Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Is the conviction of Max Clifford good news?

Max Clifford
Apart from Max Clifford and his family, the conviction of the former publicist must be good news for the CPS, the Police, but in particular the victims, who have had the courage to stand up and be counted against massive media interest in view of the celebrity status of the now convicted accused.

I gave interviews yesterday as President of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, but principally as someone over the last 20 year has acted for thousands of victims of abuse at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden I have seen the hardest thugs of men cry like babies as they recount their sorry tale of woe from the past when they were overcome by a manipulative paedophile who has groomed them, then abused the power they have and claimed their prize - anal sex, oral sex, or masturbation.

I thus know first hand how difficult it is to disclose a shameful and embarrassing incident which has remained deeply embedded in the back of the brain, only to be resurrected by some trigger or other.

I was beginning to think that the media would turn against the prosecutions of celebrities from so many years ago after the acquittal of the recent soap opera and radio stars, who were, of course, found not guilty, rather than innocent.

I was concerned that the witnesses would be pilloried, and would not have the courage to make disclosure of their truths from the past.

Thankfully, the CPS, when attacked, stood up to the media onslaught and pointed out that it was their job to prosecute cases which had good chances of success, not decide on guilt and innocence, which is, of course the function of judge and jury.

It will be interesting to see what the sentence will be in due course.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Is it reasonable to advertise for Savile Compensation?

Under normal circumstances a formal advert appearing in the business section of the Times and the Mirror as ordered by the High Court, Chancery Division, for any creditors of the estate of James Savile would not raise an eyebrow. Why then did it become front page news? Because it invited any Claimants who wished to claim compensation from Jimmy Savile’s  estate, who had not yet come forward, to notify the solicitors acting on behalf of his estate of his/her wish to do so.

I received a call on Bank Holiday Monday from the BBC who wanted me to appear on Breakfast TV to talk about the story in the good company of Peter Saunders from NAPAC (National Association of People Abused in Childhood).  As soon as I got the call, I anticipated that the question of alleged false allegations of abuse, and miscarriages of justice against alleged abusers, particularly celebrities may be raised.

I duly unearthed myself from peaceful sleep at 5.30am and set off for Salford Quays. The interview started off with my explanation of the principles of advertising for claims by creditors where the estate of a deceased needed to be distributed, which no doubt flew over the heads of most people.

It is quite normal, however, for the executors of an estate, in order to protect themselves, to advertise in the London Gazette for any person to come forward who is owed money by the estate. If, then, no one comes forward, the estate can safely be distributed.

It is not surprising that after William Roache, Dave Lee Travis, and Nigel Evans have been found not guilty of allegations of abuse from many years ago by different juries, that the media have now, inevitably, turned their attention to new angles of attack, with the focus, unfortunately, falling upon the alleged victims of abuse.

One also has to remember that insurance companies have waged a 5 year campaign against personal injury claimants against a smoke screen of fraudulent whiplash claims, and crash for cash stories, men with clipboards trying to persuade members of the public to make claims, not to mention PPI phone calls. The unfortunate result is that the many thousands of genuine victims of injury, which is not their fault, are made to feel guilty and undeserving of what is rightfully theirs.

There is something about the British psyche that distrusts the accumulation of wealth by others, and resents the high salaries paid to captains of industry. In America, on the other hand, wealth is admired, and thought of as the just desert of hard work.

It is thus no surprise that in America, the victim of abuse can expect his damages to run to millions of dollars and in England mere thousands of pounds. American personal injury lawyers are often very wealthy because they are paid a percentage (commonly 30 to 40%) of the compensation they win. The conservative British Judiciary for many years have looked askance at America and made determined efforts to ensure that their attitude to compensation does not spread across the Atlantic.

So how does this translate into the rights of victims of abuse in England?

Back to BBC Breakfast. After I had explained the legalities of the Jimmy Savile advert, the inevitable question arrived. “Do you think that advertising for claims could provoke false allegations, and chancers coming forward who have not been abused?” It is a fair question, but one which is frequently used by the abuser in Court, when he is charged with rape or some other sexual offence. After all, what defence can he put forward? “I didn’t do it” is not very convincing, so “My accuser is only doing this for compensation and is greedy” is his best line of attack.

In reply I explained that such a question sends out a very dangerous message to the many victims out there who have kept their abuse a guilty secret for many years, and have not yet come forward. Often they have tried to complain as a child and been dismissed as liars by those in authority. They thus remain silent for many years until the opportunity arises to make a disclosure. To send out the same message again through the media may provoke them angrily into coming forward, but is more likely to ensure that their silence is maintained.

I did go on to explain that there will be checks and balances in the Savile scheme, whereby the victim will have to be able to prove an association and opportunity for the abuse to have taken place either by way of live or documentary evidence. Also a medical report from an independent psychiatrist/psychologist which proves the harm suffered will be required.

Peter Saunders then reminded the public that of all the victims that he had helped over the years only a handful had mentioned compensation to him, which certainly confirms the attitude of all my clients. They often want justice, to be believed, and validated for what happened to them. The civil compensation process, however, is a journey which they should be allowed to undergo.

So how much compensation will they get? The Savile scheme sets an upper limit of £60,000, which is probably higher than the average. The highest award in the case of A v the Archbishop of Birmingham was around £500,000 but a lot of that was made up of loss of earnings. General damages for pain and suffering can be as low as £2000 and as high as £180,000, but the upper end is rare and requires repeated torture like conditions.

