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 - www.childabuselawyers.com 

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.