Thursday, 6 December 2012

Are we abuse lawyers really ambulance chasing bandits?

Did you see the article in the Sunday Mail about David Greenwood? I read it and cringed, only because I knew how unfair and biased it was. Many typical "Daily Mail readers" would have read it and thought "is it really true that all those criminals who are claiming compensation are really liars who have jumped on the bandwagon with pound notes in their eyes."

Nothing, of course could be further from the truth. I only know that because I have acted for hundreds of them over the years, whereas David Rose, who wrote the article, and makes his money out of investigative journalism, probably hasn't. If he had seen a hardened 50 year old criminal cry like a baby, as I have, when describing his abuse, he would not go for the easy target, a lawyer trying to win un-winable cases.

His article describes a children's home called St. Williams which was a catholic home run by Catholic Priests where cruelty and severe abuse abounded for many years. Countless young boys lives were ruined. One of the victims has managed to find a very good support group on the Wirral. He tells his story graphically on this training video

You only have to watch this video to know how cruel and unpleasant it was to go there as a frightened child without proper love in their lives, separated from the families that nurtured them, alone and vulnerable.

The article concentrates on an outraged angry employee who blew the whistle, and then was accused of physically abusing boys, arrested but never charged.

David Greenwood, the lawyer who has devoted his life in a very genuine way to try and help the lads who were abused is vilified in the article. He won "Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year" at the recent Eclipse awards in London. I know, I was there as a finalist in the same category. A picture of him receiving the award is tagged with

"behind Mr. Greenwood's grin, a Mail on Sunday investigation can today reveal the truth behind the ambulance chasing lawyer's victory. Far from being a cry for justice, it instead represents a benchmark for a modern culture of "witch-hunt" persecutions."

The article implies that David has taken money off the tax payer to fund the case. The implication is that he is milking us to line his own pockets. What the article fails to mention is that most, if not all, of any money he draws will be paid back when the case is successful as it inevitably will be.

Rose has had a go at me before. I got the same treatment in a Panorama programme in 2003, then had to justify my actions before a House of Commons Select Committee at which David Cameron sat. You can read it here. It is ironical that Cameron is still playing to the gallery and the "Daily Mail readers" even now. He is quoted in this Guardian article as asking me the question "Conservative MP David Cameron said a list of cases on the solicitor's website was "almost an invitation" for abuse complaints."

Does his reaction to the list of questions provided to him on the morning TV programme - that Phillip Scofield had better be careful because the list of suspects of abuse was becoming a gay witch hunt - sound familiar. Cameron, like many politicians don't like lawyers. He and his colleagues are trying to destroy the claimant personal injury industry by listening to insurance companies and ignoring the victims.

At one time Personal Injury victims were people who had been genuinely injured, often irreparably because someone had been careless whether with health and safety, or driving a car. Now they are seen as chancers out to make a fast buck, and their lawyers just ambulance chasing leeches on the large pockets of unfeeling large corporate ventures - the insurers.

Finally, I find it somewhat rich that a newspaper that survives largely from advertising revenue, criticises in an article a lawyer who advertises in a prison newspaper. Rose has done this sort of article before. It is controversial, and will sell papers because it is extreme. He makes his money out of being able to write articles which sell. So, let's be honest, all parties have vested interests to pursue, and I suppose someone has to take the side of the alleged falsely accused.

I have advised David Greenwood to take advice on a libel suit against the Mail. His professional reputation in the article is unfairly maligned in my humble opinion. I know him and therefore it is easier to say. The imputations from this article are not well founded. I hope he pursues the matter and wins. On the other hand, he probably won't want to be distracted from his main course in life - helping the innocent victims of child abuse.

Rose is described by other bloggers as a "hatchet man" or "fixer". There is a saying "there is no such thing as bad publicity". Well this publicity not only insults a good lawyer doing a difficult job. It also insults the thousands of genuine victims of abuse round the country, who keep their guilty secrets buried for many years, so timid are they of being ridiculed. If Rose had the courage to attack the victims then he knows he would be pilloried. Instead he goes for their lawyer. That, in my book, is an act of cowardice...I rest my case.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

What would solve Britain's abuse problems? Mandatory reporting?

Sounds so simple doesn't it? Solve almost overnight abuse in this country? Obviously it's not that simple. Or is it? So what is the spark of an idea?

Make the reporting of abuse mandatory, and a criminal offence?

I have recently been asked to help an international charity called Innocence in Danger who think that I am "pivotal" for some reason, I really don't know what, to their development.

About 4 months ago I was reading about the Penn State University case in Pennsylvania where abuse reporting is not mandatory. A football executive caught a coach abuse a boy in the showers. He did nothing, and the abuse continued. Years later after disclosure they were trying to prosecute him but failed due to lack of mandatory reporting or a criminal sanction, so they tried to use perjury instead. It was so obvious that someone in responsibility knew what was going on and turned a blind eye.

A few years ago Baby P died due to abuse by the parents and negligence on the part of the caring services. They sacked the head of Haringey Council and were later sued successfully for unfair dismissal by her lawyers. How different would it have been if there was a criminal offence of mandatory reporting of abuse?

I thought that research was necessary in order to find out if mandatory reporting is indeed a criminal offence in this country. I decided that it would be a really good campaign for a change in the law.

Yesterday there was a symposium at the Lloyd George Room of the Liberal Club in London. Very grand surroundings in order to launch the British arm of the charity.

Sue, my paralegal did some excellent research in advance, which, staggeringly discovered:-
  1. USA have had mandatory reporting as a criminal offence in all states since 1963. It does vary, however between states, and the category of person who is obliged to report. In all states professionals who do not report abuse commit an offence, whereas only some states make it an offence for members of the public.
  2. USA Australia and Canada are the main countries that pursue this as an approach, although a range of other countries including Argentina, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Spain and Sri Lanka, failure to report is an offence.
So if it is good enough for a country as primitive as Rwanda, why have we not even copied our commonwealth allies? Is it that the powers at be worry about who the finger could point at, or am I being a tad cynical? Or is it the same old story of Britain being too cautious and traditional?

Just imagine the scenario.

The pope is accused in a former life of knowing about abuse, when he was in the position of supervision over other abusive priests, and failed to make a report to the authorities. Could the Pope end up in Court charged with criminal offences? (Did I read something like this in the news a while ago? I think I did)

The answer in some jurisdictions is "No", because sometimes there are time limits imposed on prosecutions of 1 year from the date of the offence.

I would like Britain to adopt the same law as most of the advanced legal systems around the world. We are, after all, the most respected legal jurisdiction, so why are our laws so out of step?

There are obviously details to be teased out. Should it be an offence to just believe, or does one have to "know" that an offence being committed. I would say the threshold should be fairly high in circumstances such at the Penn State University case.

There are laws, which have been brought in during the last 10 years designed to avoid cover ups, and place responsibility where it should lie such as:-
  1. Whistle blowing - it is no longer legal to sack someone for whistle blowing. Interestingly this was brought in directly owing to a Clywd employee who was sacked for blowing the whistle on the North Wales abuse scandal.
  2. Corporate manslaughter charges can be brought against Company Directors, where a fatal accident at work was caused due to reckless disregard with safety. 
So get writing to your MP, and watch this space. I think that, in the present abuse media frenzy, it is topical to amend the law ....we shall see.........

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Lord McAlpine £185K Victims £00K

When the BBC are able to offer Lord McAlpine, the typical man on the Clapham omnibus a mere £185K in a matter of minutes, when approached by his lawyer with a threat of a slander suit, one wonders whether they will be quite so generous in an equal amount of time to the victims of Jimmy Savile who were raped on BBC premises by a BBC servant/agent - Savile.

I will make this wager - if the BBC respond in the same way to Savile victims as they did to Lord McAlpine, I will run up and down Station Road in Cheadle Hulme naked. So if my bet is as safe as I think it is what will happen. I will tell you. A long turgid point scoring war of legal attrition with the BBC point scoring to try and wear the victims down to such a state after a long drawn out battle that they will accept a tiny morsel, so fed up are they of the process, that they just want to turn their back on the whole sordid affair.

How do I know this? Because I have been fighting with Defendant Lawyers in Child Abuse cases for the last 18 years. Granted, they do vary in their approach to the subject matter. If I was being cynical, I would say that they don't make money out of settling early or not taking points of law to appeal in a effort to "clarify a novel point".

A mere handful adopt the moral high ground and consider that a settlement early will save the victim trauma. Lawyers, however only act on instructions from their clients who are usually insurers, whose only concern is to save themselves money. Whilst they won't waste money on a novel risky point, their moral scruples are very low on the list of concerns.