Considering that abuse is a life long period of suffering English damages are far too low and equate to about £2.77 per day or the price of a nice cup of coffee – hardly adequate redress for  the harm abuse causes

Peter Garsden is the principal of QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden Solicitors (www.abneys.co.uk) of Cheadle Hulme in Cheshire. The firm has one of the largest dedicated child abuse compensation department in the country (www.abuselaw.co.uk). They run have several group actions, and have won several awards including, Personal Injury Team of the Year 2010, and Small Firm of the Year (Manchester Legal Awards) 2011 & 2013 when Peter was made Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year.

Friday, 18 April 2014

How effective is the Pope's Apology?

Pope Francis
The head of the Catholic Church has issued an apology for clerical sex abuses against children.
Speaking to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) at the Vatican in April, Pope Francis said: “I feel called to take responsibility for all the evil some priests – large in number, but not in proportion to the total – have committed and to ask forgiveness for the damage they’ve done with the sexual abuse of children."

The history of sexually abusive priests would make any safeguarding board cringe. Somehow, the way in which the church cloaks any mention of child abuse in religious language clouds the real point, and enshrouds it in mist and dogma. Often the victim is prayed for as though he needs absolution rather than an apology from the abusive priest.

I have been dealing with abuse cases for nearly 20 years. The scandals of abuse by American Priests came to the surface first. As the scandal swept America, we heard that the then Pope announced that abuse was an American problem, and that it did not extend to Italy or the Holy See. How wrong he was.

The worldwide publicity prompted victims to have the courage to come forward, and make disclosures about the past with the result that the numbers of priests exposed has risen exponentially to thousands.

There then arose the scandal of the Vatican edict prohibiting the Catholic hierarchy from reporting abusive priests, written in Latin, and designed to keep it undercover. The thrust was forgiveness of sins, and the movement of an abusive priest, after he had "promised" not to do it again or even approach children, from one parish to another. The crime was not reported to the police, with the result, in many cases, that the Priest then broke his promise and carried on abusing again. After all, how can someone addicted to child abuse resist their primeval urges? The famous English priest Father Hill comes to mind.

So how genuine is Pope Francis apology? Well he seems humble enough, having come from working class beginnings in Argentina. He has refused to live in the luxurious papal surroundings or use a limousine, rather choosing a simple Ford Focus, and standard garb to wear. So the signs are good. However:-
  • In January the Vatican was forced to admit that it does not force priests to report child sex crimes to authorities
  • 400 priests were defrocked in the years 2011 and 2012.And what of these criminal defrocked individuals, you might ask? Well, we don't know. They remain free and at liberty to abuse again. Their identities are unknown, as are their whereabouts, and the nature of their crimes. Of them we know not much. Pope Francis has done nothing to help arm authorities with information they would need to apprehend these criminals.
  • On 1 July, the United Nation's Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sent a request to the pope for "detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers, or nunnery" from the past fifteen years, and set 1 November as a deadline for a reply. Missing the deadline, on 4 December, Pope Francis responded saying it was not the way his government practised to "disclose information on specific cases unless requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings" and "that the Vatican can provide information only about known and alleged child sex crimes that have happened on Vatican property." 
  • There are many other examples in the Huffington Post blog from whence this blog is partially derive.
When one has to deal with the Catholic Church in litigation it is a whole different ball game. They fight hard and long, in the hope that the victim or his lawyers will give up before the case ends. They take technical points to throw a smoke screen over the real point - abuse of a child. Richard Scorer in his book "Betrayed" devotes a whole chapter to the subject - a recommended good read:-
  •  In a Group Action my firm QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden were running against a Catholic Society which used to be known as Liverpool Catholic Social Services, the Group started in 1997 and did not conclude until 2012 - 15 years of litigation funded principally and conducted by their insurers. In that period of time they tried to strike the case out on three occasions using the time delay argument - or rather these cases are too old to go to trial. This avoids having to challenge the victims on whether the abuse took place even though there were numerous convicted abusers at the two children's homes in question - St. Vincent's in Formby and St. Aidan's in Widnes.
  • At another home run by the same organisation - St. George's in Southport, the Merseyside Police told me that they received 122 complaints against 96 alleged abusers - it is worth saying that the culprits were not priests but civilian care workers.
  • In the St. Williams Group Litigation run by my good friend David Greenwood, the Catholic Organisation defending the Group - the De la Salle Brothers - argued that because of their constitution one could not simply issue proceedings against them but rather the victims had to choose which of several trustees and governing bodies were responsible over a period of years. Hours of wasted time and cost was spent tracing and naming up to 150 Defendants - a tactical argument that collapsed eventually.
  • The church often uses that old chestnut - a priest is not an employee of the Church but rather a man with a calling to God who devotes his life to his parish. He is answerable to his community and not the church, and therefore, of vital importance legally, the Church are not legally responsible for his actions. That argument has been tried and taken to the House of Lords unsuccessfully and at great costs by Church Lawyers several times
So am I encouraged by this new apology - cynically no - not until the Church stops defending civil litigation with a fury and gets round the table to not only mediate properly but also comes up with some proper cash to compensate the victims and pay their lawyers properly. There have been many attempts to force the Church to do this, and it all goes well with many beatitudes of holy meaning until the subject of compensation and an admission of guilt comes up, then the lawyers intervene, or rather their insurers and close the whole thing down.

The Stop Church Child Abuse campaign is pushing for a public enquiry. Will we we see it happen? Will we ****.................