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://
sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk/about/sexual-offences.htm


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 abuslaw@abneys.co.uk.

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:-

Likenesses
  • 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.
Differences
  • 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.