Thursday, 13 February 2014

Trawling rears its ugly head again

Bryn Estyn, Wrexham
I notice that  a Huddersfield MP Labour's Barry Sheerman has claimed that the National Crime Agency (NCA) is using controversial "trawling" techniques to find evidence against teachers and social workers in its investigation into historic child abuse in North Wales care homes.

This is an old chestnut used in opposition to the care home investigations back in the 1990's, which resulted in a flawed Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry in 2003 at which many complaining care workers, who had been investigated by the police, suggested that they had been the victims of a witch hunt. In response to the enquiry's findings that trawling was a method which was the reverse of normal police methods whereby they wait for complainants to come to them, the Home Office rejected most of the findings.

The result was, unfortunately, that the police put child abuse investigations, particularly those concentrating on events from many years ago at the bottom of their list of priorities, until Mr Savile reared his ugly head. Suddenly it became a political priority, and something requiring much police attention.

Then we had the Rochdale Taxi Driver's case where a genuine complaint of sexual grooming was not proceeded with by the CPS due the reliability of the witness. There had been no investigation to see if there were others involved.A more thorough investigation in 2012/3 discovered that a gang was involved, something which was missed originally.

Then Keir Starmer, when he was in charge of the CPS, took the lead to find new ways of investigating allegations of abuse from the past saying that the police would concentrate on making the victims case better, and should look for evidence to support the claims - in other words he was not using the word "trawling" because of its connotations, but rather saying that there was nothing wrong with looking for corroboration.

Abuse is a crime which happens in secret where both the perpetrator and victim want to keep it quiet for different reasons, and where, if it is to be investigated properly, the police must take a pro-active approach to uncover the crime.

I was speaking at sexual grooming conference in Birmingham where the police involved were pointing out that the force had to go out looking for this sort of crime, because it would not come to them. Girls in a sexual grooming abuse ring would rather keep quiet for fear of being killed by gang members if they speak up.

Let me make it clear, I don't blame the police for the change in policy after the Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry. They were responding to political, and alleged abuser led pressure. There is always more crime to investigate than officers available.

I am afraid that Barry Sheerman appears to be speaking up for a constituent who seems to be on the wrong end of the new investigation into North Wales Care Homes - Operation Pallial. There is no doubt that the original investigation into abuse during the 1990's did not uncover all the allegations, and that a lot of victims, who were not able to disclose all those years ago for very good psychological reasons, are now coming forward.

Obviously the alleged abusers involved don't like it. That is no surprise.

I act for one of the North Wales victims who is part of Operation Pallial who is claiming compensation for the horrific abuse committed upon him. It is very easy to criticise the vulnerable. They generally don't fight back. Let us hope that this complaint doesn't get anywhere.

At the recent sentencing of Peter Wright, the headmaster at Caldicott Prep School who was just sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for his part in a paedophile ring, but more accurately for several acts of abuse at the school over many years, Judge Cutts QC, when referring to a previous flawed police investigation in 2003, commented "It is clear to me that the police fear of being accused of trawling for evidence prevented the proper investigation of this case at that time."

Any victim reading this who needs advice can contact our abuse department via our website or email us to 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Deadline set for Manchester home abuse victims to come forward

We are appealing for people who were abused as children from the 1950’s to the 1990’s; in Manchester City Council run homes, to speak out about the abuse they suffered.  The appeal comes as a cut off date has been set in which claims for compensation can be made as part of the largest ever group action for alleged child abuse.   The decision was made at a hearing brought by Manchester City Council before the High Court in Manchester on 7th February.  A cut off date has been set for 4pm on Wednesday 7th May 2014, by which time any new victim must have started court proceedings.

In May 2009 we were given High Court clearance to set up a second group of alleged victims who claimed they were abused while in the care of the children’s homes run by the city council’s social services from the 1950’s to the 1990’s.   The action centred on three main homes run by the City Council – Rosehill in Northenden, Broomehouse in Didsbury and Mobberley Boys in Knutsford. A Schedule of other homes where there have been allegations is listed below. 

452 alleged victims have joined the Group to date and 275 cases have been settled for £2,042,510 in total .  The lowest settlement is £1,100 and the highest is £30,000 with the average compensation pay out being around £7,427.31.

