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 ****.................

 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Is there a whole new breed of abuse hidden in the army just waiting to be discovered?

Anne Marie Ellement
The recent story about the suicide of Anne Louise Ellement, and her inquest, demanded and orchestrated by her family and campaigning lawyer, made me realise that there is a huge undiscovered area of abuse in the military, it seems, at the moment, more against women than men. It would not surprise me in the least if, in a very male and power dominated environment, that male on male abuse is not also commonplace.

The inquest revealed that a female soldier, albeit with a fragile mental health background, was bullied ruthlessly for reporting two soldiers for raping her at barracks in Germany. Because the military do not have to hand over allegations of a sexual nature to the civilian police, it was decided to take no further action. This then prompted the accused's soldier's girlfriend to bully her cruelly for being a "slag" etc. The upshot, eventually after this had gone on for more than a year also by others was the successful suicide of the soldier. Because this soldier was disliked, presumably in view of her accusations, she had been overworked, and given unreasonable amounts of work which she was unable to complete, hence allegations of work related stress.

An interesting article of quite outspoken comment appeared in the Guardian Society Pages, written by a former soldier, Joe Glenton, which in summary alleged that there is institutional sexism in the army - to quote

"Let us dispense with the idea that the British military is in a meaningful sense a slightly quaint but essentially harmonious family. Healthy families do not regularly inflict acts of sexual violence upon each other, and in the British forces rapes and sexual assaults seem to have become something of a banality. No comparable professional group in the UK appears to rival the military for rates of colleague-on-colleague sexual violence. I would argue this stems from a poisonous mix of unchallenged sexism, unaccountable power and an archaic military justice system."

I then started to compare the way it is in the army with abuse in the civilian world and came up with some startling conclusions:-

1. To exist, abuse requires a cloistered environment where an abuser can be alone away from the prying eyes of those who might judge, prevent, and prosecute - the army is its own world with its own police force and internal rules. To justify this existence it needs to produce a fighting force which can protect our nation. This justifies making individuals who will not think twice before killing another man in cold blood. But how does this fit in with a morally sensitive environment and a caring attitude to allegations of rape?

2. The way in which abusers manage to operate in secret for many years is by abuse of power, which is indeed what abuse is. Whilst sexual assault is usually the outcome, the driving force and perversion is always abuse of power which makes all abusers manipulative and coercive of their victims and any authority which attempts to investigate and punish them. The army lives on power and command. It is insular, and male dominated. It has to be powerful to survive and win wars.

3. The way in which one can route out abuse is by creating an open and protected system of reporting. Mandatory reporting exists in most countries which use civilised systems of law - apart from England of course - which makes the failure to report abuse witnessed a crime. What better environment exists to suppress the reporting of abuse a crime than the army . They use their own military police to investigate most crimes. To make a report, one presumably has to go through the echelons of power rather than being able to report outside of the army to the police. It is thus easy to contain any corruption internally and at source. Indeed it was not until 1999 that it became possible legally to bring any civil proceedings against the Crown. Prior thereto it was the law that the Crown was immune from any sort of civil suit.

4. The more traditional and inward looking an organisation (the Catholic Church for instance), the less likelihood there is of any abuse being investigated and changes made to prevent it happening in the future. One definitely gets the impression that the Army has all the hallmarks of making the process of investigation and change extremely difficult.

Having done my analysis I feel quite pessimistic that the abuse which exists in the army will be routed out and its culture changed. I fear we have a long hard path to tread, and a long way to go.....

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Trawling rears its ugly head again

Bryn Estyn, Wrexham
I notice that  a Huddersfield MP Labour's Barry Sheerman has claimed that the National Crime Agency (NCA) is using controversial "trawling" techniques to find evidence against teachers and social workers in its investigation into historic child abuse in North Wales care homes.

This is an old chestnut used in opposition to the care home investigations back in the 1990's, which resulted in a flawed Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry in 2003 at which many complaining care workers, who had been investigated by the police, suggested that they had been the victims of a witch hunt. In response to the enquiry's findings that trawling was a method which was the reverse of normal police methods whereby they wait for complainants to come to them, the Home Office rejected most of the findings.