So what points will the BBC fight with?
  1. The case is out of time - strictly speaking the victims should have gone to court within 3 years of the incident.
  2. Savile is dead and cannot defend himself.
  3. Savile was not an employee of the BBC, but a self employed agent, so they are not responsible for his actions.
  4. The girls consented and were not assaulted, particularly if they were over 15, which I think was the age of consent at the time. You remember the joke "Is she legal?" that he used to crack to the hilarity of all listeners?
  5. The Claimants are jumping on the bandwagon, which is something which should be stopped.
  6. Documents have been destroyed and witnesses memories have faded with time.
So what is the answer?

A no fault compensation scheme whereby the victims can process their claims without having to go to court using a valuation matrix. It would be a government run scheme set up with buy in and contribution from the BBC and any other potential Defendant - currently the NHS (Leeds General Infirmary), Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Broadmoor, the BBC, and maybe others - various children's homes he visited.

The government should also set up a Commission of Inquiry at which the victims can attend and give their evidence with appropriate anonymity safeguards.

There is precedent for the above. The Irish Government set up similar systems from around 2002 to 2005 in order to cope with the huge abuse problem which had prevailed in its institutions and schools under the watchful eye of the Catholic Church. I describe it in my Irish Survivors site . The Irish Residential Institutions Redress Board has its own site as does the Irish Commission of Enquiry.

Will this happen? Will the government do the right thing for the victims? Well, if someone else will pay for it they would, but in an age of austerity, I doubt it. The finger is pointing clearly at government who are strapped for cash.

Only if MP's, who are found involved in paedophile rings, when the police investigations are done, cause fundamental embarrassment which shakes the foundations of government, will it ever happen? I hope I am proved wrong......I doubt it.........

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

What do I think of the Home Secretary's announcement of a major police enquiry into North Wales abuse?

I am concerned that the announcement by Teresa May to hold a futher abuse investigation by the Metropolitan Police is fraught with several issues:-

  1. This may be a case of the police justifying the way in which a previous investigation was handled. How independent will it be if the police are investigating the police?
  2. The victims have already given lengthy police statements back in or around 2000. Will they really want to go through the whole thing again.
  3. If they decide, with the media pressure that it is all too much, will the police come up with the usual phrase "There is not enough evidence to justify a further prosecution."
  4. Will the proposed investigation be transparent enough for the victim's or will they perceive it as another white wash like the previous investigation.
  5. There is some evidence that police are implicated in the allegations. Will there be a conflict of interest?
  6. Could the police not simply unearth the old evidence, use the existing statements, and simply arrest those already mentioned in files which should already be in existence. Will this really take until April next year?
  7. Will the identity of the accused be kept secret? I doubt it.
  8. What I would advocate is a continuation of the existing Public Enquiry to allow the victims to give evidence  about the abuse allegations concerning being networked to paedophiles outside the home, which the original tribunal did not cover, and which angered the victims so much.
Hopefully I will be airing these views at 7.20pm tonight on BBC News 24 on behalf of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers - 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Public Enquiry for North West Abuse

The Savile case has highlighted the abuse agenda again, and given a voice to the oppressed from the past like Steve Meecham who was abused at Bryn Estyn, and was part of the North Wales Enquiry.  At the time I remember the North Wales support group complaining bitterly that the Tribunal had been a whitewash. Sadly the detail  was never properly explained to me. With the recent revelation of Tory aides being involved and paedophile rings taking children out of the home to service local others, I now understand exactly what they were getting at.

I was asking the then Labour Government for a public enquiry in around 1998 into abuse in the North West Homes that I was dealing with. The links between different homes, and abusers was too coincidental to believe that there was not some sort of ring involved.

The police at the time did not want to be forced  into prosecuting conspiracies because they are so difficult to prove. It was far easier for them to remain tasked with charging individual abusers.

Ironically only 40 homes were involved in the North Wales investigation, whereas in Merseyside as many as 88 homes came under investigation, 66 in Greater Manchester and so on. At one time in the late 1990's 41 out of 43 police forces had a child abuse investigation on their patch.

At the request of the victims, I wrote to the then Labour government and asked for a Public Enquiry into abuse in the North West. I was told repeatedly that they would consider my request once the police investigations were over.

Conveniently, even though the investigations finished in or around 2003, the government never announced the public enquiry I wanted.

Perhaps now, things will change, and a proper enquiry announced.

The tragedy for the victims of abuse is that they tried to complain at the time, when they were young in the children's homes and were called liars. Thus the power of authority prevailed and its power allowed to create silence. Now, there is an opportunity to allow them some justice. Will the government grasp the nettle and give them what they want? I doubt it, if past history is anything to go by.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Is Savile about the victims or the BBC

My worry is that the Savile abuse story is more about how the BBC were so woefullly inept, in that they looked aside when Jimmy was at it with young girls, rather than about how badly damaged his victims were.

It is quite shocking that, as each day passes, yet another victim surfaces. Often paedophiles like a certain age and sex of victim. It seems that Savile's sexual appetite was varied and inexhaustible. At first we were led to believe that his victims were young girls, the younger the better. Now we discover that he was into all types of vulnerable victims, boys, girls, the mentally disabled, the ill and hospitalised, the physically handicapped - just the aged left I suppose.

Peter Saunders, whom I first met many years ago, and leads NAPAC (National Association of People Abused in Childhood) was on the Radio 4 Today programme, in order to complain that the story was more about the media having a pop at itself because of the disgraceful way in which the BBC shelved a programme to boost ratings for a tribute to a paedophile DJ, than being concerned for the horrendous psychological damage done to victims who blame themselves for remaining silent for so many years.

Peter and other survivor groups have been absolutely inundated with a huge rise in calls from people, not only Savile victims. wanting help because they have been abused  in childhood. The point is that this is no normal abuse investigation. It involves all areas of public bodies: the BBC, Leeds General Infirmary, Stove Mandeville Hospital, Broadmoor, Haute Garenne Children's Home in Jersey, Duncliffe School for Girls. Now we hear that there may have been a paedophile ring at the BBC with various flunkies finding young girls for Savile.

The media advise me that this story will run and run. How will it develop one wonders? I predict that, sooner or later, the story will turn into "How do we know that all these women are telling the truth? After all Savile is dead isn't he?" I have had such comments from friends who have been following the news. Then we will have the usual debate about whether taking advantage of a girl, who is nearly 16, in an age of sexual liberation, was really worthy of being called paedophilia.

Honourable though most of the media are, they are all in competition with each other, to find new stories, or "news" rather than "not new news". So for a big story like this, new angles are being sought all the time. Having experienced the way the media works for over 20 years, I can see that the competition for new stories may take second place to the sensitivities and needs of the victims.

What do I think should happen? Well, this is a bit left field but:-
  1. Give the support groups extra funds to help cope with the rise in abuse enquiries
  2. Organise a form of no fault compensation system, which includes payment of legal fees, similar to the Coal Dust compensation scheme, and the Irish Redress Scheme. The point is that the victims are so badly scarred that they need help to make their claims. The cries of "you can do it yourself love with a bit of help from volunteers" is unrealistic. The victims do not want years of contested civil court claims, though a recognition by the guilty corporations that they slipped up is a better recognition of some form of justice.
  3. Cancel the internal allegedly independent BBC enquires, and announce a proper transparent public enquiry into all Savile's abuse rather than several separate enquiries into the various abuse location.
One final thought...we must not get confused about the age at which girls can be abused. It matters not how old they are. If they were assaulted without their consent, they can be 9 or 90. It makes no difference; think on.....

Monday, 22 October 2012

Plea for Jimmy Savile Witnesses

I have given an interview to Key 103 Radio, which should be broadcast tomorrow morning on the breakfast programme, asking for other victims of Savile to come forward in order to support the Claimant we have taken instructions from, who also is a victim of Savile abuse.

After all Savile is dead and unable to answer any allegations we make against him. So the more support we have for her allegations the better.

She alleges that Savile befriended as a 14 year old and lost interest when he she came of age. It is a typically sad story that I fear is typical

Monday, 15 October 2012

Is the Savile cover up a surprise?

Frankly, the answer to the cover up of the Jimmy Savile paedophile proclivity for many years is no surprise at all. I have seen there are so many examples of exactly the same profile of behaviour in all our abuse case at Abney Garsden McDonald for the last 20 years in that we have specialised in abuse work for victims. The question is why, and what are the repeated patterns of behaviour?

