Monday 22 December 2014

Should the National Child Abuse Enquiry be scrapped?

Theresa May before the Select Committee
It is a shame that there has been a leak of a letter Theresa May has sent to all the existing members of the Independent Enquiry into Child Abuse, which contemplates scrapping what has taken place so far, and starting again.

There seem to be three options:-
  1. Turn the existing arrangement into a statutory inquiry.
  2. Set up a fresh statutory inquiry
  3. Establish a Royal Commission
Let me make it clear that I welcome the concept of an enquiry into the problem of the covering up of child abuse in the past, which seems to have infiltrated every being of our society. When it was first announced 6 months ago, so did the victims/survivors. Sadly many of them have lost complete faith in what has taken place so far, yet the predominent feeling about Ms May is positive.

So far the Home Office, under the stewardship of Ms May, seem to have made so many errors:-
  1. Failure to consult with the survivors/victims before the enquiry was announced to find out what they wanted.
  2. Failure to research the background of Lady Butler Schloss to make sure she would be an acceptable chairperson for the survivors.
  3. Failure to do the same in relation to Fiona Woolf.
  4. Failure to spend time looking at other enquiries around the world (eg. Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland, Australia) and learn from them. Take the Redress Board in the Republic of Ireland. In that case, the government tasked a leading Irish QC (Sean Ryan) to do a paper which set out his ideas on how the enquiry should be run. They listened to him and followed his lead. It was a success.
  5. Failure to distance itself from the decision process of how the enquiry should be set up - how can the Home Secretary effectively decide upon a chairperson when allegations are being levelled against the very body which is involved in setting up the enquiry?
  6. Failure to announce a statutory enquiry with legal powers from the beginning.
  7. Failure to set up a Royal Commission along the lines of the Australian model which has the respect, and acceptance of the survivors. It is Legally Constituted.
I have much sympathy with the panel members who are now under intolerable pressure and criticism from, effectively, their peers, who are also survivors. I think that the panel are now seen as the "government's lap dogs", who were on the side of the angels but have now gone to work for the devil, who are the government. It is unfair that some of them are now being pilloried.

What makes it worse is that because they are on the panel, they cannot really speak up for themselves through Social Media or the media. When one is appointed to a quasi judicial role, then radio silence is the usual requirement. The temptation is sometimes too great, largely because of the obvious sense of injustice.

I think that what has happened is that the Home Office realise that the panel members are coming under so much pressure, and are being affected so badly by Social Media, and criticism by other survivors, that their primary responsibility is to protect them, and do something different, hence the recent annoucement.

Undeniably the Home Office must take the blame for this intolerable period of inactivity. If the enquiry had got under way before now, we would not be in this totally unacceptable no man's land of proscrastination.

My Number 1 money is on a Statutory Enquiry and in 2nd place a Royal Commission. The objection to a Royal Commission, apparently, is that it will take too long to set up. Meanwhile victims/survivors continue to suffer and get angrier by the day....

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.

Monday 27 October 2014

Should Woolf resign from the National Historic Abuse Inquiry?

Fiona Woolf
I was on LBC Radio the other day giving my opinion on whether Fiona Woolf should resign from the Historical Abuse Inquiry set up by the Home Secretary in response to the many scandals linking Central Government with a cover up of abuse allegations in days gone by. They asked me whether or not she should resign because of the recent revelations that she had had dinner with Leon Brittain  4 or 5 times and had supported one of Lady Brittain's charities. I said:-

  1. I was surprised that the government chose Fiona Woolf to lead this enquiry as she does not have a history of representing the rights of the poor and oppressed members of Society, quite the reverse in fact because she has quite a history as a company and commercial lawyer. That is the wrong background for the head of an enquiry which is forseen as attacking the establishment and upturning stones under which we expect to find scandals.
  2. I was expecting someone like Keir Starmer or Michael Meacher QC. For all I know they were both approached and refused. After the disaster which followed the appointment of Lady Butler Schloss, one would have thought that more care would be taken this time.
  3. The point is that, although Fiona Woolf may be very capable, she does not have the respect and trust of the survivor community, hence the enquiry is doomed from the start. Whilst there are some very good other panel members who have collectively come from the former abusees and survivors of abuse, Ms. Woolf will be in charge of tactics and direction. So it will be up to her to decide whether
    1. It should be turned into a public enquiry.
    2. What documents should be demanded from government - that is crucial to uncovering the truth.
  4. The survivors obviously think that someone weak and lack lustre has been appointed so that the inquiry will never get to the truth because it will not adopt an aggressive and "won't take No for an answer" type of approach.
  5. I find it hard to believe that Teresa May has made a hash of this for a second time. Wouldn't you have thought she and the department would have done their homework first, as it has obviously led to an embarrassing appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee.
  6. There should be a former judge, or at least someone who has chaired enquiries in charge.
  7. So what format should the enquiry take?
    1. It should be a Royal Commission along the lines of the Australian model which is a resounding success, which does have the respect of the survivor community. One can read about the enquiry here -
    2. They should look at the Irish Redress Board as a good model of an inquiry, which , despite some controversy, worked well for the victims. They had two arms - Commission of Inquiry, which heard allegations, some of which resulted in criminal prosecutions, and a Redress Board which heard applications for Compensation from Survivors. It was very victim focused and enabled the victim, who was at the centre of it all, to give live evidence, which was recorded. To read more, follow this link...
  8. Quite frankly I am glad I am not on the panel, because membership of the panel almost guarantees being pilloried by survivors whose vitriol and mistrust, which is quite understandable, will not assist it being a successful form of process.
  9. How long will Ms Woolf last - it looks as though she is here to stay with the full backing of government. She is also being supported by her fellow panel members, who have gone public to say that because there is such a broad spread of panel members with all the right characteristics, it doesn't really matter.
  10. I think that the Leon Brittain's allegations are really very secondary to the main issue which is the support and trust of the survivors, which, sadly is very lacking

