments at the same time. He later remembered that he was “always fighting the system because nobody wanted me to do this sort of work. They thought sex offenders were one-offs and wouldn’t do it again; they didn’t understand that it’s a lifelong pattern of behaviour and unless people go through therapy while in prison they’ll go straight out and resume where they left off.” During this time he co-wrote Women, Men and Rape, which was praised for its pyschological insights.

He eventually moved to Portsmouth where he established a hospital-based programme. He resigned from the Probation Service, set up as a self-employed counsellor and within a few months had 20 clients, who attended voluntarily.

He soon found that the work was not financially viable, but through his accountant he met Trevor Price, a Midlands property entrepreneur, who enabled him to found the Gracewell Clinic in two houses in a suburb of Birmingham. Initially, it took referrals from the Probation Service, but it later accepted men who had not been charged but wanted help. He drew around him other practitioners committed to child protection and devised a programme of skilful questioning. There was a refusal to allow any shifting of blame to a victim, and therapy included resident offenders challenging the belief systems of new or more resistant arrivals. Wyre was much inspired by four months he spent on a Churchill Fellowship in the US with the FBI, studying the treatment of rapists and murderers there. “I am motivated by curiosity,” he once said. “I’m fascinated by people, I want to know how they tick and how I tick. It’s a journey you’re both on, together; therapy isn’t something you do to someone else. It’s about trying to get through to people’s feelings.” One witness said of a 35-minute session with an offender at Gracewell that Wyre had moved the man so far forward in his acceptance and understanding of his crimes that it might have taken another therapist years to make the same mark.

Wyre accumulated considerable knowledge about offending which could be used not only in the rehabilitation of victims but also in the detection and investigation of paedophile rings. So important was the latter to a criminal justice system inadequately equipped to prosecute such offences that Wyre and his Gracewell colleagues became tutors and hosts to investigators, first from New Scotland Yard and then from other UK police forces. However, there were local objections to the presence at Gracewell of so many convicted child abusers under one roof, and trouble with funding, and the clinic was closed down in 1993.

In the mid-1990s Wyre published Murder of Childhood, a book about Robert Black. In recent years he had worked more closely with fellow practitioners. Steve Lowe, the director of Ray Wyre Independent Consultancy, said of him: “Ray was the sharpest man I have ever met. He picked up on what was said, what was not said and what someone was feeling in a way that was at times quite disarming. I think he achieved this often by looking very dishevelled, something of a Columbo figure. He also had a charm and a boyish manner that people mistook at their peril. In terms of his work he could also ask the most direct questions and get answers.”

Wyre was optimistic, cheerful and entirely obsessed by his work. He lectured widely, here and abroad, to audiences of diplomats, government policymakers and investigators. In his spare time he was a talented poker player.

He is survived by his wife, Charmaine, and by three children from his first marriage.

Ray Wyre, sexual crime consultant, was born on November 2, 1951. He died after a stroke on June 20, 2008, aged 56


I attended one of Ray Wyre's day courses. I started as a cynic feeling as an experienced social worker and manager, that I had 'heard it all before'. I hadn't. Ray Wyre was so knowledgeable and insightful about his subject that I still remember the course many years later. He served children well.

Ros Caines-Prentice, Cardiff,


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