An Ontario police force has paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit by a man whose retirement was shattered when he was charged with repeatedly molesting his son's playmate in the 1970s.
The settlement ended a nightmare in which Andrew Dikens, 63, considered suicide and combed the country for evidence to prove his accuser was ill and deluded.
"It has done terrible things to my health," Mr. Dikens said in an interview yesterday. "I've been terribly depressed. A number of times, I felt like going to the middle of the Peace Bridge and taking the big jump."
The charges were laid in 2000 by Peel Regional Police based on the uncorroborated memories of a woman in her mid-30s, according to Mr. Dikens's lawyer, Sean Dewart.
The woman claimed to have been raped and abused dozens of times in different cities, sometimes while Mr. Dikens's son was present and allegedly forced to participate.
Mr. Dewart said the allegations of abuse were actually "false memories" conjured up by an unstable figure who had been psychologically damaged by her deprived and abusive upbringing.
"My client's life was just turned upside down," Mr. Dewart said yesterday. "Imagine being in retirement, and having this come like a complete bolt out of the blue? It haunted him.
"Do the Peel Police realize how reckless and sloppy they were?" Mr. Dewart asked. "I'd like to think so, but I don't know. The Peel Police are really going to have to do some navel-gazing on this one."
An Ontario Crown prosecutor withdrew the charges 18 months after they were laid. Mr. Dewart said the prosecutor realized there was no reasonable prospect of convicting Mr. Dikens based on such skimpy evidence.
A former manager of information services for a large company in Oakville, Mr. Dikens retired to Fort Erie in 1981 because of a heart condition. A divorcé, he remarried and rarely saw his six-year-old son, Steven, by his first wife.
In 1999, the complainant suddenly approached police in Burnaby, B.C., and reported that Mr. Dikens had sexually assaulted her and Steven on many occasions between 1974 and 1978.
The information was conveyed to the Peel force, and Mr. Dikens was promptly charged with indecent assault and having sexual intercourse with an underage female.
"No officer of the Peel Police had even spoken to the complainant prior to charging Dikens," Mr. Dewart and co-counsel Louis Sokolov said in a statement of claim they issued against the police.
"The single investigative step that was taken by the Peel Police was to interview Steven, who not only did not implicate Dikens in any crime, but categorically denied that there had been any abuse by Dikens. The Peel Police made no attempt whatsoever to resolve this discrepancy."
Mr. Dikens said yesterday that his life instantly tumbled into a "vortex" of fright and powerlessness. He was barred from carrying on his regular volunteer work with seniors and paraplegics. And he could no longer cross the border to visit his children in the United States.
His statement of claim alleged that investigators had to know that once engaged, the criminal process "would acquire a momentum of its own, and that Dikens would be subject to ongoing degrading treatment, humiliation and public disgrace and odium as a suspected serial pedophile."
Mr. Dikens said that one fact gave him hope: he had never been anywhere near the complainant on virtually every occasion she disclosed to the police. He felt there was a chance he could assemble enough proof to rock her credibility.
He burned up the phone-lines and scoured the Internet for information, such as ascertaining that a bowling tournament the complainant alleged he had taken her to had never happened. His retirement savings soon evaporated.
Mr. Dikens said he was plagued as to why someone he remembered as "a sweet, little child" would have made such outlandish claims.
The only possible answer seemed to be "false-memory syndrome" -- a condition in which someone falsely believes they are piecing together awful memories they have suppressed, usually with the aid of a therapist.