Monday 20 October 2014

Will the police ever keep up with the explosion in online paedophile viewing of abuse images?

Keith Bristow giving evidence to Home Affairs SC
I have just been asked to go on BBC News 24 to give my opinion on today's topline news story which headlines:-

"Some paedophiles with images of child abuse will escape prosecution, the head of the National Crime Agency says.

Keith Bristow said police would have to focus on pursuing those who posed most risk but that others would face a "range of interventions".

Some 660 arrests were made during a recent operation targeting people who had accessed child abuse images online.

However, the BBC understands that as many as 20,000-30,000 individuals were identified during that investigation.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) - part of the NCA - has estimated that 50,000 people in the UK are involved in downloading and sharing images of child abuse."

It is, on the one hand shocking and a disgrace that so many viewers of child abuse images will go undetected when the evidence is at hand. The survivor groups will be up in arms demanding better service from the police.

This story has arisen from the evidence given by Keith Bristow - the head of the National Crime Agency - to the Home Affairs Select Committee, who are looking into the workings of the Agency. They heard evidence on 14th October..

When one peels back the evidence beyond the shocking headlines, one finds that the police have suffered cut backs under this government such that they do not have the staff to cope with the huge volume of new complaints which have arisen from a Toronto Police investigation in July 2012. NCA appear to have sat on the information sent from Canada on 2000 men until it was distributed to local police force areas in November 2013.

When the information arrived it had to be processed and considered, which obviously takes time when one considers the lack of resources.

Because of the amount of viewing of child abuse images world wide, and the potential number of internet offences being committed, even if the police had limitless resources they would only be able to scratch the surface of the crimes being committed, so immense is the problem.

I remember back in 1995 when the Internet was being born, a friend of mine, who sadly is no longer with us, was complaining about how dangerous the internet was for children. Then the dangers were simply surrounding some fairly crude internet chat rooms. I was arguing with him saying that the benefit of the internet in terms of free information far outweighed the dangers. Had I known then, what I know now, I would probably have agreed with his view, rather than calling it old fashioned and dinosaurian. 

There is no price on child safety which is now being given a higher priority than it has enjoyed in the past thanks to pressure being exerted by the many survivor and pressure groups nationwide. The size of the task facing the police, however is immense, and one must have some sympathy with their good intentions.

There are questions about what can be done by the Social Network providers such as Facebook and Twitter to police their mediums. There is always an argument about freedome of information and the press. The problem is that many of the ISP's which host this information are located in parts of the globe which regulatory authorities cannot touch or police. The problem is like pouring water through a sieve with very large holes in it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and complaining because all the liquid is escaping.

Austerity and financial restraint by government bodies is laudable, and understandable, but sometimes, certain issues simply do not have a price, such is the importance of the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. Teresa May should give the problem the money and the backing it deserves.

We are due to see the head of the historical abuse inquiry examined by the HASC tomorrow - that should be interesting. Rumour has it that the panel is also about to be announced but is being held back by the forthcoming evidence to be given.

Monday 13 October 2014

Is Witchcraft and Ritualistic Abuse something limited to African Immigrants?

The Metropolitan Police’s Project Violet team, which works to address ritual child abuse, has launched a training film to help professionals who work with and safeguard children.  This comes after the number of allegations of abuse linked to a belief in witchcraft and spirit possession have been rising steadily, with the Metropolitan Police receiving 27 allegations this year compared to just nine in 2011.

Satanic Abuse is described quite vividly in various works of literature as well as being mentioned in  in several novels. Hammer Horror Films did little to dispel the belief that witchcraft is the conception of someone afflicted by a mental health disorder. It has in the past been treated in a similar way to those who have been possessed by aliens. There is a support group dedicated to those who have suffered Satanic Abuse - it is called Survivorship. The subject has been thought of by some lawyers I know as the work of fantasists. It has unfortunately gained a cult status, but not in a good way.

Now we appear to have various examples of witchcraft cases being sent to the police. Whenever I come across it in the news, it usually involves African Cultures, not Satanic Abuse in this country carried out by white Caucasian males, with all the ceremony that usually surrounds it. 

Abuse cases which we deal with usually take place many years ago. It is very difficult to persuade a Court to try a case which is many years out of time. If at the same time one is dealing with a subject matter, which the majority of the population do not believe exists, the battle to persuade a Court to deal with the case is immense.

