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