The result was, unfortunately, that the police put child abuse investigations, particularly those concentrating on events from many years ago at the bottom of their list of priorities, until Mr Savile reared his ugly head. Suddenly it became a political priority, and something requiring much police attention.

Then we had the Rochdale Taxi Driver's case where a genuine complaint of sexual grooming was not proceeded with by the CPS due the reliability of the witness. There had been no investigation to see if there were others involved.A more thorough investigation in 2012/3 discovered that a gang was involved, something which was missed originally.

Then Keir Starmer, when he was in charge of the CPS, took the lead to find new ways of investigating allegations of abuse from the past saying that the police would concentrate on making the victims case better, and should look for evidence to support the claims - in other words he was not using the word "trawling" because of its connotations, but rather saying that there was nothing wrong with looking for corroboration.

Abuse is a crime which happens in secret where both the perpetrator and victim want to keep it quiet for different reasons, and where, if it is to be investigated properly, the police must take a pro-active approach to uncover the crime.

I was speaking at sexual grooming conference in Birmingham where the police involved were pointing out that the force had to go out looking for this sort of crime, because it would not come to them. Girls in a sexual grooming abuse ring would rather keep quiet for fear of being killed by gang members if they speak up.

Let me make it clear, I don't blame the police for the change in policy after the Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry. They were responding to political, and alleged abuser led pressure. There is always more crime to investigate than officers available.

I am afraid that Barry Sheerman appears to be speaking up for a constituent who seems to be on the wrong end of the new investigation into North Wales Care Homes - Operation Pallial. There is no doubt that the original investigation into abuse during the 1990's did not uncover all the allegations, and that a lot of victims, who were not able to disclose all those years ago for very good psychological reasons, are now coming forward.

Obviously the alleged abusers involved don't like it. That is no surprise.

I act for one of the North Wales victims who is part of Operation Pallial who is claiming compensation for the horrific abuse committed upon him. It is very easy to criticise the vulnerable. They generally don't fight back. Let us hope that this complaint doesn't get anywhere.

At the recent sentencing of Peter Wright, the headmaster at Caldicott Prep School who was just sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for his part in a paedophile ring, but more accurately for several acts of abuse at the school over many years, Judge Cutts QC, when referring to a previous flawed police investigation in 2003, commented "It is clear to me that the police fear of being accused of trawling for evidence prevented the proper investigation of this case at that time."

Any victim reading this who needs advice can contact our abuse department via our website www.abuselaw.co.uk or email us to reception@abneys.co.uk 


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Deadline set for Manchester home abuse victims to come forward

We are appealing for people who were abused as children from the 1950’s to the 1990’s; in Manchester City Council run homes, to speak out about the abuse they suffered.  The appeal comes as a cut off date has been set in which claims for compensation can be made as part of the largest ever group action for alleged child abuse.   The decision was made at a hearing brought by Manchester City Council before the High Court in Manchester on 7th February.  A cut off date has been set for 4pm on Wednesday 7th May 2014, by which time any new victim must have started court proceedings.

In May 2009 we were given High Court clearance to set up a second group of alleged victims who claimed they were abused while in the care of the children’s homes run by the city council’s social services from the 1950’s to the 1990’s.   The action centred on three main homes run by the City Council – Rosehill in Northenden, Broomehouse in Didsbury and Mobberley Boys in Knutsford. A Schedule of other homes where there have been allegations is listed below. 

452 alleged victims have joined the Group to date and 275 cases have been settled for £2,042,510 in total .  The lowest settlement is £1,100 and the highest is £30,000 with the average compensation pay out being around £7,427.31.

In 2007 we represented 168 claimants in the first group action in which we managed to secure compensation amounting to nearly £2,260,000. The group was originally formed in response to a massive police investigation launched by Greater Manchester Police code named “Operation Cleopatra” from Grey Mare Lane Police Station. Starting in 1997 and concluding around 2002, it investigated 66 children’s homes in Greater Manchester, and prosecuted a number of individuals. Manchester City Council Social Services Department ran most of the homes. Former Broome House warden and assistant director of Manchester social services Ronald Hall was eventually jailed for 11 years, with deputy Ian Gray given 14 years and ex-social worker Phillip Roe jailed for 12-and-a-half years.