My own belief is that there are several hidden societies in England and Wales which practise ritualistic abuse to the present day, which includes the sacrifice of children described graphically in Dennis Wheatley novels. The Wicker Man film is obviously fictional, but not far away from the truth, I believe. A similar attitude would have been adopted to child abuse 70 years ago, I would imagine.

Although Witchcraft was commonplace in this country in medieval times, there are many who alleged they have been a victim of it today. The point is that not enough people are brave enough to believe that it is true.

Back to the news item..

An event aimed at professionals working with children at risk, co-hosted by the Metropolitan Police and the Church’s Child Protection Advisory Service, was held in London recently.  It was said that children display behaviour consistent with distress, adding that they may appear isolated, quite, withdrawn and sad.  Those that attended the event were told that there is no definitive list of religions which practise witchcraft and it is not confined to particular counties, cultures, religions or communities.

Terry Sharpe, from the Met’s sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command said: “Regardless of the beliefs of the abusers, child abuse is child abuse.  Our role is to safeguard children, not challenge beliefs.  This is a hidden crime and we can only prevent it by working in partnership with the community.”

Mor Dioum, director at the Victoria Climbie Foundations, sad that professionals need to “adopt a more holistic approach with children, young people and families when dealing with abuse that does not fit the norm.”


It will be interesting to look back at this blog in years to come, when maybe there have been a glut of satanic abuse prosecutions in this country, and we have uncovered secret societies operating right under our noses...the broadmindedness of the police appears to be limitless, which is this space

Thursday 2 October 2014

Is the Paedophile Hunter aired on Channel 4 to be congratulated for catching sex offenders?

Stinson Hunter the Paedophile Hunter
If you didn't see the Channel 4 documentary last night about the Paedophile Hunter then you missed some very compelling viewing.

The question is whether this sort of entrapment is correct, legal, and valid, or whether such entrapment should be left to the Police, who do the same sort of thing.

The problem is that there are so many offenders seeking to commit offences via the Internet, that the police cannot deal with them all, so why should an individual who is committed to no violence not collect the evidence himself, and pass it to the Police. It was said that 5 individuals have already been prosecuted as a result of Stinson's work.  To read my thoughts click through to my blog on

Tuesday 16 September 2014

More help for the Victims of Abuse when going to Court says the Department of Justice

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has announced government plans to introduce new laws aimed to protect the rights of victims in England and Wales.

With the right of victims of crime to directly confront their offenders in court to be enshrined in law, the Government’s commitment to victims will also include:

  1. Establishing a new nationwide Victims’ Information Service by March 2015, and developing this into a comprehensive service that allows victims to access the information and support they need.
  2. Strengthening the protection for vulnerable victims by making the experience of going to court a better one.
  3. Increasing transparency and accountability, to ensure criminal justice agencies are held to account for the services they provide to victims.
  4. Introducing a Victims’ Law to guarantee key entitlements for victims.
  5. Lawyers involved in any sexual offence case will have to undergo specialist training, especially if the trial involves the cross-examination of a child.
  6. Developing plans for paying compensation to victims up front.

On announcement of the new plans, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:

“This Government has already significantly improved services and support for victims, investing more than ever in the help they are offered, but we are also the first to acknowledge that more can, and should, be done. Our criminal justice system can be daunting, and victims, especially the most vulnerable, can find it traumatic and difficult to know where to turn to for advice and support. For the first time we will create a system that puts the highest emphasis on victims’ needs and sets out their rights clearly in legislation.”

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan MP said: “This announcement looks like it’s been cobbled together on the back of an envelope, in the dying months of government.”

Mark Castle, chief executive of Victim Support, has welcomed the suggestion that more effort would be made to help vulnerable witnesses give evidence without having to be in the courtroom. He said “Children and other vulnerable victims and witnesses should not have to face the trauma of giving evidence in a court building unless they choose to. Our witness service teams, who work behind the scenes in court, see every day just how distressing it can be for them, especially if they are the victim of a violent or sexual crime.”

Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove has welcomed the plans but has questioned how they would differ in practice from the existing victim’s code. “A new law cannot be used as a quick fix,” she said. “Recently, we’ve seen how the abuse of victims in Rotherham was covered up, I’d like to know how a victims’ law would put a stop to this dismissive, ignorant and collusive behaviour.” She went on to say that she would like to see the government going further by introducing a victim care manager, to avoid victims being pushed from ‘stranger to stranger’ to find out what is happening to them.