In 2007 we represented 168 claimants in the first group action in which we managed to secure compensation amounting to nearly £2,260,000. The group was originally formed in response to a massive police investigation launched by Greater Manchester Police code named “Operation Cleopatra” from Grey Mare Lane Police Station. Starting in 1997 and concluding around 2002, it investigated 66 children’s homes in Greater Manchester, and prosecuted a number of individuals. Manchester City Council Social Services Department ran most of the homes. Former Broome House warden and assistant director of Manchester social services Ronald Hall was eventually jailed for 11 years, with deputy Ian Gray given 14 years and ex-social worker Phillip Roe jailed for 12-and-a-half years.

The two Group Actions added together mean that the compensation paid out to date amounts to £4,302,510, which is the largest ever pay out in any abuse Group Action. The eventual payout is likely to be over £5 million once all the cases settle.

The decision to impose a cut off date now by the High Court was against what we were arguing on behalf of the victims. The Court decided to side with the Council. I was opposed to the idea because new Claimants are continuing to come forward in a steady stream. It is unfair that an arbitrary date has been set for 3 months hence. We have, however, to abide by the Court’s decision. It is very important that as much publicity as possible is given to this announcement because the Court also decided to prohibit any paid advertising, presumably to save the costs for the Council, who are having to foot the bill. If enough new Claimants come forward then we can make an application to the Court to put the date back even further.

If you think you have a case you can speak to one of our specialist male or female solicitors in complete confidence.

Schedule of Homes

Mobberley Boys Home
Seymour Road
Buglawton Hall
Taxal Edge
Various Family Group Homes

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Is there a new wave of abuse compensation claims?

This is the question I was asked by a researcher from BBC Wales who referred me to two articles on the BBC News website. She was wondering if things were changing because of all the publicity, and perhaps that local authorities would not be able to afford claims for massive damages akin to the American system. The answer to the question is simply that because of all the publicity more people are coming forward to the police wanting to prosecute their abusers, and to lawyers, wanting to pursue claims for abuse against either their abuser of his/her employer if appropriate.

The two articles I was referred to were "Lawyers seek US-style damages for abuse at public schools" which is an article sourced by some American Lawyers who have come over from the States, where damages are many times higher in value than in the UK, not just in the field of abuse, but also generally. This is for two reasons:-
  1. American Lawyers are paid a percentage of damages - as high as 40% in some cases on what is called a contingency fee basis - now legal in England since April 2013 but in a slightly different form - damage based agreements.
  2. Juries often assess damages - their view of how valuable a case is often tops to some degree what a conservative judge might think.
I do agree that United Kingdom damages are too low. When one considers that abuse is a life long period of suffering, then compensation of between £30,000 and £50,000 is to little. It equates to about a nice Starbucks coffee per day. The problem is that the ceiling for damages is scaled down from the most serious injuries, the figure for which is not high enough. The figures are set down by the Judicial Studies Board Guildelines. Even though a 10% increase was announced in April 2013, UK damages dwarf the US.

The other article announced that a group of 10 new claimants had come forward to make claims against Cardiff County Council for abuse committed by an employee called David Leighton Davies who had been convicted for offences at Cyntwell High School in Ely as long ago as 1977. The article made it clear that it was the insurers were responsible for meeting the awards, but still there was a worry that it might affect the finances of a local education authority.

My points were:-
  1. The attitude of the police to investigating past incidents of abuse has changed radically due to new guidelines brought out by Keir Starmer, and in response to cases like Jimmy Savile.
  2. There is a feeling by the authorities that celebrities were allowed license to abuse young girls in the gaze of those in authority many years ago, and that this should never happen again - hence Operation Yewtree and the many prosecutions of celebrities presently taking place.
  3. More disclosures of abuse is a good thing. Victims should not have to keep their secrets hidden for fear that the events were their fault, or that they will not be believed.
  4. Disclosure can be painful, but is better out than in. There is an abundance now of support by way of counselling and charitable groups that can assist any individual go through the process.
  5. It is now much more acceptable to admit that someone has been abused in childhood, indeed it is commonly on the news almost daily. Most victims remain, however, ashamed and silent. It is understandable. 
  6. What we are now witnessing in the media is still the tip of the iceberg.
I don't think we will ever reach the heights of American damages for victims going to the Courts of England and Wales. Victims do, however, deserve more than they get. Let us hope there is no backlash designed to squash genuine claims like there was around 2001 and 2002, when the Home Office launched an enquiry into alleged false allegations of abuse from children's homes - for which see my previous blog.