The two Group Actions added together mean that the compensation paid out to date amounts to £4,302,510, which is the largest ever pay out in any abuse Group Action. The eventual payout is likely to be over £5 million once all the cases settle.

The decision to impose a cut off date now by the High Court was against what we were arguing on behalf of the victims. The Court decided to side with the Council. I was opposed to the idea because new Claimants are continuing to come forward in a steady stream. It is unfair that an arbitrary date has been set for 3 months hence. We have, however, to abide by the Court’s decision. It is very important that as much publicity as possible is given to this announcement because the Court also decided to prohibit any paid advertising, presumably to save the costs for the Council, who are having to foot the bill. If enough new Claimants come forward then we can make an application to the Court to put the date back even further.

If you think you have a case you can speak to one of our specialist male or female solicitors in complete confidence.


Schedule of Homes
Rosehill
Broomehouse
Mobberley Boys Home
Glendene
Seymour Road
Ellerslie
Buglawton Hall
Taxal Edge
Lynwood
Various Family Group Homes




Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Is there a new wave of abuse compensation claims?

This is the question I was asked by a researcher from BBC Wales who referred me to two articles on the BBC News website. She was wondering if things were changing because of all the publicity, and perhaps that local authorities would not be able to afford claims for massive damages akin to the American system. The answer to the question is simply that because of all the publicity more people are coming forward to the police wanting to prosecute their abusers, and to lawyers, wanting to pursue claims for abuse against either their abuser of his/her employer if appropriate.

The two articles I was referred to were "Lawyers seek US-style damages for abuse at public schools" which is an article sourced by some American Lawyers who have come over from the States, where damages are many times higher in value than in the UK, not just in the field of abuse, but also generally. This is for two reasons:-
  1. American Lawyers are paid a percentage of damages - as high as 40% in some cases on what is called a contingency fee basis - now legal in England since April 2013 but in a slightly different form - damage based agreements.
  2. Juries often assess damages - their view of how valuable a case is often tops to some degree what a conservative judge might think.
I do agree that United Kingdom damages are too low. When one considers that abuse is a life long period of suffering, then compensation of between £30,000 and £50,000 is to little. It equates to about a nice Starbucks coffee per day. The problem is that the ceiling for damages is scaled down from the most serious injuries, the figure for which is not high enough. The figures are set down by the Judicial Studies Board Guildelines. Even though a 10% increase was announced in April 2013, UK damages dwarf the US.

The other article announced that a group of 10 new claimants had come forward to make claims against Cardiff County Council for abuse committed by an employee called David Leighton Davies who had been convicted for offences at Cyntwell High School in Ely as long ago as 1977. The article made it clear that it was the insurers were responsible for meeting the awards, but still there was a worry that it might affect the finances of a local education authority.

My points were:-
  1. The attitude of the police to investigating past incidents of abuse has changed radically due to new guidelines brought out by Keir Starmer, and in response to cases like Jimmy Savile.
  2. There is a feeling by the authorities that celebrities were allowed license to abuse young girls in the gaze of those in authority many years ago, and that this should never happen again - hence Operation Yewtree and the many prosecutions of celebrities presently taking place.
  3. More disclosures of abuse is a good thing. Victims should not have to keep their secrets hidden for fear that the events were their fault, or that they will not be believed.
  4. Disclosure can be painful, but is better out than in. There is an abundance now of support by way of counselling and charitable groups that can assist any individual go through the process.
  5. It is now much more acceptable to admit that someone has been abused in childhood, indeed it is commonly on the news almost daily. Most victims remain, however, ashamed and silent. It is understandable. 
  6. What we are now witnessing in the media is still the tip of the iceberg.
I don't think we will ever reach the heights of American damages for victims going to the Courts of England and Wales. Victims do, however, deserve more than they get. Let us hope there is no backlash designed to squash genuine claims like there was around 2001 and 2002, when the Home Office launched an enquiry into alleged false allegations of abuse from children's homes - for which see my previous blog.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Irish Case finds state to blame

I was very interested to read that the Irish State has been found to blame for abuse in Irish Schools by the European Court of Human Rights.

Kelly O'Keeffe took the case to Europe after the Supreme Court ruled the State could not be held responsible because the national school in question had been run by an independent board at the time.