What do I think?
  1.  Obviously, anything to help the victims of abuse through the Court Process has to be applauded. There are already schemes in different parts of the country but quality of service tends to vary from area to area.
  2. Many abuse support groups with years of experience already exist throughout the country. They could easily fulfill the need to support victims through a criminal trial. Many of them are much in need of funds.
  3. Why train a whole new army of victim supporters at a large cost when one could engage with existing groups to provide the service with much more experience on how to engage with the victims of abuse.
  4. Will the victims be referred to specialist lawyers? Victims often have the right to make a civil  claim against not only the abuser, but also his/her employers, or those in charge of him/her, or even Local Authorities if they owed the victim a duty of care. There does not seem to be any recognition of such possibilities. Often, the only thought is the perpetrator, who may be without funds, particularly if he/she has had to spend large amounts of money on legal fees.
  5. The CICA (Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority) is positively biased against using lawyers to assist victims and angled towards people dealing with their own cases. The victims of abuse are vulnerable and in need to special help.At one time APIL (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) tried to engage with them because of the seeming bias. It was suspected that Lawywers were being discouraged because they were responsible for driving up the level of awards. The rule has now changed such that until the CICA will even communicate with lawyers, the victim has to sign a form of authority unlike any other type of claim, where it is accepted that if a lawyer says he is acting for a client further correspondence starts without needing a form of authority.
  6. How will this new scheme affect the CICA system of compensating the victims of crime? Presumably it is an alternative but quicker scheme? Why duplicate? Would it not be better to invest more funds into the CICA which now has a considerable backlog due to austerity cutbacks to staff and administration.
If you have been affected in any way by abuse and you would like legal advice on any aspect, then please get in touch with us at via the Abuselaw Website by following the link.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Sexual exploitation in Cheshire gets more attention from the police.

Chief Constable of Cheshire, Simon Byrne
I was interviewed on BBC Merseyside this morning about the Cheshire Police announcement of a new initiative to take a more protective and proactive approach to the possibility of sexual exploitation in Cheshire by announcing that each Children's Home will have its own designated officer.

I hasten to add that there is no suggestion in the police press release that exploitation is going on right now. It is more a case of prevention rather than cure, which has to be prudent and insightful bearing in mind what we have heard in Rochdale and Rotherham.

At QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden we have, in the past, dealt with large scale Cheshire Police enquiries into children's homes which are now closed such as Danesford in Congleton, Greystone Heath in Warrington, St. Aidan's in Widnes, St. Joseph's in Nantwich, Newton Hall in Frodsham, and Kilrie in Knutsford. They all involved abuse by care workers many years ago. I think I am right in thinking that most of the homes were closed by the Thatcher government in the 1990's, if not before, for various reasons including cost.

Now we notice that Cheshire Police, after consultation with young people and relevant organisations about what their requirements are have assigned a special officer to each children's home so that young people can talk about anything they want to in safety, which has to be a good thing. It is a shame that the same thing didn't happen many years ago at the homes where abuse took place.

A similar initiative was attempted at Danesford in Congleton many years ago by a child advocacy organisation called NYAS on the Wirral. The idea was that the children should have their own independent voice and means of support outside the home. It was planned that they should have their own telephone number to ring. The move failed, of course, because the care workers within were, at that time, abusing the boys. The last thing they wanted was an outside body coming in to discover what was going on.

If there are any potential sexual exploitation incidents of children being taken out of the homes for sex, then the police force will be able to show that they have done anything they can to prevent issues before they start happening, or take root.

The big difference between sexual exploitation and other crimes, is the difficulty of the police force to bring prosecutions because the victims are:-
  1. Young and vulnerable
  2. Threatened in a most aggressive way by the abusive gangs.
  3. Unwilling to give evidence out of fear and intimidation.
  4. In need of intensive witness protection.
Thus the police have to go out looking for crimes rather than waiting for the victims come forward to them. It is therefore resource intensive and difficult to detect. Most forces are advised to have a specialised unit assigned to this crime. It is against the grain for the police to go out looking for crime. They are taught to believe that they should be reactive to complaints and investigate rather than "trawl".

It is the Jimmy Savile scandal that has brought about a whole new attitude to the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse, and long overdue it has been. Historical abuse has now a higher priority than it used to, and hurray for that.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Rotherham child abuse scandal - the true horror exposed

Alexis Jay OBE delivering her findings

Following an investigation into child abuse in Rotherham,  Council leader Roger Stone  has announced that he is to step down with immediate effect.  He said: “I think it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are so clearly described in the report.”
The investigation has found evidence of “appalling” exploitation of at least 1,400 children in Rotherham over a period of 16 years.  A report highlighting the abuse was submitted to the police and the council in 2002, but was “effectively suppressed.”

Independent reviewer Alexis Jay OBE said: It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that the victims suffered.

“Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.”

The report highlights a variety of historical and serious child protection failings and concludes the council and other agencies should have done more to protect those at risk.

Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber offered his “sincere apologies” to the victims of child sexual exploitation in the town, branding it a deplorable situation”.  In a news conference he said he wants to “reassure young people that their past experiences will not just shape services in Rotherham, but we will use the independent inquiry report to makes sure that the failings of Rotherham in the past don’t become failings of another town in the future.”