According to reports, the Metropolitan Police, under the very capable hands of Peter Stringer are following up to 340 individual lines of enquiry from up to 60 individuals through 14 police area forces. The alleged falsely accused will jump on the bandwagon, and shout "Well if it was really true, why didn't they come forward at the time?" There are multiple reasons for silence in a victim, which are shame, humiliation, threats, lack of appropriate trusting adult, and finally the natural human reaction to lock away in the memory of the brain, any unpleasant or traumatic experience, in order to protect the conscious mind. We all do it, it is natural.

I looked at this quick timeline done by the BBC on Savile, which misses out some reported  stories, but refers to -
  1. A woman who was 14 in the 1960's made a complaint to Lancashire police
  2. There are allegations as to his volunteer work at Stoke Mandeville hospital as a porter - Caroline Moore then 13 says Savile "rammed his tongue down her throat"
  3. There are allegations surrounding his work at Leeds hospital. Another patient, June Thornton who was immobile due to spinal surgery at the time saw him molest a patient who was disabled in the same ward.
  4. A 12 year old girl from a children's home in Leeds says Savile abused her.
  5. The ITV programme revealed his abuse of girls whilst visiting a Duncroft home for girls in Surrey.
  6. A girl alleges that  Saville assaulted her in Worthing in 1980. Although reported to Surrey police, the victim did not want to proceed with her allegation
  7. A woman alleged assault in the 1980's in Scarborough
  8. Saville, it turns out was investigated as part of the Haut de la Garenne Jersey investigation.
  9. The Department of Health are looking into why they appointed Savile as the Chairman of a task force into the management of Broadmoor, where there now appear to be allegations.
There are so many examples of employees of the BBC and others hearing or witnessing Savile molesting young women that with the benefit of hindsight, we wonder why on earth he was not investigated and prosecuted years ago.

One also must question his motives for doing so much good work for charity. One cannot be completely mean. I have personal knowledge of the benevolence of the man albeit hearsay. I can only repeat the words of one of the first wise Police investgating officers into child abuse in care institutions. At the time a lot of survivor groups were making allegations of corruption right to the top of government. It smacked of paranoia. They were calling on the police to investigate a conspiracy. When I asked Terry Oates about it, he said "Peter, if you like golf, you join a golf club. If you like kids you become a residential care worker. All the kids you need are there ready. What do you need paedophile rings for?" He was of course right.

So why did those who heard the rumours not believe them?
  1. Jimmy Savile was a celebrity. No one wanted to burst his bubble. He did so much good work for charity. How could such a good man be guilty of such horrors.
  2. It is the same argument as Catholic Priests. Just as Jimmy was worshipped by his fans and was a God like figure who did good things like play pop music, and be happy, and do work for charity, so were priests God like characters. They were closer to the Lord, indeed they were agents of the Lord. So how could such a person do such things. It was unthinkable to even contemplate such rumours. Far easier to continue to believe the hero worship thing than ruin the belief.
  3. So why did the BBC not do anything about it and conduct an investgation. They are now doing two enquiries. Simple. They all believed the same good stories and dismissed the bad. It was an easier option. So many complaints were made, and there is so much evidence that people like Esther Ranzen feel very guilty, and no wonder.
  4. The fall from grace and the harm it would cause to the charitable arm of the Savile empire took on an importance which appeared to be greater than the rights of the victims - unfortunately. Such sacrificial lambs should obviously have taken on a greater importance.
  5. Savile, like all paedophiles had power, which he abused. As a celebrity, he had more power than most, which he used to his advantage. After all, how does a paedophile gain the trust of young people? Not by being weird or unpleasant, but by being fun, relaxed, and nice. This is how he won over his victims. He had extra power though - fame. What an advantage.
So were the BBC negligent in ignoring complaints, and turning a blind eye? Of course they were. There is such a thing as constructive knowledge. This means that if you should realise something and shut your mind to the obvious then the law can fix you with the knowledge it deems that you should have. So the BBC had the knowledge and did not react appropriately, hence the negligence. If there had been an investigation when the first complaint arose then countless children no doubt would have been spare - enough said

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What should victims of Jimmy Savile be doing now?

There is no doubt that the media splurge on Jimmy Savile is too little to late. It is alleged in the papers by his victims that he has been abusing young girls for many years under the noses of various figures of authority, who were so under the Savile spell that they were reluctant to "blow the whistle". He had become so involved with charity and done so much good work to help them that no one wanted to "burst the bubble".

So what should the victims do - my advice would be to report the abuse to the police in an effort to at least tell someone in authority what has been going on even though he is dead, and to sue for compensation even after all these years. This is what we do at Abney Garsden McDonald even though many years have passed, and often the abuser is dead. If enough victims come forward, a group action could easily be started. It appears that a special investigation has been set up at the BBC, which will make the victims feel that at least something is being done. The results, hopefully, will be publicised and transparency employed.

It is typical of the history of cover ups we have heard about over the years that this secret has remained unpublished for so many years. We have seen it in the Catholic Church, and now at the BBC.

It is not rocket science that if a grown adult is able to seek the confidence of a young child, and perform abusive acts upon him or her, then that same abuser is also able to keep the abusive act a secret for so long by threats, grooming, manipulation, and fear. It is typical of any abuse that the subterfuge employed by the abuser is sophisticated, and clever.

Abusers are not dirty old men with greasy hair, long raincoats, and an obviously weird nature. Sadly they appear as normal as you and me. They are usually charming, relaxed with children, and interested in childlike pursuits. This is how they get under the skin of the children they abuse, win their confidence with gifts, treats, and "something special". Jimmy Savile was a larger than life character, who dressed a bit like a clown, and would therefore have appealed to children, when he looned about, and acted daft.

He was so much in the public eye that many people had contact with him, and can bear testimony to his past. Many of them have already been interviewed - his chauffeur is one very good example.
  1. The BBC - it is now well documented that there were many rumours and allegations about Savile's conduct, and as such more should have been done years ago. They undoubtedly had a duty of care to those visiting the premises. For some of the time Savile may even have been a BBC employee. It appears that there was "constructive knowledge" of what was going on, and as such negligence.

  2. The estate of Jimmy Savile. Even though he has been dead for over a year, it is not too late to bring proceedings against his estate on behalf of the girls involved. The lawyers will shout "time delay" or "Limitation" as we lawyers call it, and there will be argument, but it is never too late.
  3. The school in Surrey - it appears that Savile is alleged to have abused girls whilst visiting a school in Surrey. If they were negligent in any way because they heard rumours and did nothing about it, then they could also be culpable. How well supervised were the girls when they went to the school? Were they allowed to be on their own with him? Was this the way in which a school with its responsibilities to young children should have cared for children?
Whether anything will come of these allegations remains to be seen. They should certainly seek advice, if nothing else.

There is no doubt from the reports I have read that the behaviour of Savile has affected the lives of these girls who are now women, and that they should be compensated for their losses. At the very least, they should be allowed to "speak their truth", and be heard.

Monday, 10 September 2012

How abusive are Virgin Trains?

I write this blog still smarting from an unpleasant experience yesterday on Virgin Trains, what I would call an abuse of power if I am stretching a point, when I had to pay twice for a train ticket from London Euston back to Macclesfield with my family.

Abuse of power is my day to day work as a child abuse lawyer. I have a very strong sense of justice, and dislike intensely the narrow administration of rules, bureaucracy, and lack of discretion in appropriate circumstances. I come across it daily in my dealings with Courts, and the Legal Services Commission. I now realise that with the growth of large faceless organisations, so comes an impersonal lack of kindness and sympathy.

Years ago, children were abused by those in power, went along with it, then spend years regretting their inaction, when invited to take part in sexual activities with an adult. They all wish they had been stronger, refused, and not gone along with his/her wishes. Thankfully, I am older, wiser, perhaps less patient, and was able to vent my spleen at the Virgin ticket inspector in question. Sadly it did me no good, and probably squashed any discretion which she may have been willing to endow. Quite honestly, I don't think that the word discretion appeared in her vocabulary.

I will tell you what happened.

It was a lovely weekend in London. We had seen the most amazing "Les Miserables" at the Queens Theatre, and stayed with friends. Somewhat tired we headed for Euston station. The traffic was appalling, it being the last day of the Paralympics. We missed the train by a minute!

We had booked an advance first class ticket which could not be changed. In naivety, it being a Sunday afternnoon, and not too busy I thought they may let us off? We decided to get the next train which was 20 minutes later. When I got to the barrier, I was met with a very stoney faced young ticket inspector. No plesantries,  just.

