The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up by Theresa May in 2014 following Jimmy Saville revelations and other scandals revealing how victims of child abuse were let down by the authorities charged with protecting them.
The Inquiry has been examining the extent to which institutions and organisations have failed to protect children in England and Wales from sexual abuse.
This week it published the findings of its investigation into Accountability and Reparations for child sexual abuse survivors.
The report into this section of the national inquiry is scathing, finding that victims were let down by both the criminal and civil justice system and denied redress.
Survivors who hoped to bring perpetrators to justice and for acknowledgement and compensation for ruined childhoods came up against criminal and civil justice systems that were “baffling, frustrating, hostile and ultimately futile.”
The London Economic spoke to survivors who gave us their reactions after participating in the inquiry. As one anonymous core participant to the inquiry told us: “it highlights the hostility survivors face.”
While no amount of money could make up for the horrendous child abuse the inquiry came across, survivors had told how impossible it was to receive recognition of what they had been through and any recompense for lost childhoods and educations.
The investigation heard how children in council and Home Office care had left secure schools not only traumatized but without qualifications, their educational attainment far below what it should have been before they came under the care of these authorities.
The investigation considered five key case studies from the 1960s to the present day: North Wales children’s homes; Forde Park school in Devon; St Leonard’s children’s home in London; St Aidan’s and St Vincent’s children’s homes in Cheshire and Merseyside and Stanhope Castle school in County Durham.
Survivors of these institutions said when they attempted to seek compensation and a recognition of their abuse, the hostility they faced compounded the trauma they had already suffered as children.
Some successfully proved their case on the facts but were ultimately turned down due to the law of limitation, which puts a time limit on historical claims.
The inquiry heard testimony of how this is particularly cruel for victims of child sexual abuse, who may find it takes years to be able to talk about their abuse, especially when the first time around they had been ignored by the authorities when coming forward.
Not only did many witnesses find making a civil claim emotionally challenging and retraumatising, outcomes often failed to bring the redress they were seeking. One witness to the inquiry had a civil claim that lasted 12 years and involved two trials but was ultimately rejected on the basis it was brought too late.
The inquiry deferred making recommendations on timing such claims out for a future report – which will also examine survivors’ suggestions of a compensation scheme.
It also emerged that many survivors were not informed about the existence of criminal compensation orders which allow victims to seek compensation for their loss from perpetrators. Recent data from the Ministry of Justice showed that only around 0.02% of Criminal Compensation Orders (CCOs) relate to child sexual abuse cases.
Nigel O’Mara: report is an indictment of system
Nigel O’Mara has been a witness to the inquiry , both as a survivor and as a counsellor to survivors, having set up Survivors UK in 1986 and working with victims of abuse ever since. He has waived his anonymity for the purposes of the inquiry.
He said: “This report is an indictment on the effect that the civil and criminal justice systems have had on victims of child sexual abuse.
“It’s well known that the psychological effects of child sexual abuse is to lower someone’s self-esteem and make them feel worthless especially if they are not believed. This is only compounded by the criminal justice system and the civil justice system.
“People can spend years going through litigation and ending up with nothing or next to nothing while constantly being retraumatised by having to relive the events as they go through them again for different organisations.
“For example criminal compensation orders were made in 124,835 criminal cases in 2017. That year out of the 6,861 child sex abusers convicted only 26 criminal compensation orders were made. The police and CPS have failed to make people aware that CPOs exist and push for them. These payouts by offenders avoid people having to go through the civil justice system after all they have suffered and being continuously retraumatised by the process.”
Recommendations lacks teeth
Mr O’Mara also warned that more detailed recomendations were needed if lessons are to be learned. He said: “the recommendations that have been given don’t have the teeth they need.
“It’s no good saying that the police should refer people to support services where in large parts of the country no such services exist. And especially not for male survivors. In the report it mentions that not enough exist but there are no recommendations to make sure that all survivors have access to local services.”