So what are the issues?
  1.  At the moment the former councillor in charge of children's services is being blamed for not resigning when the reports of the abuse were produced on his watch. He is remaining adamantly opposed to moving by claiming that he didn't know of the abuse himself. How long he will last is anybody's guess. The topic of mandatory reporting has been raised on more than one occasion in relation to this.
  2. Mandatory reporting as envisaged would not catch the head of children's services in this context unless the children were actually in care or being cared for in some other way at the time eg in a school. If, however, it could be proved that they knew about abuse and did nothing about it then there would be an argument in favour of a prosecution, should such a law be in force, which it isn't yet in the United Kingdom.
  3. The attitude to prosecution is a familiar story, namely the concentration on the weakness of the complainant as a witness rather than the police undertaking a proactive campaign to search for the perpetrators.
  4. Victims of sexual exploitation are bound to be reticent in giving evidence and a lot of work has to be done by the police to make them safe. The police have to go out looking for such a crime. It seems that their reaction to complaints was to say that it was one person's word against another and that evidence was not strong enough to stand up in Court. What they should have done of course is map intelligence and get a group of complainants together in an orchestrated way.
  5. The CPS attitude to prosecution arises from the disastrous Home Affairs Select Committee Report of 2003 when "trawling" was outlawed by this committee in a somwhat misguided way even though the findings were rejected by the Home Office - I discussed this in an earlier blog here - Trawling rears its ugly head again
  6. The complainants have an interesting compensation case against the Council in negligence in that obvious signs of the abuse were ignored, but are they thus entitled to damages for all the abuse or just that which took place after the report was made. Would the Council have been able to stop the abuse if they had acted. This is certainly true of the police, but what about the Council?
  7. Obviously, should there be a criminal investigation which seems likely the victims can go the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority as victims of crimes of violence, which includes any type of abuse. There are now, however, quite strict time delay rules applicable.
  8. Could an action be brought against the police? Possibly but there are quite a few difficult cases to overcome such as Hill v Chief Constable for West Yorkshire (1988) HL. Causation again will be an issue.
Rotherham is not the only community to have uncovered such abuse. There have also been arrests or prosection of groups of men in 11 towns and cities, including Oldham, Rochdale and Derby.  An earlier blog I did in May 2012 refers to this.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Jimmy Savile Trust challenges the compensation scheme in the Court of Appeal.

I will be speaking on BBC Radio Leeds drivetime concerning the news that the trustees controlling Jimmy Savile's charitable trust are trying to prevent victims claiming compensation from his estate.

As it stands the victims can't legally claim compensation from the money which the trust controls, but they can claim from Savile's estate. But now, the trustees who control £3.7M, have won the right to challenge any payouts from the Savile estate and plan to take their case to the Court of Appeal later in the year. If the trust's case is found successful, victims may not even be able to claim compensation from the Savile estate

Why now

This has come as a shock to both lawyers representing the victims and the victims themselves, as initially there was no objection from the trust to the compensation scheme when it was being agreed at the High Court, but the trust instead lodged papers afterwards with the Court of Appeal. It has been documented that the named trustees of the charity also appear as beneficiaries in Savile's will.

Impact on victims

Understandably the victims are said to be angry and disappointed. This will mean that the case will drag on even longer than otherwise it would have done, and will be frustrating finalisation of the claims.

The Jimmy Savile Compensation Claims are set up to be shared under a scheme already set up between the estate of Jimmy Savile, the BBC, and the NHS Trust. There has been authorised advertising, and a capped limit of £60,000 per claim.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Who's being lined up to replace Butler-Sloss in the abuse inquiry?

Resigned - Lady Butler-Sloss
I have been speaking on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC News 24 about Lady Butler-Sloss’s resignation as appointed Chair of the abuse inquiry panel.  The panel was appointed last week to examine the extent to which public institutions failed to investigate allegations of child abuse.  Her resignation came after she faced tremendous pressure from victims’ groups because of a conflict of interest due to the fact that her brother, the late Sir Michael Havers  was Attorney General during the 1980’s which was the period due to be examined by the panel.

I think:- 
  • The decision to appoint a person to lead the enquiry was too hurried, yet had been proposed for at least 18 months. Not enough research was done by the government.
  • Lady Butler Schloss has much experience of leading enquiries but is now 80 - whilst she has a razor sharp mind this enquiry would have taken several years. Would it be expecting too much of her?
  • She has led the Cleveland enquiry which was somewhat controversial in its outcome. Children who allegedly had been abused were returned to their allegedly abusive parents. The process of evidence collection was found to be flawed and Social Services were heavily criticised. The outcome of the Princess Diana inquest was also controversial. She was criticised for holding an inquest without a jury.
  • Whilst her competence and ability is undoubted, however, the perception of the survivor group is more important than anything.
  • The one thing which survivors of abuse hate is the abuse of power of the state or indeed any public authority. Any suspicion publicly aired makes Lady Butler Schloss's role untenable, sadly, as I am sure she would have done a good job.
  • Victims of abuse have witnessed at a young age the abuse of power of an adult whom they trusted. Thus it becomes a typical feature of their personality that they distrust authority intensely. She are also, usually, over protective of their children, and tend to over risk assess situations.
The former judge issued a statement announcing that she would withdraw from the post.  She said that she had been honoured to be invited to chair the inquiry but commented: "It has become apparent over the last few days, however, that there is a widespread perception, particularly among victim and survivor groups, that I am not the right person to chair the inquiry. It has also become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been attorney general would cause difficulties."

Theresa May, who had appointed Butler-Sloss last week has strongly defended her against criticism, she said: "I am deeply saddened by Baroness Butler-Sloss's decision to withdraw but understand and respect her reasons. Baroness Butler-Sloss is a woman of the highest integrity and compassion and continues to have an enormous contribution to make to public life.

"As she has said herself, the work of this inquiry is more important than any individual and an announcement will be made on who will take over the chairmanship and membership of the panel as soon as possible so this important work can move forward."