"You can't travel on this train you willl have to buy another ticket sir."
"How much?"
After machine twiddling "£194 for the three of you sir". I had paid just a little more than that for return tickets First Class.
"Is that the First Class price?"
"No sir, would you like to upgrade?" At that I got sarcastic, and told my wife, who was trying to calm me down, to let the ticket inspector rip us off because that was her job, and no wonder Virgin had lost the franchise. My wife pulled me away, and we got on the train.

We realised she had overcharged us by giving us a Manchester ticket. We sat in first class thinking another ticket inspector may let us off. Who should turn up? - the same officious young lady, wearing, I noticed, army boots. Who wears army boots in 30 degrees centrigade? Yes it was very hot too.

"Did you change your mind about the upgrade sir?"

I had deputised my wife to talk, as there was steam coming out of my ears. We paid the reduced price of £175, not the upgrade to First Class, and were asked if we needed help carrying our bags though 5 carriages out of First Class into economy. I was muttering that I enjoyed paying twice for one train journey, and would have been able to travel to Alicante for the same price with Easy Jet.

So that is the price you pay for being firstly angry, and secondly falling for a bargain. I have been travelling to London regularly for the last 18 years, and witnessed the price treble when Virgin took over. The food changed from a full silver service dinner to very small snack meal, then sandwiches. The service is usually good, but the profit maximised. I have seen the island which Branson owns in the Carribean. I think I have nearly paid for it.

I am sure my child abuse clients felt angry when abuse of power befell them, but in a much more serious way of course. I have got over my anger now, because I was able to give a little of what I got. Sadly, they never did, and regret it for the rest of their life.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

How many paedophiles are there at the Paralympics?

The tide of emotion flooding over the paralympics is inspiring and euphoric. We watch many supreme athletes achieving the most incredible feats of unbelievable strength and bravery. Whilst watching Ellie Simmonds win the 400 metre Freestyle in the pool, I marvelled at the fact that she produced more reserves of strength than most of us can manage in a lifetime. At the end of the race, she could hardly speak for tears of joy. When she was presented with her award, it was obvious that she was the same height standing up as her competitors were sitting down, yet she managed to beat them all. What a triumph.

I am frequently laughed at by my daughter for being tearful at various television programmes, particularly "Britain's got Talent". I never expected to become dewy eyed when watching a sporting event. Quite honestly I find the Paralympics more entertaining and inspirational than the mainstream event. There is no doubt in my mind that the disabled have more metaphorical hurdles to jump than their able bodied counterparts.

So what is the point of this blog? Sadly there is always a dark side to everything. Particularly if you are a child abuse lawyer. We always look for the flaw in everything. Why be creative when you can be destructive?

There are many statistics which show that disabled children, and vulnerable adults are much more likely to be targetted for abuse. Think about it. They are less able to defend themselves, and less likely to be able to give evidence in Court.  Figures vary, but a rough statistic shows that a disabled person is almost twice as likely to be abused than the able bodied. You can read more on the NSPCC site here

The question is how vigilant are the officials when there are so many vulnerable people gathered together? Whilst there are coaches to watch over the individuals, child protection officers, a paralympic policy on the subject, and thankfully more awareness of the risks now than at any time in history, what an attraction to the dedicated child sex offender?

To quote the Safe Network "Officials have confirmed that 2012 Paralympics will be the biggest ever with over 4,000 competitors from 165 countries competing. Athletes as young as 12 will be competing, so it is more important than ever that sufficent procedures are in place to safeguard young competitors." The NSPCC sell their own booklet entitled "Safeguarding deaf and disabled children in sport"

The competitors are highly stressed, away from home, full of adrenalin, and focussed on their event. Will they be turning their mind to the risk of grooming and entrapment? Some of them will be seeing the glories of London, riches beyond their wildest dreams. Some of them come from countries where the disabled are pilloried by society, and given no welfare help whatsoever. Compared to the United Kingdom, home must seem like Dickensian London .

So imagine the scenario. The disabled child is allowed a wild card entry because of the dreadful conditions at home. He/she stands no chance of winning not only because of the standard of their equipment, but also the lack of investment in them at home. They have incredible talent. They come last in their event, and the Paralympics are nearly over. They feel down, and don't want to go home.

A nice man says he is acting on behalf of a major sponsor, who is looking to invest in foreign paralympic athletes. He offers accomodation, regular contact with home, genuine looking papers, and a flashing smile. He seems credible. The disabled athlete has a choice. Stay here in luxury, or go home to poverty and discrimination. What choice is there?

What if the promises do not materialise? No rights, an illegal immigrant with barely any English is sucked into the sex offender's world of intrigue.

I apologise for my cynicism. I really hope it doesn't happen. Sadly, I fear it may become a reality. I hope that I do not receive instructions of this type. If I do, I will fight for their rights.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Stop the Legal Services Commission taking 25% of Victim’s Compensation

Why is it that government seem to have abandoned the rights of the individual in favour of saving money at all costs? Is it because we have a monetarist, cut, cut, cut, single-minded government who do not listen? Does the preponderance of millionaires on the front bench of government have anything to do with it? Too many questions, I know.

As part of the government’s proposed changes to the Legal Aid Fund, in an effort to save money and make Legal Aid self funding, there is a plan to introduce a Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme, whereby at the end of a case, even if it is successful and all money advanced by the Legal Services Commission is repaid, 25% of the Claimant’s compensation will be deducted and paid to the government in order to try and finance the Legal Aid scheme out of damages.

ACAL (Association of Child Abuse Lawyers) and I believe that the proposal is wrong, and should be abandoned for the victims of abuse. We have written a letter to the Ministry of Justice, which you can read here.

To take 25% of an abuse victim’s compensation is tantamount to abusing them all over again.
  • Often the abuser was a government employee. To subject the client to abuse, then take some of their compensation off them at the end is wrong.
  • The impact assessment published by the government when the scheme was proposed originally illustrated that the amount saved by the proposed scheme would be minimal in the area of abuse, principally because damages are relatively low in any event.
  • The largest saving to the Legal Aid Fund would be in the area of Clinical Negligence, which will be withdrawn from scope in any event. Thus there is no significant saving to be made, and the proposed policy is misguided and should be withdrawn.
  • Sometimes aggravated, exemplary or punitive damages are awarded to a victim in order to punish the abuser or his/her employers. If the Defendant is a government body, the deduction of money from damages by the Legal Services Commission becomes even more unacceptable as it defeats the whole point of punitive damages in the first place.
If you would like to support our campaign, please send a letter to your MP. We have attached a suggested letter, please fill in your own details, print it off, and send it to your MP. If you don’t know who your MP is, go to

To view the proposed letter (in Microsoft Word format - click here)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Is abuse of children in homes something new?

The Rochdale taxi drivers case has provoked a maelstrom of activity amongst MP's fronted by Ann Coffey who has taken evidence at an All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, and said:

“There is a scandal going on in England involving children missing from care - and until recent cases of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and other places put the spotlight on this issue – it was pretty much going unnoticed.

“This inquiry has revealed the widespread concern that what we have in place at the moment falls dramatically short of what is needed to protect some of society’s most vulnerable children. “We know that dangerous predators are exploiting large gaps in the system and targeting children.”

