Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Irish Case finds state to blame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 January 2014

Are Male sex victims likely to report more than women?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

William Roache is on Trial not Ken Barlow

William Roache
The latest information on the "Ken Barlow" trial is that the jury are to put out of their mind who the actor plays on TV, and should try the case according to the evidence.

As I am a lawyer who specialises in abuse cases on behalf of victims, the topic of celebrity abusers comes up in conversation quite often.

It is quite obvious that most of the public make a judgement instantly on whether or not he is guilty or innocent. That opinion is obviously based upon what they hear or see in the media, coupled with what they already know about the person already.

How can any jury who has watched William Roache play Ken Barlow every week make a judgement on his guilt or innocence and insulate themselves from the world of soap operas?

A classic example of pre-judging guilt and innocence based upon someone's public persona is Rolf Harris. Several allegations have been made against him yet he is not the sort of person most members of the public will deem to be a sex offender. He has painted portraits of the queen, done programs about animals, and recorded various catchy tunes which have appeared in the hit parade.

Ken Barlow on Coronation Street is in intelligent, well meaning, calm, yet philanderous person who has produced some rather unstable children, one of whom is an alcoholic, and the other of whom has spent time in prison for murder. What is the real William Roache like? Will the jury judge him on the evidence, or what they know of him.

Take the celebrities from the Street who have appeared in Court so far - Kevin Webster or to give him his real name Michael Le Vell was acquitted of all charges, and made a speech outside Court thanking everyone for supporting him and saying he was going for a drink.Did the jury try the case on the evidence, or what they already thought they knew about the Defendant from his appearance on TV? We will never know. Certainly the alleged victims of the alleged child sex offences will be devastated by the result.

What would be the position if someone who has played the parts of evil villains on TV appeared before the Crown Court alleged to be a sex offender? Could the jury dispel their preconceived opinion that he was an evil villain from their mind? An interesting conundrum.

Stuart Hall went public during his trial saying that the whole process was causing him immense grief, and ruining his life. He denied the offences completely. He then turned turkey, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced. The CPS then went back to Court to ask for and were granted an increased sentence.

Certainly celebrities have the advantage over those without any experience of speaking in public in that:-

  1. They have training in diction and pretending to be someone else.
  2. They have their reputation with the public to use to their advantage.
  3. They have fans who will write to them saying they support them. This no doubt gives them confidence and more self belief.
On the other hand

  1. They have a much greater reputation to protect than others.
  2. The media will be all over their case trying to put as much of their trial in the public eye as possible, which can be a good or bad thing depending on what is reported.
  3. If they lose the trial, that is the end of their career.
  4. They will be under much more pressure to win their case than the average criminal defendant.
Personally I am tempted to say that it is impossible to try a celebrity fairly. Although the jury will try to simply examine the evidence, when it comes to some judgement upon which they are unsure, it is almost impossible not to let their preconceived ideas of what the actor who plays the part is like on TV cloud their opinion.

Let us hope their is a fair trial of William Roache. I am sure that is what all the lawyers and the judge are trying to achieve.

Maybe we should have a similar system to the States where there are jury vetting agents, cross examination of jurors, and so on. Whilst the judge does ask questions to make sure the jury are not biased at all, the comment by the judge in the recent trial tells a thousand tales about the dangers which are unavoidable in this case.

Will the victims claim compensation after the case, or will they have had enough after the criminal trial and want to put the whole thing behind them? Only time will tell.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Abuse Enquiry announced in Northern Ireland

Sir Anthony Hart
Today's announcement that there will be an enquiry into abuse at care homes in Northern Ireland does not surprise me, in that I have been aware of its intentions for many months.

The enquiry is an opportunity for the victims of abuse ate Northern Irish Care Homes to be heard. It is fundamentally important that the many years of silence is broken and that the victims are listened to.

In his opening remarks, the chairman of the inquiry, Sir Anthony Hart, said it would try to establish if abuse in children's homes was systemic.

He said he hoped those who had given evidence to the inquiry "will have the satisfaction of knowing that their experiences are being listened to and investigated".

Sir Anthony said many of the witnesses had told the inquiry that when they made complaints in the past they had been ignored.

He said where the inquiry believes criminal offences have taken place it will pass the evidence onto the police.

At the office, QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden have dealt with several complaints of abuse at Northern Irish Care Homes, which have proceeded independently of the enquiry through the civil courts.

