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. My thoughts appear below:-

The Channel 4 summary of the programme reads:-

"This observational documentary follows controversial online vigilante Stinson Hunter and his associates, who pose as underage children on social networking sites in order to identify and draw out men they assert have paedophilic predilections. Self-styled 'undercover journalist' Hunter and his team engage men in conversation online on 18+ sites, while pretending to be children, then lure them into meeting. The unsuspecting men arrive at the predetermined address to be confronted by Hunter. He and his team show the 'mark' the evidence of their online, text and phone conversations and film the ensuing interrogation. Hunter informs the men he will hand this file to the police and he will be posting the confrontation and evidence online. Multiple Bafta Award-winning director Dan Reed captures the 'catches' from Hunter's initial introductions online through to the final confrontations. In this extraordinary documentary, Reed explores the shocking scale of the problem of online grooming and the complex relationship between the vigilantes, the police and people who use social network sites to groom underage children. He also looks into Hunter's troubled past and his motivation for catching sexual predators, challenging him on his actions, which can have devastating consequences for the men when he posts videos of them online."

I have been acting for the victims of abuse for the last 20 years. I have heard many stories of how abusees understandably want revenge for what happened to them in childhood, when they had no power and were sexually assaulted by, for example, an older male who was in a position of power. They felt powerless at the time, whereas in later life have more power, and are no longer in a helpless situation. They wish that they had not allowed themselves to be abused, and blame themselves for what happened.

There are examples of victims killing their abuser then being prosecuted for the crime and being sent to prison for life. In one case the intoxicated abusee set off with a knife to seek revenge, but fortunately turned back when realised that if he committed the crime, then he would be sentenced for a crime of violence rather than the offender going through due process of law.

The programme reminds me of the late 1990's when a crowd daubed the words "Paedophile" on the walls of a house owned by a Paediatrician in a bout of hysterical outrage at what was then shocking stories about abuse of children. I also remember the News of the World publishing a "Wanted" gallery of sex offenders who had, I seem to remember, been released from prison. These were the days before even the Criminal Records Bureau, and the right to be informed about sex offenders who apply for jobs or live nearby. The pinnacle of the hysteria was the Brass Eye spoof, which satirised the subject in the way only Black Comedy can.

Because I am a lawyer, I am always looking for evidence. The question is how it should be collected, and what the dangers are. I notice that the former head of CEOP was interviewed and was very much against the hunter's methods. We saw him (Stinson) in a plaster cast. An entrapped offender ran him over and broke his ankle. He also showed a hole in the back of his head. These events were to Stinson "all part of the job". He was not deterred.

I have lost count the number of times that fathers have said to me when they discover what I do for a living that if anyone ever hurt their child, they don't know how they would stop themselves from seeking serious revenge on the culprit. The reality of course is different, but it shows how abuse awakens understandable emotions in the most civilised of human beings.

So what do I think?

  1. Leave professional tasks like catching criminals to the professionals. It is a dangerous job fraught with risk.
  2. I do not know whether Stinson has an agenda to settle or not, but if he has then he is on a knife edge. He is subjecting himself to danger.
  3. If his evidence is used by the police to prosecute offenders then there are positive sides to what he does. One wonders whether the police ever used the evidence against the suspect or relied on other evidence not taken after entrapment.
  4. There are some complicated rules in criminal law about whether or not evidence of entrapment of an individual is admissable. It is frequently challenged by Defence Counsel in cases I have read. Thus such evidence is better collected dispassionately by Professional Members of HM Police rather than amateur sleuths.
  5. The reason the Bow Street Peelers (later called the "Police") were set up in London several centuries ago, was because of the lawless gangs which were attempting to secure law and order.
  6. It is almost always wrong to take the law into your own hands, particularly if there is an emotional connection between the offence and the investigating officer. How many times have you seen Detectives being "taken off cases" because of an emotional connection to the subject matter.
  7. There is an argument that if the police are able to work with Stinson or another in a sober and organised manner, in order to collect valid evidence which can be used to prosecute individuals which is so well collected that it can pass through a Court of Law, then good work is being done.
  8. The problem is that this programme sends out a very dangerous message to other members of public who may think of doing the same sort of thing themselves. Chaos could result. If a situation gets out of hand, then the police could be tasked with not only prosecuting a sex offenders, but also the investigating gang, if matters get out of control.
  9. I used to do criminal work many years ago. Many of my cases involved situations where well meaning members of the public have tried to sort out a dispute between two people with which they were not involved and ended up being charged with offences of assault.
  10. If Stinson had experience in the army, or some other type of investigative organisation with experience of investigative skills, then it would perhaps be less dangerous.
I understand that the programme has caused a lot of comment in Social Media. What do you think? If you would like any advice on aspect of Abuse, please contact us

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.