My reaction is several fold:-
  1. Paedophiles always exploit whatever loop holes they can find in the care system to target vulnerable children.
  2. Vulnerable children are always easier to exploit than more robust children who are more likely to be strong enough to repel any would be assailant sex offenders.
  3. This is history repeating itself but on a smaller scale. Back in the 1990's 37 out of 41 Police Forces had a major children's home investigation in their county to supervise. Numerous alleged sex offenders, who had been able to get jobs as care workers at the homes with a view to abusing children were sent to prison for varying periods of time, whilst protesting their innocence in some cases.
  4. The Police spent several years between about 1994 and 2001, "scratching the surface" of the scale of abuse which prevailed in  children's homes during the 60's, 70's, and 80's.
  5. In those cases, because of "loopholes" in the recruitment process which at the time did not have a sophisticated vetting process, paedophiles managed to get jobs looking after children. There was no such thing as the Criminal Records Bureau, and a very haphazard Data Protection System.
  6. If you like golf, join a golf club. Paedophiles just had to get a job at a Children's Home in order to foster their preference for children. The rest was easy. When a child complained, because he/she was in care, they were not believed, and the abuse went un-investigated.
  7. It was always better to target a smaller less regulated homes than a large, more professionally run Local Authority Home. The same is happening now.
  8. Because less money is being invested into the system by central government, the private sector has become involved to fill the gaps. Thus it is no surprise that now "Of the 1,800 children’s homes in England, three quarters are run by private groups, very often housing just one or two particularly troubled children - charging taxpayers up to £250,000 a year per child." see the Telegraph Article today.
  9. The lacunae highlighted by the various reports that a lot of children are housed out of area, and that the police do not really know what is going on is no surprise. Following the scandals in the 1980's a paper called "Working Together" was published, which criticised the various child care organisations for not communicating with each other. This was remedied by Joint Committees being set up. Now we have a similar problem but in a different guise.
  10. We will always spend our life sticking plaster over the cracks, only to find that paedophiles find other cracks to exploit. That is their modus operandi. They want to exploit children. They are clever and manipulative. The operate in groups. There is money to be made. They will thus find a way round whatever system we devise.
  11. I am a foster parent. Some of our children run off when things are not going their way. It is their solution to unhappiness that they feel within themselves, or a temper reaction. Run away. It is nothing new. It does not solve anything, but it is a human being's reaction to unhappiness. Run away. Our own children sometimes do it in adolescence until they come to their senses.
  12. If your own child runs away, you only report them missing when you can't find them anywhere. If a foster child does not return at the appointed time, then even though you have a fairly good idea where they might be, you are obliged to report them missing to the police for health and safety reasons, hence the figures for those "missing" can be distorted by statistics and rules.
So undoubtedly there are worrying features about the recent governmental report, but it is nothing new. If anything the scandal is not as bad as it was in the police investigations of the past, which I have witnessed. There were scandals of children being "sold" as rent boys, or girls from the care system being used as prostitutes at outrageous parties. If the government use the private system to supplement lack of resources, then inevitably there is less control, and there a greater opportunity to exploit.

Abuse never goes away, it simply morphs into a different shape and size. It is like those tubs of gue that children sometimes play with.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Am I a queen?

The title of this article is, of course, a pun. Obviously I am not the queen even though my trousers suggest that I am of a royalist nature. I do like the queen, even though I have never met her. I believe that our country would a lot less stable, and more open to corruption if we had a presidential state without a figure head to provide balance and deference.

 Almost without exception prime ministers hold the queen in high regard, and treat her with respect. She signs every statute, and governmental policy has to be approved by her before the opening of parliament.  I think it was David Cameron who said (without even a hint of insincerity - but there again you would expect nothing less) that over the years she had provided much wisdom and guidance to successive prime ministers.

So why am I looking decidedly patriotic (some said effeminate on Facebook - as if?)? Well on Jubilee day - Friday 1st June actually - we had a royal day at the office. It cost £1 if you dressed up and £2 if you didn't. Various staff baked wonderful cakes which cost money, we had pink bubbly and chocolate covered strawberries which Claire made - thank you Claire. Thank you also Claire for organising the day. The firm - Abney Garsden McDonald solicitors topped up the money raised for Cancer Research to £200.

Did I wear the trousers again? Well of course I did. We had a Jubilee party on Bank Holiday Monday at our caravan in Anglesey, when I was forced, totally against my will, to drink large quantities of champagne, beer, wine, and eat huge quantities of barbecued food. What a penance - all because I was wearing Union Jack trousers.

So all those who like the Queen say "Aye". Those who like my trousers say "Aye". If you would like to borrow the trousers, I can accommodate you at a price of course. Just a punnet of strawberries and a tot of bubbly will do.

If the Queen reads this, Lillibet, please don't overlook me in the next honours list. A CBE will do.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Children's Homes - Good Bad or Ugly?

The Guardian publicised a story following the Rochdale case which promotes the protection of sexually exploited children in care at the behest of Barnado's who are appealing for specialised foster parents. You can read the story here

This is an old problem which has come to people's attention recently because of the Rochdale story of girls from care homes being groomed by Asian Taxi drivers.

But children from care homes are usually the most badly damaged vulnerable children in care, who are too difficult to manage in other types of care such as fostering. So it is no surprise that they are the easiest to target, most in need of any sort of affection, and low in self esteem.

The government are now looking at the problem according to the article, but there is no money to sort it out, so why not turn to charities instead of using government funds to try and solve a problem which should be sorted out by the state.

My wife and I are foster parents in Cheshire East, which is not as short of funds as some local authorities, yet they are choosing to pay more by sending children out to Agency Foster Parents, when there are Local Authority foster parents within the county with spare beds. It is a scandal, which presumably is something to do with budgets, but we are at a loss to know why.

Children in Care need protection from paedophiles, but I remain pessimistic as to whether the government will put its money where its mouth is, during a Conservative type of cut, save and cut more Britain.

At work - ( we see the results of failed attempts at care all the time, when the care system lets children down, and it is not a pretty site. When they do get it wrong, fault is rarely admitted, and many years of contested litigation result, usually many years after the event.

"Historic Abuse": Child abuse should not be so described

"Historic Abuse": Child abuse reported in adulthood is referred to b...: Child abuse reported in adulthood is referred to by all and sundry as "historic abuse."quotes Tom Perry in his blog.

At the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers - and indeed at my own firm Abney Garsden McDonald (, we constantly wrestle with abuse which happened many years ago, and "Limitation" or "Time Delay", as it is colloquially known.

Using the word "Historic" is therefore not only ill advised legally in that it emphasises by its description the fact that the abuse happened a long time ago, but also disrespects the survivor whose suffering is life long.

I am going to be recommending that we promote this idea as a campaign on our Website. I also support Tom in suggesting to the Police, who first coined the phrase back in the late 1990's, that its use is abandoned.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Is abuse of girls only committed by Asian Men?

Today, you will have seen the headlines today that nine men have been found guilty of grooming, entrapping, then raping girls in the Rochdale area. One of my staff has been involved in the case from an investigative point of view, and regarded the result, after an 11 week trial, as a real victory for justice. See the story in the Manchester Evening News

The facts are appalling, the offences deserving of long sentences.

The vulnerable girls were all white, and as young as 13 when the offences were committed. All the men were part of the Rochdale Pakistani Community and most were married. The girls were often runaways or the victims of the care system, who, after being given the affection which they craved were plied with drink then raped, and driven across the North West to have sex with other men.

The men worked as Taxi Drivers or in the Tasty Bites and Balti House in Heywood where some of the girls were given free kebabs and vodka as they were groomed for sex.
The vulnerable girls, some of them runaways or in the care of social services, were given the attention they craved before being plied with drink, raped and driven all over the north to have sex with other men. Most of the men are from Rochdale's Pakistani community and were married with children. They worked as taxi drivers or in the Tasty Bites and Balti House in Heywood where some of the victims were given free kebabs and vodka as they were groomed for sex. The trial heard how the men abused a string of white girls.

Read more at:
The vulnerable girls, some of them runaways or in the care of social services, were given the attention they craved before being plied with drink, raped and driven all over the north to have sex with other men. Most of the men are from Rochdale's Pakistani community and were married with children. They worked as taxi drivers or in the Tasty Bites and Balti House in Heywood where some of the victims were given free kebabs and vodka as they were groomed for sex. The trial heard how the men abused a string of white girls.

Read more at:
The vulnerable girls, some of them runaways or in the care of social services, were given the attention they craved before being plied with drink, raped and driven all over the north to have sex with other men. Most of the men are from Rochdale's Pakistani community and were married with children. They worked as taxi drivers or in the Tasty Bites and Balti House in Heywood where some of the victims were given free kebabs and vodka as they were groomed for sex. The trial heard how the men abused a string of white girls.

Read more at:
The vulnerable girls, some of them runaways or in the care of social services, were given the attention they craved before being plied with drink, raped and driven all over the north to have sex with other men. Most of the men are from Rochdale's Pakistani community and were married with children. They worked as taxi drivers or in the Tasty Bites and Balti House in Heywood where some of the victims were given free kebabs and vodka as they were groomed for sex. The trial heard how the men abused a string of white girls.

Read more at:
The vulnerable girls, some of them runaways or in the care of social services, were given the attention they craved before being plied with drink, raped and driven all over the north to have sex with other men. Most of the men are from Rochdale's Pakistani community and were married with children. They worked as taxi drivers or in the Tasty Bites and Balti House in Heywood where some of the victims were given free kebabs and vodka as they were groomed for sex. The trial heard how the men abused a string of white girls.