The enquiry has clearly been announced after vociferous efforts have been rightfully made by victims of abuse, but more importantly as a direct reaction to the enquiries in Southern Ireland, where there were two types of enquiry explained in more detail on our Irish Survivor's site

  1. The Irish Commission - this sat in Dublin and heard evidence from victim - much like the Northern Irish enquiry just announced. It had no power to prosecute or punish anyone, but could refer criminal allegations to the police.
  2. The Irish Redress Board ("RIRB") now closed - was opened in 2002 and closed in 2005. It was set up to pay compensation and legal costs to the victims of abuse by institutions connected with the Irish State - the entire care and school system was set up in partnership with the Church and various voluntary bodies. This followed an apology by the Taoiseach of Ireland for the abuse committed by the state upon its children whilst in its care.
    The RIRB used a point scoring system in order to determine the amount of compensation offered.
It has been announced by BBC online that various homes will be investigated by the Commission

Institutions under investigation

Local authority homes:

  • Lissue Children's Unit, Lisburn
  • Kincora Boys' Home, Belfast
  • Bawnmore Children's Home, Newtownabbey

Juvenile justice institutions:

  • St Patrick's Training School, Belfast
  • Lisnevin Training School, County Down
  • Rathgael Training School, Bangor

Secular voluntary homes:

  •  Barnardo's Sharonmore Project, Newtownabbey
  • Barnardo's Macedon, Newtownabbey

Catholic Church-run homes:

  • St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, Londonderry
  • Nazareth House Children's Home, Derry
  • Nazareth House Children's Home, Belfast
  • Nazareth Lodge Children's Home, Belfast
  • De La Salle Boys' Home, Kircubbin, County Down

Whilst the Commission will hear and investigate valuable evidence, it remains to be seen what further powers the body will have.

It was said that the Redress Board was set up in the Southern Ireland as a more efficient alternative to the Courts. If the victims were expected to take all their cases through the Eire Courts system, it would have taken many years to process their claims, as the Court would become clogged up with all the allegations.

The institutions were approached, and agreed to part with considerable sums of money by way of a contribution to the cost of setting up and running the Irish Redress Board.

It is regrettable than no alternative to the court system appears, to date, to have been set up in Northern Ireland, laudable though the Commission obviously is.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Caldicott Prep School convicts Headmaster but ignores previous conviction.

PRESS RELEASE ISSUED 18th December 2013

Peter Wright in Court
Leading child abuse solicitors, QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden have launched an appeal for evidence which may help to support a claim of sexual abuse by a former headmaster at Caldicott School in Buckinghamshire.  The 83 year old former headmaster, Peter Wright was yesterday convicted of multiple sex offences against pupils at the school.  Caldicott was attended by a string of high profile individuals including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Andrew Strauss, the former England cricket captain.

The firm of solicitors are asking members of the public, witnesses and victims to come forward with any information that may help them pursue a claim for compensation against convicted Peter Wright.  Their client, 60 year old Tom Perry from Buckinghamshire who was sexually abused by Peter Wright when he was just a 12 year old school boy, has been fighting for justice for over ten years.  Mr Perry, who was sent to Caldicott at the age of 8 in 1963 says the sexual attentions by former headmaster, Peter Wright, began when he was vulnerable, missing family life and craving intimacy and kindness.  In 2003 the former headmaster was charged with 16 offences against five boys at Caldicott during the 1960s, but the ruling judge halted the case, on the grounds that it was an unfair trial due to the historical nature of the abuse, and set Wright free.

Peter Garsden, solicitor representing Tom Perry said: “I am delighted for all the victims of abuse at Caldicott who were abused by Peter Wright, convicted yesterday of various sex offences against former pupils. They will feel relieved that after many years, they have finally been believed and achieved some semblance of justice. Some of them, however, did not have the benefit of a conviction in their favour for legal and technical reasons. I act for one of them. We will now proceed with all speed to make claims for compensation against Mr Wright, and any others who may be involved.

The school were, of course, guilty of ignoring complaints and misleading the authorities in the past that could have stopped the abuse from continuing. I am anxious for any former pupils or staff, who can give any useful evidence of what happened to come forward, even if they were not involved in the case. Any information will be of use to our civil case.”

The date for the sentencing hearing has been confirmed as 6th February 2014.

This case is yet another example of how mandatory reporting could have prevented abuse from taking place over such a long period of time unchecked. The safeguarding the school have now is highly praised, designed, perhaps, in response to the unfolding scandal that has beset the school

Also of interest is the fact that Peter Wright was prosecuted unsuccessfully in 2003 on the basis of several complaints made by other boys who went to the school. The presiding Judge Connor decided that there was no basis for the prosecution to go forward because of the age of the allegations, and other matters. Curiously, a different judge, 10 years later decided that the case could now proceed, but on different allegations.

The prosecution is a testament to the many victims who have campaigned tirelessly to get the case back in Court. This time much more effort and resources were assigned to the case by the police, no doubt owing to the change in police attitude to these types of case.

A further side issue relates to an allegation that the Defence knowingly misled the Court back in 2003, thus entitling the victims to have the previous stay of the 2003 proceedings lifted.

We will await with interest what happens to the case at the time of sentencing, and beyond.

Any witnesses should contact QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden either by email or via our website 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Proclaim Practice Management Software - Abney Garsden McDonald Solicitors

Peter talks about his experiences with the Eclipse Legal Proclaim Case Management system, and the benefits of efficiency which it brings to his practise, particularly in the fields of Legal Aid. He discusses his "paperless office" and how Proclaim enables its introduction with ease.