She was abused when she was  nine years old by her teacher Leo Hickey at Dunderrow National School in Co Cork in 1973. Decades later, Hickey was charged with 386 criminal offences involving 21 former Dunderrow pupils.

It is interesting that the European Court found that the Irish State had not only been negligent, but also were in breach of Human Rights Legislation under under Sections 3 and 13 of European law.

The case had been taken to the Supreme Court in Ireland without success. The European Court, much chastised by our own government, found for the victim of abuse in circumstances, which seem just, and where, perhaps, the precedent led Irish Court had taken an overly technical approach because it felt bound to do so because of previous cases.

The European Court stands as a tribunal which is totally independent of the national interests of countries, which, for reasons which may be related to political pressure, despite efforts to avoid the influence of politicians, can make decisions free of anything other than the pure application of law.

I have blogged before about the way in which the judiciary in this country is being leaned about by the executive, or parliament, to put it another way. England , and presumably other countries, do not like when a Court overrules their judicial decisions, or criticises the way in which their government behaves.

Without appearing to be too hysterical, the growth of international safety nets such as the United Nations, NATO, etc. has served a similar purpose, and has been effective in preventing a World War since 1945.

There are signs in this country, that the law is being extended to impose liability on local authorities who attempt to delegate responsibility for child care to independent contractors. In the case of Woodlands v Essex County Council 2013, the Supreme Court found a local authority liable for negligence by an independent swimming teacher after a child nearly drowned during a swimming lesson, and suffered brain damage.

Commentators wonder whether the principle can extend liability for foster parents to them as well.


The newspaper reports shows how delighted Ms. O'Keeffe, who will have been enraged at the lack of justice administered by the Courts in Ireland, is by the decision. She is the victim of the abuse by the state, who, when she has tried to obtain compensation, has been rejected once again by the very body she deems responsible. The attitude of a victim to authority is usually averse to any abuse of power because in childhood, they have been abused by someone with power over them.

What will be interesting is how the Irish Government react to the decision. According to RTE News -

"Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said that while his sympathy is very much with Ms O'Keeffe, he will have to consider the judgment and receive advice before he can give a reaction.

Asked if he would give Ms O'Keeffe an apology, he said that he is glad she has got a result, but he will have to consider the implications of the ruling."

No ruling of the European Court is binding on a nation state. They can ignore it if they wish. Judging by the strength of feeling amongst the victims of abuse, it would seem unlikely that the Irish State will turn its back on the judgment.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Are Male sex victims likely to report more than women?

In the Daily Mirror today the headline is that male sex victims are likely to report more than women - this is the link - http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/male-sex-victims-more-likely-3062168#.UuZ4u_tFBpg The articles goes on to give the following stats:-
  1. 16 per cent of women and 8 per cent of men ­questioned had been victims of a sexual crime.
  2. Half the men reported the attack to police, compared with just over a quarter of the women.
  3.  The poll of 1,561 women and 1,419 men by ITV’s This Morning found that one in three people know someone who has had their drink spiked
  4. Nearly two thirds think celebrities “get off more lightly” in court. 
  5. Almost half say sentences for drug possession are not tough enough
  6. 54 per cent want the return of the death penalty.
  7. One in three say they should be told where paedophiles live.
  8. Nearly three quarters believe prisoners get too many luxuries.
About 1,000 people are convicted of rape each year out of an average 3,000 cases brought, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics.

Many of the statistics are old hat and of no surprise to me or, no doubt, any of the readers of the Daily Mirror

The one statistic that I find surprising is that men are more likely to report abuse than women. Accepting for one moment that women who are abused may be in relationships with their abuser, which no doubt acts as a supressor out of fear, in general terms, females are more willing to disclose how they feel than women.

Here at Abney Garsden, we specialise in assisting the victims of abuse. We find that Male survivors of abuse have often kept their abuse a closely guarded secret until something triggers them into doing something about it. We then have the privelige of being the first person they have ever told about their abuse.

Men often display much more damage than women according to psychologists because they have internalised all their negative feelings, and not been able to disclose anything due the shame of the allegations they make, which usuall involve a homosexual relationship with an older male care worker/religious leader/teacher when an infant. They often fear that if they tell anyone, they will be rejected, outcast, and shunned by their friends and family, hence the silence for so many years.