Read more at:

The media reporting has been hijacked by several side issues, which boost the headline potential, but detract from the seriousness of the offences:-

  1. The Police, Crown Prosecution Services, and Council, have all apologised for failings in their processes. One of the girls in particular complained of the abuse back in 2008, but was not believed by either the Police or CPS. As such her abuse continued until a decision to prosecute was made in 2009 some 11 months later. Whilst errors were made, the real culprits are the abusers - for more detail see this story in the Manchester Evening News
  2. The British National Party have jumped on the Band Wagon to claim it was a racially motivated crime. The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester has denied there was any racial motive and said that this was simply an appalling case of child abuse, which could have happened in any community. It is undeniable, statistically, that a high proportion of Asian and Afghan men in the North of England are involved in this sort of crime, higher statistically than the regional average population. There have been calls for a Public Enquiry to find out the cause of the racial bias towards this part of the community.
As an experienced child abuse lawyer, I see this story, I am afraid as typical of the behaviour of organised paedophile rings who prey on young girls from the care system for sex, and grooming. It has happened before with white men, and white girls. My own view is that such girls will be an obvious target for any group of men with such desires. It so happens that the Asian community is a preformed group of people who naturally will be able to work together without having to form a special network for the purpose of accessing under age sex. I agree with the Chief Constable that this has nothing at all to do with race. If one is going to choose a target audience, vulnerable young girls are an obvious first choice, particularly when they are needy of affection, in the way that those in care obviously are.

I doubt whether an expensive Public Enquiry will unearth much more than the above, other than to look into the ways that the network organised itself, to plan the crime, if indeed such evidence can ever be unearthed. We must watch and listen to see what develops.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Are Parents all to blame?

The Charity Action for Children are calling for review of the law, in particular the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act, which makes it a criminal offence to fail to provide a child with adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging. They believe that more focus needs to be placed upon rescuing children from neglect by educating parents than punishing them for not being good enough carers.

The Act was brought into force as part of the one of the first pieces of children and welfare legislation on our statute book. There was in existence more abject poverty, brought about by not only the industrial revolution, but also a World War. There were large extended families where grandma and others would provide help and guidance where needed, such that the state was not obliged to intervene. A lot of children died in infancy due to poor diet, ailments that today would be cured by the NHS, or perhaps a violent or alcoholic parent. Life was tough. The niceties of failure to care or the subtleties of intervention by the state were not concepts of subtle social care that are commonplace today.

As a nation we were surviving with less sophisticated surroundings and luxuries than we expect today. The welfare state had not been invented, nor was there income support or indeed any benefit. The state did not intervene if humans had no money. You worked or starved, unless you were lucky enough to be looked after by the extended family, the Church, or a benevolent charity, of which there were far fewer than today.

As a foster parent I see the results of neglect all the time. It is shocking how badly and irreparably damaged children can be by a dysfunctional relationship with their parents. Whether or not early intervention with an aberrant parent will bear fruit is doubtful if they are severe alcoholics, or addicted to drugs. On the other hand punitive measures are two dimensional.

I have always been of the view that not enough parental training is available or implemented for the majority of the population. Many years ago, when grandma lived round the corner, she would pass on child care skills, wisdom and knowledge, acquired over generations. Sadly, bad habits could also be taught. Thus professional training is more likely to be consistent, and reliable. Many mothers lack the knowledge and experience to properly care for children, either because they live in isolated circumstances or have been taught inappropriately by their family.

It is only the last few years, since abuse became more discussed and out in the open that governments have had the political courage to intervene into the family unit. At one time, before there was so much disclosure of abuse, child neglect used to be secretive, and not discussed. The "nanny state" has thus much to commend itself even if, perhaps, under Gordon Brown, it went a little too far.

I spend much of my professional life looking for ways in which Social Services let dysfunctional families down where the outcome has been an abused psychologically damaged child. Early intervention can rarely be criticised, if, perhaps, harsh and disruptive.

To read the BBC article click here

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Crazy for You Adele Cover by Vanessa Garsden

This song is soulful, sonorous, and beautiful. Vanessa sang it at a Musical Variety Concert at Cheadle Hulme School on Friday 20th April 2012. I hope you like it.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Is abuse protection in amateur theatre too restrictive?

I was reading an article in the Daily Mail about the experiences of a mother of  a young child who had been picked for the part of Oliver in a school production. The article is entitled "How the child-abuse gestapo turned my son’s play into a drama". The clue is in the title. Excited and encouraged by the occasion, and her son's success, she volunteered to do some "chaperoning" for the show.

In the old days, parents could just turn up on the night to vaguely watch the budding child stars off stage, and make sure they were not misbehaving. Not now. In order be in close proximity of children - even your own child -  it is necessary to acquire a "matroning" qualification from the local council, which in this case was Sussex, whom I happen to know, all to their credit, take their safeguarding obligations very seriously.

She describes in the article how the process of qualification involved an onerous series of lectures, spot checks by the matroning officer of the local authority, and exhortations to report the slightest sign of inappropriate behaviour during the show, so that the safeguarding officer could do an investigation. She was apparently advised that before giving the children orange squash to drink, she ought to taste it herself first to make sure it was safe.

Sadly, her certificate did not come through until after the show was over, so she did not participate at all, or help out in the way she wanted to. She sat in the audience. All her good intentions went to waste. She was horrified at the warnings of doom she was given, and the hoops she had to jump through in order to just help out with her son's school show.

As a child abuse lawer, I witness the way in which, in the past at least, paedophiles have infiltrated voluntary groups, schools, scouting assocations, sporting clubs, indeed anywhere one would find children. The more amateurish the organisation, the more desparate they are for volunteers. Understandably they have been overjoyed to have encountered such willing workers run their lacking in funds, overstretched, organisations. Sadly, they have often mistaken overly enthusiastic volunteers for oversexed predatory paedophiles, who have sexually and physically abused many children over several years without being detected.

The more lax the supervision, and vetting, the easier it is for the sex offender to do his worst undetected and un-suspected. Thus it is just these organisations that need the structure, which several governments have introduced over the last 15 years ever since the child abuse scandals unfolded in the late 1990's.

I am a the publicity officer of Macclesfield Majestic Theatre Group. We put on between two and three shows per year including our annual pantomime in January. I have witnessed how the safeguarding rules operate from the point of view of administrative organisers of a show. We use between 10 and 20 children in various parts of the show, as well as young members of cast and chorus, all of whom need to be chaperoned throughout the currency of rehearsals and the week of the show.

Not only do we need a huge team of qualified chaperones, but also a chaperone leader, whose thankless task it is to ensure that the safeguarding operates properly. We use a delightful local theatre with some dressing room space, but not nearly enough to provide the correct segregation the law requires, For instance a 4 year old boy is not allowed to share a dressing room with a 5 year old girl because they are separate genders, and a 17 year old girl cannot be in the same area as a 15 year old girl even if they are sisters.

At the theatre it is practically impossible to create as many separate areas as are needed. The result is that the cast are bunched up into impossibly small spaces, and do not mix together as much as they would like to. This defeats the whole purpose of the show. The buzz is the thing. If, for instance there is only one child in a particlarly age and gender category, they may end up on their own in a cold and draughty part of the theatre with one designated chaperone.

So well meaning and well intentioned the regulations may be, they are interpreted differently by different local authorities. Sometimes we doubt at the Majestic whether we will be able to put on a pantomime because of our chaperoning obligations.

Did you know, for example, that a mother of a 15 year old girl cannot share the same dressing area as her performing mother because she has to be chaperoned separately. Should she trespass into the wrong area she has to be removed and taken away from her mother.I am sure you can see that such a rule is a recipe for trouble. The theory is that if mother is performing, she cannot chaperone her own daughter effectively because for some of the time she will be on stage. You can understand the logic.

So which way do I lean when it comes to arriving at a conclusion. I have to say that the spirit of the regulations is absolutely right. Children need protection. Nonetheless I do feel guilty that it has been my campaigning and political agitation that has brought about these regulations. On the other hand local well meaning voluntary organisations need rules which make sense. The very last thing we want is for willing and enthusiastic parents to be turned away or put off by the many hoops they have to jump through, before they are allowed to chaperone their own children.

The article ends fittingly "if anyone asks me to help with a show again, I know where I will be — at home, glass in hand watching the TV."

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Do not take Legal Aid away from the poor

I am roused to write this blog after the government were defeated in the Lords last night on various issues relating to the Legal Aid Bill.

The government want to disadvantage the poorest members of society, such as my clients who are the victims of abuse. The proposed cuts will mean a reduction of 53% to the Legal Aid bill for those who need help on such aspects as Welfare or Housing benefit. My clients are dysfunctional, largely because they were abused in childhood. They are often  unemployable, homeless, itinerant, addicted to substances, and need help of a legal nature. Under the proposed changes, they won't get that help.

