Thursday, 5 March 2015

Mandatory reporting of child abuse - is it the answer to child abuse scandals?

See our blog at www.abuselaw.co.uk which discusses David Cameron's proposals for ending the 'culture of denial' which he says exists amongst social workers and other child care professionals.  Peter Garsden looks at the mandatory reporting of child abuse, and considers why this is a better approach.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Did Jimmy Savile abuse children in Manchester children's homes?

 A report was published yesterday into the abuse carried out by the late Jimmy Savile in NHS hospitals, the main focus being Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Kate Lampard, the barrister tasked with the job of providing independent oversight by the Secretary of State for Health, has come under fire for not addressing how mandatory reporting could have served to prevent much of the abuse from happening. 

I look at the main findings of the report and discuss my aim of being granted another group action allowing me to further represent victims of abuse in Manchester children's homes.

View this blog at www.abuselaw.co.uk

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Gary Glitter guilty of historical abuse

Gary Glitter has been convicted of sexual offences, is in custody, and awaits sentence on 27th February. In my blog, I give a summary of the case, and, more importantly, my opinion upon what sort of sentence he should get, and why I think so.

See the Abuselaw website for this most recent Blog

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Should Care Records be disclosed unredacted to Care Leavers? - Update

I am attending a meeting of the Access to Social Care Records Alliance tomorrow at the headquarters of the Department of Education in London. We are going to be discussing the way in which new guidelines on the subject are going to be cascaded to Local Authority Record Administrators around the country by way of a series of round table meetings.

This lobby group started at the beginning of 2013 following a case I was involved in called Durham County Council v. Dunne [2012] EWCA Civ 1654. In this case, the Court of Appeal decided that if a lawyer was asking for records from a Local Authority in the course of a Court Case (as opposed to before the case went to Court) then they should be provided without any masking out, or "redactions" as they are known.

I was contacted by David Lane - a Social Care Expert who is active in the Social Work Field and a Former Director of Social Services - and suggested that we could use their case as a lever to improve the access of Care Leavers to their records. David introduced me to Darren Coyne of the Care Leavers Association, who had been active in this area, for many years. He frequently experienced difficulties when acting for Care Leavers who had been given "redacted" versions of their records, to such an extent that they were rendered meaningless.

Darren then set about forming a lobbying Group, which consisted of Baroness Lola Young from the House of Lords, who had formerly been in care and had difficulty obtaining her own records, Julia Feast and Leonie Jordan from the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, Trish Scott from Barnado's, and David Lane who shortly thereafter became a member of the Panel to the Northern Ireland Historical Abuse Inquiry.

We met and formed a strategy. It was decided that we would try to influence the government to amend the Children & Families Bill, which, in the summer of 2014, was passing through Parliament. I tabled a proposed amendment, which was converted into guidelines and further amended before being placed before the House of Lords, most capably by Baroness Young.

The result was that there was a lot of support for revised guidelines, which were then adopted by the Department of Education, and published as new guidelines which all Local Authorities should follow. They are described as "statutory guidance for local authorities on helping care leavers aged 16 and 17 prepare for adulthood." To read them in detail go to paragraphs 4.21 to 4.37. Click here

In summary

  • It emphasises that Care Leavers are entitled to find out about their family history and that the Data Protection Act should not be used as a barrier to hinder that process
  • It reminds Local Authorities that  Care Records must be retained until the Care Leaver is 75.
  • People who request records can be any age, and are not necessarily children.
  • There should be a proper policy with information to explain how people can access their records.
  • Local Authorities should respond quickly, sensitively, and openly should records be mislaid or lost.
  • If records must be redacted then a clear explanation should be given.
  • Because a Care Leaver has a right to know about his family background, care should be taken to avoid unnecessary redaction, but if necessary, it should be properly explained.
  • The Care leaver should be given help and advice when accessing his/her records by the Local Authority appointing a designated person.
The aim of the Group going forwards is to make sure these guidelines are known by all Local Authority Records departments. Thus we plan a number of roadshows around the Country. A big thank you goes out to various members of ACAL(Association of Child Abuse Lawyers) members who have kindly agreed to allow their meeting rooms to be used for this purpose.

Long term goals are as follows:-

  • Developing and promoting innovative approaches to national partnership working with LAC/Care Leavers in the development of services that address their individual needs
  • Promoting transparency, openness and accountability of public services to LAC and Care Leavers, in view of the overwhelming impact of public services on their life chances and quality of life
  • Providing training and information on the needs of LAC/Care Leavers, their emotional well-being and how this is impacted by the process of accessing their file(s)
  • Ensuring user led perspectives are central to policy developments and implementation

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