Asked about her successor, Mrs May said she still favoured appointing a single individual to head the over-arching inquiry rather than a panel of experts urged by Labour and some abuse victims.

She said she hoped to name a new candidate "within a reasonable amount of time" but said whoever was approached would need to "think carefully" about the nature of the role.

My choice would be Keir Starmer - why:-
  • He has led a drive to change the way the Crown Prosecution Service investigate historical abuse.
  • He is in favour of Mandatory Reporting (a change in the law to make it illegal to ignore and not report signs of abuse)
  • He is an eminent lawyer and QC.
  • He appears to be well balanced.
  • He is now independent in that he is back to being a practising barrister, having resigned from the CPS.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Will victims voices be properly heard in the new child abuse inquiry?

Teresay May's Parliamentary announcement
In the last few days, there has been prolific media coverage regarding child abuse investigations and inquiries into historical abuse allegations in institutions around the UK. 

The home secretary has announced a wide-ranging, Hillsborough-style inquiry into historic child sex abuse claims, “to consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children”.  Baroness Butler-Sloss was announced on Tuesday as head of this inquiry, the details of which are still being scoped.

It’s thought likely to be a documentary inquiry rather than hearing from actual witnesses. If this is the case then the victims of abuse will not be heard, which in my experience as an abuse lawyer, is exactly what survivors of abuse desire the most, to be listened to.

In my view, in order to arrive at an ideal format for the inquiry, perhaps they should look at the institutional abuse inquiries in Northern and Southern Ireland.  They should select the best parts of each of these, both of which heard from survivors, who after all are at the core of the matter. I have already blogged about this subject here and here

The Home Office review is an investigation into the handling of documents relating to claims of a paedophile ring at Westminster in the 1980s.  Home Secretary Theresa May has appointed the head of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless to lead an investigation, the results of which is expected within 10 weeks.

When this inquiry was announced I was asked by various radio and TV news programmes for my views on it as an abuse lawyer.

Before it was announced that the inquiry would be led by the NSPCC, it was initially said that it would be a lawyer led inquiry.  I wonder whether the charity will have enough powers to carry out all that is required, for example, being able to demand access to documents held by government.  If the inquiry is to be forensic in nature, as I believe it should be, is the CEO of a charity the right person to deal with it?   Wouldn’t it be better led by a judge who is more likely to have a forensic approach to tracing documents and what has become of them?

Teresa May said she could turn it into a public enquiry if Peter Wanless thought it appropriate. Why not announce a public enquiry straight away? At least then everything would be out in the open, and much needed transparency achieved.

If the enquiry is not public then the chances of a further cover up being suspected are that much more likely.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Why was the sentence of Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall too lenient?

The law relating to sexual offences is anachronism, in that if a paedophile is charged today with an offence committed many years ago as is the case with Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall, Max Clifford etc. the law says that they have to be charged with the offence which was the law at the time, and if convicted they must be sentenced in accordance with the guidelines which applied at the time.

Because the view of society and the judiciary towards offences of a sexual nature even towards children was much more lenient in the 1970's, then the resuiltng sentence in 2014 will be too lenient.

At one time there would have been nothing that could have been done to correct it, whereas now a reference can be made to the Attorney General, who has 28 days to decide whether or not the sentence was too lenient and should be referred to the Court of Appeal.

In the Stuart Hall case the reference was made because the judge only gave him 2 years. The Court of Appeal increased the sentence to 30 months. The CPS, as if to compensate for the length of sentence even on appeal, then proffered additional charges.

Hall went to Court and was charged under old laws of indecency. Prosecution Counsel addressed the jury incredulously because, under this old law (the offences having taken place in the 1960's & 1970's) Hall was entitled to defend on the basis that the young adolescent girls had consented to the offences. He was acquitted on most of the charges on this basis even though the girls were all under age.

If Hall had been charged under modern day sexual offence legislation, he would not have been able to run this defence. The law on consent has changed diametrically. Now there is a presumption that vulnerable adults have not consented, thus putting the burden of proof on the accused to show that the victim has consented.

The consent defence is, however, only available for serious offences such as rape.

When sentenced, the judge in the Harris case had to consider what the sentencing guidelines would have been when the offence was committed. The maximum sentence for some of the offences of indecent assault under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 is 2 years. If Harris had been charged under the present day version of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 then the maximum sentence for some of the charges would have been life.

The Sentencing Council has only just published new guidelines relating to 54 Sexual Offences which came out in April 2014. Following the link to read them for yourself in more detail - http://

So what is the rationale?
  1. It makes no sense to use out of date criminal offences which are out of step with modern law to prosecute sex offenders. We are not taking them to Court in the 1970's
  2. The guidelines seem to follow dyed in the wool criminal law principles without thinking of the consequences.
  3. The recent spate of historical abuse allegations seem at odds with the principles
  4. There are arguments and some sense in thinking of a change in the law. particularly if the effect of the guidelines is the referral of two recent cases to the Court of Appeal because sentences in accordance with the guidelines are deemed to be too lenient.
  5. The cost of appeals to the Court of Appeal must be born in mind
  6. The analogy of the logic would be that if someone was prosecuted for murder committed in 1962 before the abolition of the death penalty for murder, then one should use the sentencing guidelines for 1962 which was hanging? So hang the accused?

