Monday, 17 November 2014

Does the Select Committee reaction to the Jay Report about Rotherham Sexual Exploitation yet again mean that Mandatory Reporting is the answer to abuse scandals?

The recent report out today from the Select Committee into Local Government heavily criticises Rotherham Council in several ways for failing to react to obvious signs of sexual exploitation of girls in the town, and failing to deal with a problem that could have firstly embarrassed the Council, and secondly exposed the local services to obvious criticism.

The report is yet another example of why we need a change in the law to introduce Mandatory Reporting into legislation, which I have written about many times in this blog, for example here and here

The report recommends:-
  1. Senior Council officer advice was poor
  2. Councillors failed to ask the right questions.
  3. Child Protection plans and policies were never checked or questioned.
  4. A Council with a majority failed to listen to opposing views and action change where necessary.
  5. Various individuals within the Council were personally to blame and were correct to leave their jobs.
  6. The position in Rotherham is likely to have been reflected across several other Councils.
Thus how would mandatory reporting have made a difference?
  1.  If there was a proper truly independent person to whom any professional could report suspicions of abuse to then it would stop complaints by professionals from getting lost in hierarchical systems of supervision.
  2. If political issues and amateur councillor attitudes prevented sexual exploitation from being investigated properly, then the consequence of mandatory reporting would have enabled any individual in the Council to have reported their suspicions to an independent person outside of the Council.
  3. The same issues apply in the same way to teachers, social workers, nurses, doctors etc, but in this example we are examining the influence of administration and Council hierarchy upon the effective reporting of abuse of children.
This report is yet another criticism of the way in which the administration of public services has impeded the discovery and investigation of abuse, and its effect on children, which cannot be excused.

If any of the children want to claim compensation then this criticism of the Council will give them rights of claim against an additional Defendant as claims against Social Services and the Police are perhaps not as easy to establish. There is no doubt that any children who went through such horrendous abuse deserve everything they can get.

At QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden, we have for the last 20 years specialised in advising the victims of abuse.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Will the Wanless Report be a whitewash?

It is predicted that the report into the loss of the secret dossier by Peter Wanless of the NSPCC will say that there was nothing suspicious about the loss of the government documents which are simply destroyed in the course of moving of offices etc.

Over the last 20 years in the Children's Home Cases I have dealt with, I have come across several mysterious fires which took place and destroyed vital documents. At Greystone Heath in Warrington, when the home closed I was told that they had a large fire to burn all the documents which existed, and were not needed, allegedly.

In the Manchester Children's Homes Group Action, more or less all the children's records have been lost or mislaid by the Council.

Birmingham City Council also had the same problem and in an effort to compensate the care leavers tried to recreate what happened by seeking testimony from those who were at the home at the time. This was a partnership between the Council and Warwick University.

The issues are:-
  1. Abuse victims want justice. They distrust authority and believe in a cover up, as the first person in authority they trusted, usually, abused them.
  2. Dossiers that go missing are food and drink to those that believe there has been a cover up.
  3. The victims will think that the Home Office are protecting their own MP's by destroying incriminating documents.
  4. It is believed that Peter Wanless has been set up to fail and that not enough time has been set aside to do a proper job.
  5. Simon Danchuk has given an interview to say that there are forensic and IT techniques available to find out what happened to the documents, but that not enough has been done.
  6. There are witnesses around who no doubt read the document, and could give hearsay witness testimony to say what was in the document. They may still be officers of government and be afraid to speak out.
  7. The lack of information and reporting is indicative of suspicion on the part of the survivors. It will reinforce their anger and make them more determined to seek justice. That is a good thing, but the support of survivors is key to the process of transparency on the part of government

Monday, 3 November 2014

Another one bites the dust in child sex abuse inquiry

I will be giving my views on BBC News 24 at 7pm tonight on the inquiry. It comes as no surprise to read in press that Fiona Woolf has resigned as chair of the historical child abuse inquiry.  It’s been reported that she resigned last Friday, not as a result of pressure from Theresa May but because she felt that victims lacked confidence in her. 

As I said in a recent radio interview (read my earlier blog dated 27/10) I was surprised that the government chose Fiona Woolf to lead the enquiry in the first place as she does not have a history of representing the rights of the poor and oppressed members of Society.  So quite apart from her connections with Leon Brittain, which has been much reported in the media, she never  had the respect and trust of the survivors, hence the enquiry was doomed from the start.

Labour has said ‘the candidate must have the confidence of victms’ groups’ whilst Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile said: ‘they should have experience of dealing with child abuse and child protection.  I agree with both Labour and Lib Dem’s sentiments, the new Chair must have the respect of the survivors.  Potential successful models should include the Royal Commission in Australia and the Irish Redress Board.  Both of which have worked well for victims.

It has been said that Human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield is apparently the ‘victim’s choice to head the inquiry but Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to tell MPs later that she will consult victims before appointing a new chair for the historical child abuse inquiry. 

One would have thought that such a consultation should have been a fundamental factor worthy of consideration from the start!

It is considered to be a poisoned chalice to hold this job, as whoever takes it on must have the trust of a group of people who generally rile against authority with a passion, and see conspiracies round every corner, for the very good reason that they have been abused by someone in authority and a position of power in infancy. The inquiry is almost doomed to failure from the start, two chairpersons having resigned already.

One would have thought that a retired judge with the independence that inevitably flows from such a job, with no pre-conceived bias has to be a natural choice. Such a person will be thought by victims to be fearless in the face of government opposition to disclosure of documents. Also it would seem fundamental to announce that the inquiry should be statutory in nature with all the consequent powers that will inevitably flow from such a move. It is, after all, what the survivors want.