What angers me are the comments of Kenneth Clarke, Minister of Justice, who, when accused of cutting access to justice for the poor, retorted on the Today programme that all he is doing is taking legal aid away from lawyers. A cheap way of avoiding the question. The rates paid to lawyers are at the same level as they were 20 years ago, so who in their right mind would do legal aid work for profit? Yet the government continues to use the throw away line "fat cat lawyers".

The point is that if the government are taking the work away from lawyers, who obviously are to be discouraged from challenging government when they get things wrong in the same way as Stalin did in Communist Russia, will they replace the rights of the poor with something else? No. They are taking money away from advice centres, law centres and many support agencies. Only the other day the CAB announced that they could have to close half of their centres due to government cutbacks.

Clearly David Cameron's idea of the Big Society, sounds idealistic in that it appears as though people are going to be in charge of their own destiny. I nearly fell for it, once I had managed to understand what it meant - I was not on my own. It is simply a poorly disguised method of saving the cost of the welfare state. If communities get together and look after themselves, then, arguably, you don't need government to plug the gap. One returns to the extended family type and moves away from the nuclear (2 parents 2 children living away from Granny).

So, are the Legal Aid Reforms fair? Clearly not, if you listen to the thousands of agencies who have objected to the government bill, and the House of Lords who are overwhelmingly against it.

Do this government listen? No. I was listening to a commentator on Radio 4 this morning who said that the government are determined to break up the National Health Service, despite overwhelming opposition from almost everyone who has been consulted. Why - either because they are bigotted or undemocratic, or because they don't want to appear as though they are doing U Turns and are weak.

The same commentator asked us to look at the Railways which are fragmented, competitive, and inefficient in parts, because there is no national cohesive organisation to keep it running efficiently. Look at how Network Rail was privatised, failed, then was pseudo-nationalised again.

Now who was it that nationalised the Railways? It wasn't Margaret Thatcher was it? She didn't really listen to what people thought either did she? Particularly if they were "Wets"

Now is the time for the government to do a reversal on the Bills which no one wants. Will they listen? Will they thump.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Is Castration of Sex Offenders the answer?

I notice that Moldova's Parliament has passed a law introducing compulsory chemical castration for sex offenders who violently abuse children under the age of 15. The BBC has reported on the story here. One of the justifications is apparently because "Many Moldavians believe their country has become a destination for international sex tourists".

The subject has been debated for many years. The point is that child sex offenders do not have a disease which is curable with drugs like paranoia or schizophrenia mental disorders, which are treatable. Paedophilia is a sexual preference for children, instead of adults, which cannot be cured.

Whilst sex offender programs attempt to address the problem with the individual, it is of no use if the offender is in denial. It also does not get rid of the sexual urge, and fantasising, which many offenders indulge in on the Internet. More and more often, in the news, we now hear of offenders accused of abusing and grooming children being also charged with Internet porn offences.

There are several questions:-

  1. Does the treatment work? Research has revealed that of the 104 people operated on between 1970 and 1980 in Germany, only 3% reoffended, compared with nearly half of those who refused castration or were denied it by the authorities. Some say the treatment is reversible.
  2. Is the operation an infringement of human rights? European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) have complained to Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia about their laws. Amnesty International Moldova has condemned the decision, saying it undermines the basic right to physical and mental integrity. Executive Director Cristina Pereteatcu said chemical castration was "incompatible with human rights, which are the foundation of any civilised democratic society".
  3. Should the operation be compulsory? - in Germany it is voluntary, but in Moldova it will be compulsory. CPT say that it is "questionable" whether consent to surgical castration "will always be truly free and informed".
One has to look again at castration as one solution to the problem of sex offending which ruins the life of the victim, renders them almost unemployable, unable to have relationships with the same or the opposite sex, and deeply distrustful of any authority figure. If it can only spare one poor soul from abuse, it is arguably worth looking at by the government.

Personally, I would be against compulsory treatment, but would probably be open to persuasion. If you look at the list of countries which have introduced it, many of whom are civilised libertarian nations, then it must warrant serious consideration. From my research it has been made law in

United States of Iowa, California, Montana, Georgia, Louisiana, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Florida
South Korea

So what are we waiting for in Britain?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Is escalating abuse in religious institutions worth investigating?

Why should one law be applicable to religious organisations, and another for the rest of us. Under Canon Law 489 every Catholic diocese has a secret archive which is kept locked and has in it secret documents. These documents are to be ‘protected most securely’ and contain, ‘matters of morals’ and ‘criminal cases’. Only the bishop is allowed to possess the key and the archive is only to opened in a case of ‘true necessity’.
In other words allegations of abuse by a priest upon a child from many years ago, are likely to be contained within the secret safe.

Nothing of the like exists at civil law. If a document is needed for a case against the church, then it has to be disclosed with one or two limitations and exceptions - for instance National Security.

We,  at the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers are somewhat tired of the litigious attitude of the Catholic Church in compensation claims. On the one hand we witness the conciliatory attitude of the church, who adopt a genuinely confessional and religious approach to help victims address the demons within them. On the other hand, should the formerly abused victim decide to take the Church to court for compensation, watch out. A fierce adversarial approach is likely to result. Historically the legal team acting for the church have decided to try every technical point they can, in order to defeat claims that weak and vulnerable adults bring.

Most of the cases are not fought on merits but time delay. Only this year attempts have been made, unsuccessfully to argue that the Catholic Church are not liable for what priest does because he is fulfilling a calling of God without much guidance or support from the church (JGE v Diocese of Portsmouth).

We are mounting a campaign with the backing of support groups for a public enquiry in order to examine the way in which abuse is becoming an ever increasing discovery of evil within what in reality should be one of the pillars of our society. If each diocese has one of these safes with secret information in it, why should they remain secret accessible only the bishop? Why not hand over the contents to her majesty's police force so that justice can be done, and the abusive priests duly prosecuted.

The obvious conflict between the Canon law of the Catholic Church, and the civil law of England and Wales is a tension which is arguably irreconcilable. Each law has its own type of court which has different rules. Whilst it is not possible to sue for child abuse in the religious courts of the Roman Catholic Church, one can obtain a nullity of marriage, which means that the spouse can marry again in the Catholic Church. Alternatively the parties can, and often do get a civil divorce through the English Courts. Lawyers have been known to argue points of Canon Law in English Civil Cases. Thankfully such arguments rarely succeed in abuse cases, as Canon Law is not binding in the English Courts.

Will our campaign, which has aroused the interest of the Times newspaper and Esther Rantzen succeed? I certainly hope so. Having tried myself to persuade the English government to agree to a public enquiry to look into abuse in children's homes nationwide back in the late 1990's, and failed because of the enormous cost, and the lack of boundaries to the investigation, I doubt whether the government, in the age of austerity, cut backs, and legal aid wipe out, will agree. We can only remain hopeful.......

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Should criminals be forbidden to claim compensation?

In the Houses of Parliament on 30th January, the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke announced plans to prevent most convicted criminals from gaining Criminal Injuries Compensation (CICA), arguing it was "perverse" that those convicted of crimes had been able to claim for injuries and psychological damage.  He said the proposals were an "intelligent, radical reform to sort out a system that isn't working well" - true it is not working well, but these proposals will make it a lot worse. It also ignores the plight of the victims of child abuse who are my primary concern.

Under the present scheme (Para 13) there is a CICA penalty points system, which prevents most criminals who have unspent convictions from applying for compensation arising from a crime of violence. The government have decided that criminals simply do not deserve compensation. For example, a period of imprisonment of 30 months attracts 10 penalty points which equates to a reduction of 100% compensation, whereas a fine of £250 up to 2 years after the conviction will reduce compensation by 15%

The CICA scheme was introduced in 1964 in order to ensure that the victims of crimes of violence could receive compensation from the government, particularly where the perpetrator did not have the funds to pay. This contrasts with compensation paid to the victims of car accidents by the blameworthy car driver's insurance company. It was thought that only those who did not transgress the law deserved to apply.

The case of the victims of child abuse is clearly different, as is recognised by the current scheme. Provision is presently made for the CICA to ignore criminal convictions in appropriate cases. The obvious question is, "What sort of criminal record did the child have at the time they were abused?"

For example, it is not unusual for the victim to be abused at the age of 15 by, say, an older male care worker, and then tell no one what happened to them, out of shame, for 30 years. Moreover, so great is the shame, and so deep is the hurt, that they resort to drink and drugs as a form of emotional anesthetic. How shameful would it be to confess that you have been assaulted in a homosexual encounter with an older male care worker? Acquisitive crimes to feed the drink and drug habit then frequently follow.