I was honoured to have debated the above point with Vera Baird on the Today programme yesterday morning on Radio 4. Vera justified the principle of sentencing by circumstances at the time of the offence, on the basis that the accused is influenced as to the consequences of committing a crime at the time of the offence, namely in the recent cases, decades ago. It seems to me to be a weak argument when faced with the drama of celebrity sex offenders getting too lenient a sentence.

We will see whether there is an appetite for a change in the law.

Thursday 3 July 2014

Rolf Harris abuse victims – how much compensation will they be able to claim?

Rolf Harris

Following the recent guilty verdicts delivered to Rolf Harris, on all 12 counts of child abuse concerning four girls, it has been reported that police have received new complaints against the TV entertainer.  It has been reported that 12 further people have come forward.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has said the Crown Prosecution Service will work with the police to look at new cases, although it was too early to say whether more charges would follow.

One paper reports that as a result of these new potential victims he could face a "string of compensation claims" which could diminish his "£11m fortune.” Accounts show that millions are tied up in a network of companies, his oldest company, Rolf Harris Enterprises, was launched in 1963.  Also his home in Bray, Berkshire, could be sold to pay compensation for his victims.

Following these new claims, a High Court civil claim is set to be launched in weeks which will effectively freeze the his assets and prevent Harris transferring the deeds of his home and multi million pound assets to his daughter or other family members.

In terms of how much compensation the alleged victims of Rolf Harris will be able to claim depends of a number of different factors including how it has affected their life, whether they will need extra support in the future and how much money they have lost or will lose as a consequence.  The law awards damages for physical or psychological harm.

If you have been the victim of abuse our specialist abuse litigation team at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden are able to offer confidential and professional advice on the merits of bringing a claim for compensation.  We will assess your case and give you guidance at the beginning of your case as to how much compensation you are likely to receive.

Speak to one of our specialist male or female solicitors in complete confidence.  Call us on our confidential phone line or via email.  0845 604 7075 or

Monday 30 June 2014

Was Rolf Harris Mr Jekyl or Mr Hyde?

Rolf Harris when arrested.
Today has been so hectic ever since the jury returned guilty verdicts on all 12 counts and convicted Rolf Harris of abuse of 4 girls. I have discussed the story on Radio 5 Live, then BBC News 24, Radio Wales, and Radio London, followed tomorrow by a clip for Breakfast tomorrow.

The theme remains the same - Harris was a Jekyl and Hyde character who fooled everyone. Savile was the same, but perhaps not as genial. Some said Savile was a frightening individual who you didn't cross, not only because he had been an all in wrestler in contrast to Harris whose hobby was less physical in the form of art.

The likenesses and differences are:-

  • They both did endless work for charity.
  • They both worked with children.
  • They both entertained children.
  • They both used their media profile to hoodwink victims into a state of trust.
  • They both had connections with many individuals very high up in Society - Savile with Margaret Thatcher, and Harris painted the Queen.
  • They both worked in the field of popular music which inevitably brought about meetings with adoring fans including children.
  • Neither was discovered until in their 80's, Savile obviously after death.
  • Savile is dead - obviously thus making it easier to report what happened without fear of a libel suit.
  • Savile used his connections with those in authority to shield himself from action by victims eg. Leeds Police, and threats of action by using his "mates" in authority.
  • Savile appears to have liked all types of victims including
    • Boys
    • Girls
    • The disabled
    • Hospital Patients
    • Dead Bodies (yes believe it or not he was seen to visit the mortuaries in various hospitals including Leeds and Haute de la Garenne in Jersey)
  • Harris on the other hand only appears to have had an interest in the female sex according to the media stories.
  • Savile was feared in his lifetime, and known to be an "odd" character who never married, whereas Harris appears to have lived a "normal" family life.
So what will the sentence be on Friday - not as long as the victims want, I predict. The judge will be hampered again by the law which puts a cap on sentences which relate to offences taking place a long time ago when the punishment was different, on the basis that if Harris had been prosecuted at the time of the offences, the sentence would have been more lenient.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Knowl View Report & Council cover up reinforces the need for Mandatory Reporting Law

Knowl View, Rochdale
I was speaking this morning on Radio Manchester about the recently revealed scandal into a report done by an inspector who went to the Knowl View children's home in 1991 and was told that boys were being used as prostitutes and were also being abused forcibly at the home.

Bearing in mind that there is not only a police investigation but also an independent enquiry being commissioned by the Council at the moment by Queens Counsel, this leaked information must be of some importance because otherwise it would simply have featured in the report when published.

As we at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden act for a victim of the abuse, I do know that the abuse spans the 1960's, 70's, and 80s. The inspection in this case took place in 1991 - which was only a few years before the home closed in 1995. The question would be did any abuse take place after the report, and how long before the report, was the abuse happening with either the actual knowledge, or constructive knowledge of the home?

The points I made on the radio were:-
  1. I have been dealing with Children's Home abuse cases for 20 years and have never come across a report mentioning that abuse had actually taken place, then being covered up. Usually one only comes across evidence of a blind eye being turned to signs that children were not behaving normally or maybe a child who tried to disclose but did not quite manage to get everything out. 
  2. This shows that the abuse was taking place quite openly at the home rather than happening in secret as usually occurs. 
  3. This report will make the victims very angry that their complaints at the time were not responded to in the proper manner and that those in authority were engaged in a cover up. 
  4. On the one hand it will make them angry because it will bring it all to the surface again. On the other hand it will please them that albeit many years later they have some chance of getting some justice. 
  5. It reinforces the campaign for mandatory reporting, because if it had been possible to complain to an outside body rather than the report being internalised at Rochdale Council, there is a chance that something could have been done at the time, and the scandal uncovered. 
  6. There is no criminal offence of failing to report suspicions of abuse and there should be. Those who buried the report should be held accountable for orchestrating a cover up. 
  7. The police will only be able to prosecute the abusers if they are still alive rather than those who buried the complaints, who the victims often feel were more to blame.
For more detail on our mandatory reporting campaign see my separate blog on the subject here.

Friday 16 May 2014

Is it any surprise that more suspects have arisen in the Knowl View Rochdale Cyril Smith scandal?

Cyril Smith
Yesterday it was announced by the police Operation Jaguar, who are investigating the allegations of abuse against Cyril Smith and his connections with the residential home Knowl View in Rochdale that more victims have come forward thus widening the investigation to 21 alleged abusers at the home.

Apparently 7 men have made allegations to the police which will be investigated.

Police said the men claimed they were abused by Smith at Knowl View in Rochdale in the 1970s and 1980s.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said there were now 21 suspects, 14 of whom it had identified, including Smith.

Police said three new alleged victims of abuse at Knowl View have come forward bringing the total to ten. Seven of the 10 allege abuse by Smith.

Here at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden, we act for one victim of severe sexual abuse at Knowl View. We are anxious to speak to anyone who can help us in any way with what went on there. In particular we would like to speak to other victims of abuse there, so that we can build our case and make it stronger. As the abuse happened many years we need as much corroborative evidence as we can find.

I appeared on BBC News North West to give my opinion. I was asked if it surprised me that more allegations had arisen. My reply was a little melodramatic that paedophiles hunt in packs. It is true, however that at most of the homes we have looked at from the 60's, 70's, and 80's, where abuse took place, there were more than one sex offender care worker operating at the home, at one time. Whether or not they all knew what other was doing is not proven but likely. Some have attempted to trace links in the past.

As Detective Inspector Terry Oates, from Warrington Police said to me in 1996 when was investigating Greytone Heath, a home infested with sex offenders, "I like golf so I go to a golf club to play. Paedophiles like children, so go somewhere they can find them. They don't have to operate sophisticated rings because the children are all there for them to abuse whenever they like."

At one time 41 out of 43 police forces in this country back in the late 1990's had a major children's home investigation in the area. Manchester investigated 66 homes, and Merseyside 89 homes to quote just two counties.

Here at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden, we are not only looking at Knowl View, but Foxholes in Rochdale where abuse also took place. There are other issues with Rochdale which have captured the media. Whether or not there is something sinister about the town is difficult to prove.

One simply hopes that the victims get the justice they truly deserve after being fobbed off for so many years.

Friday 2 May 2014

Will the sentence of Max Clifford send out a good message?

Max Clifford with his daughter
With the failure of the prosecutions of several recent high profile celebrities for abusing young girls, the media and the allegedly falsely accused were starting to question whether mounting multi claimant cases of abuse from many years ago was a sensible way to spend public money.

The recent conviction, and sentence today of Max Clifford justifies all the hard work put in by Operation Yewtree at the Met Police.

I just hope that the prison sentence is long enough to make the victims think they have got justice. Despite his protestations at trial his victims will be after acceptance that they are telling the truth. They want to be believed and have the satisfaction of feeling valued rather than guilty for what happened, which is so often the case.

The word is that the sentence may be as low as 2 years because the judge is bound by guidelines which were in force at the time the offences were committed ie the 70's and 80's rather than the present day.

The point is that most victims of abuse keep their experiences a secret because of fear and shame until much later in life, so a ban on prosecutions of events taking place years ago, would be catastrophic for victims. It would also have a very wide impact upon not only celebrity cases but also the vast majority of "normal" abuse cases of family members, professionals etc.

It has emerged in the press that earlier this year ago Clifford took out an unexplained £3.5m mortgage on his Surrey mansion with the suggestion being he wanted to put his money out of reach of victims looking for compensation. The civil courts have power to reverse transaction designed to avoid the payment of debts where it was done with that sole intention. It does seem to be the sort of thing someone expected to pay large amounts of compensation to do, but borders upon dishonesty. After all, aren't the victims entitled to be compensated for the suffering they have endured?

It is also said that a divorce is likely, and if so, the victims will be competing with his estranged wife for a slice of the pie. The question is, what has happened to the money raised by the mortgage? Some, no doubt was used to pay legal fees.

Let us hope that the victims obtain some sort of closure after today.

Hopefully I can give my views on BBC News 24 this afternoon.

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 ( of Cheadle Hulme in Cheshire. The firm has one of the largest dedicated child abuse compensation department in the country ( 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 ****.................