Thus the argument is, that any convictions which are caused, in any way, by the abuse in childhood should be ignored, even though the rules strictly disqualify the applicant. Similarly, the victim of abuse who goes onto commit offences related to the abuse of children, where the abuse caused in some way the later offences, can argue that his/her convictions should be ignored. Needless to say, statistics do not show, that victims of abuse go on to be abusers.

I can find no provision in the new proposals for any account to be taken of the plight of the victim of child abuse, which, in my book, is appalling. It seems that these proposals are simply about saving money with little regard for fairness or justice.

Should there be a one size fits all? Should all criminals with convictions be prohibited from claiming criminal injuries compensation? The point is that all cases are different. In none of these cases under the new system, will a claim be permitted. Some are deserving, and others not, dependent on the facts of the case eg.

Not Deserving (arguably) :-
  1. A gang member who is shot in a drug/gang related attack resulting from non-payment of drugs.
  2. A burglar who is injured by a householder during an attempt to burgle a domestic dwelling.
  3. A passenger in a vehicle stolen by a thief who is drunk and has an accident.
  4. Unwilling members of a gang that are assaulted by a gang member because they refuse to participate in a crime
Deserving (arguably) :-
  1. A career criminal goes straight, starts up a charity to help ex-offenders, but within the period covered by the unspent conviction, is assaulted by a stranger, causing severe injuries and a loss of earnings.
  2. A girl is caught smuggling drugs and given a fine or community service. A year afterwards, whilst in full time employment, she is raped, sustaining severe injuries.
  3. A victim of child abuse goes onto commit sexual offences clearly caused by the abuse. He/she tries to put in a claim for CICA for the original abuse after helping the police by giving evidence against the paedophile. 
  4. A criminal is assaulted and paralysed whilst in police custody. Whilst he can make a civil claim against the police, he is prevented from pursuing a claim for CICA.
Ironically there are two separate systems. A prisoner , who is a victim of child abuse, is not prevented from pursuing a claim against his abuser personally through the civil courts because he has a criminal record. This depends upon his abuser, however, having enough money to make a claim worthwhile. The same prisoner, however, because of his convictions, cannot bring a claim under the CICA scheme, where, for example, his abuser is penniless. This is devisive and unfair.

I have been campaigning on this issue for many years. As long ago as 1997, one of our CICA Appeal cases called GB, RB, and RP, established the principle that even though victims of abuse from children's homes had criminal records, they could still make a claim. Sadly, regulations made since, and certainly the recent proposals cleverly promoted as "intelligent and radical" are likely to do injustice to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Letters to MP's may be a way of protesting. Let us hope that the proposals do not come into force.

    Wednesday, 25 January 2012

    Is the capping of benefit payments another nail in the Tory coffin?

    When I heard Iain Duncan-Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announce, yet again, that he was going to cap the amount of money paid to benefit claimants at £26,000, I was roused to blog about it.

    The view taken is that all benefit claimants are scroungers on the state, and that the easy solution to their problems is to just reduce their income to such a level that magically they will be forced back into work.

    This view is so naive that it is laughable. What about
    • The disabled who need more benefit because they have a disability
    • The mentally ill who cannot work because they are unwell.
    • Mothers of large families, in particular those who are single parents.
    • Amputees who need special equipment to enjoy normal lives (such as is possible)
    • The old and infirm - perhaps the government should  reduce their benefit to such an extent that they cannot afford heating and then die of cold.
    • Victims of abuse in childhood, where the abuser was an employee of the state. They cannot work because they have no trust in any other human being sufficient to have an employer/employee relationship
    The quote I heard from Iain Duncan-Smith seemed to suggest that if you reduced income then magically a benefit claimant would spring into action, and suddenly get a job. What if he hasn't worked for 5 years - the long term unemployed? They are generally ignored by the back to work government schemes because they stand the least chance of all of getting a job.

    What will happen if Iain Duncan Smith gets his way - well probably whole sections of the community will be unable to afford to buy food and starve to death - would they get a DSS paid funeral? Interesting point. I suppose that will just serve them right for not getting off their fat backsides and getting a job.

    At the moment the House of Lords has whole heartedly rejected the idea in a revolt. Despite this Duncan-Smith seems determined to find a political way to push ahead with the proposals. The coalition government thinks the public are behind the proposed welfare reform changes.

    An article in the Guardian entitled "there is an appetite for welfare reform" quoted public opinion from research in Britain.

    "Other work we've done on "fairness" for the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that this view is partly underpinned by the belief that fairness means not just people having the same opportunities but people not getting more out of a system than they have put in.

    The same study identified a view that in some ways Britain has become "too fair", with common concerns being that benefit payments don't encourage hard work and that there are unfair advantages for some in the housing and even employment system. "

    Sn, despite the fact that the House of Lords are against the idea, and that it seems a crazy notion to push through, like all outrageous policies in the name of "austerity" to "get the country back on its financial feet" it will probably be pushed through because they believe it is right and fair. Like many other examples of Tory policy where they have not listened to public opinion and have become latterly disaster areas eg. Poll Tax, Child Support Agency etc. This policy will probably be called a misthought badly judged policy which in future has to be reversed.

    And just a final thought. What are you going to tell the one legged war veteran who cannot work, but will have his benefits reduced to an unacceptable level? "Never mind old chap, thank you for nearly sacrificing your life for Blighty and losing your leg. You will just have to manage on less - or you could easily spring back into work as a window cleaner may be - oh no you can't can you because you only have one leg....hmm....."

    Thursday, 12 January 2012

    Are breast implants a genuine cry for psychological help?

    A comparison between the feelings of a victim of abuse, whom I represent, and the angst of women who have had PIP breast implants, which may have gone wrong is, at first sight, inappropriate.

    One firstly has to distinguish between breast implants which have been inserted in order to augment the size of existing breasts for cosmetic purposes, and women who, for example, have had mastectomies arising from breast cancer. I suspect that people have immediately assumed that breast implants have mostly been paid for by those who want bigger breasts rather than being given on the National Health to those who need them for medical reasons, and, presumably, have been provided free of charge on the NHS. There are also those who, for psychological reasons need breast implants because, for example, they are suffering from a mental disorder caused by their feelings about the size of their breasts. Mastectomy patients, however must deserve the most sympathy of all.

    One has to ask the question of what responsibility the Plastic Surgeon who chose PIP breast implants at a cheap price should bear. Whilst the manufacturers were the villains of the piece in that they used industrial grade silicone the question is were or should the plastic surgeons have been aware that they were using substandard products? If so they would be liable in negligence. Proving knowledge of something many years ago would be difficult. Other plastic surgeons now say with the advantage of hindsight, of course, that they would not use PIP implants because they seemed poor quality.

    The actual argument the lawyers involved are using is under the Sale of Goods Act. The plastic surgeon was a supplier of goods of unmerchantable quality which were unfit for purpose. As such therefore they are liable for damage caused in breach of the implied duties of sale. Simply a much more effective argument than negligence, and all that entails.

    The lawyers are advising the government not to replace the implants on the NHS in the hope that they will be able to recover from the plastic surgeon, for the simple reason that under the Sale of Goods Act only the buyer has a right of action, and the government were not the buyers. I don't think David Cameron has had any implants to my knowledge - or has he?

    So how do the victims of abuse compare with breast implant victims? Well all victims of abuse have low self esteem because abuse causes a lack of trust in other human beings. Some breast implant patients have the operation done because the size of their breasts has caused such low esteem, lack of confidence, and indeed mental illness that having larger breast will help restore that self esteem, and enable the patient to cope with life more easily. If psychiatrists authorise the operation  for psychiatric reasons alone, then low self esteem must lie at the root of the problem. Sadly, there is no quick cosmetic surgery fix for the victim of abuse. His/her damage is arguably incurable. Certainly, if there was a cosmetic surgery solution, you can bet that they would all go for it.

    It is somewhat trite, however, to even attempt to draw similarities between the two types of victim, and I do so merely in a tenuous and somewhat insincere fashion. Indeed, even for the breast augmentation patient, larger breast will not cure a deep rooted inferiority complex, no doubt caused by other factors - even abuse in childhood. Some form of counselling is more likely to help.

    Moreover a breast cancer patient would expect to be able to have breast implants put in on the NHS free of charge, and to have substandard implants replaced under National Health for the same reason. Indeed the public would gladly agree for such free treatment gladly. So let us not judge too quickly in ignorance.