But there were recommendations that Mr O’Mara hoped would be implemented by the government.
He said revising the Compensation Act is an important recommendation: “This should allow survivors to be given interim payments without liability to allow them to access counselling and psychological support while they are waiting for the compensation process which can take decades and can also be very retraumatising in itself.”
Mandatory reporting of abuse
Nigel O’Mara and other core participants we talked were angered that there were no recommendations yet to make reporting abuse mandatory for people working with children.
“This report is glaring in its omissions rather than its recommendations,” said Mr O”Mara. “During the investigation mandatory reporting is mentioned many, many times and yet is not mentioned in the recomendations or the report itself.
“Mandatory reporting is a system where a person in charge of a child must report a suspicion or knowledge of a child being abuse – in the same way that the law now requires them to in the UK for female genital mutilation.
“There was a seminar in which legal experts from all over the world explained how mandatory reporting works in Canada, Australia and other countries.
“We have seen throughout this investigations that many organisations – churches, schools, educational organisations have tried to protect the name of their institution by not reporting child sexual abuse.
“This one measure changes the onus of responsibility from the victim to the people around them. “
Mr O’Mara believes this measure would safeguard future generations of children.
A spokesperson for the inquiry told The London Economic: “The Chair and Panel are considering mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse as part of their examination of reporting arrangements more broadly in England and Wales, and whether these could be improved.
“ The Inquiry is gathering evidence and information on the issue through its investigations, research, seminars, and the experiences of victims and survivors as heard through the Truth Project, as well as a consultation with the Victim and Survivor Forum.
“The Inquiry will report its conclusions on mandatory reporting in due course.”
Paul Sinclair: “we want future generations protected”
The Accountability and Reparations hearings heard accusations that councils colluded with their insurance firms to limit liability for the abuse suffered by children in their care.
Some of the most harrowing testimony came from abuse survivors who have been pupils at Forde Park school.
The secure school and home in Newton Abbot, which harboured a particularly sadistic paedophile ring before it closed in 1985 – then under Devon County Council control – were subjected to horrendous physical and sexual abuse by staff emboldened by a Home Office which permitted corporal punishment of some of Britain’s most vulnerable children at such institutions.
Paul Sinclair is one of the former pupils. His history in care was marked by shocking abuse and violence from the staff entrusted with his childhood.
Mr Sinclair explained how Forde Park survivors were represented by solicitors Woollcombe Beer Watts in a group legal aid action which was settled away from the eyes of the press or the survivors when Devon County Council gave insurers MMI the task of dealing with claims arising from the horrific regime at Forde Park.
He added that the Forde Park survivors had been so let down when it came to justice, compensation and support that they deserved their case to be reviewed. Mr Sinclair responded to the inquiry’s report by also wishing there had been more concrete recommendations.
He said: “The civil justice system let us down more than the criminal side.
“Personally I am disappointed the report does not seem to have more detail considering the amount of work that has gone into it.
“I would have liked to see them go into more detail into how civil justice system has failed us.
“We have had to drag everything from the past to please this inquiry which isn’t easy for any of us.
“It has been harrowing to testify at the inquiry, but we have been motivated by a search for justice and making sure future generations of children are protected from what we had to live through. I would like to see mandatory reporting of suspected child sexual abuse for institutions and people in charge of children as soon as possible to safeguard children immediately.”
Paul Sinclair is typical of other survivors of Forde Park we talked to, who left with negligible qualifications after being brutalized and deprived of an education.
“Personally I received compensation of £2,700,” said Paul Sinclair. “The compensation most people got was an insult. It was another devastating blow after what they had been through to be sent away with a few thousand pounds and no support.
“We had to go and make our way through life failed by the legal system. We need redress for that.”
Forde park was shut down after multiple warnings in 1985. It took a further decade for Operation Lentisk to result in several convictions for brutal physical and sexual assaults against boys who had been sent to the school from as young as ten years old. Yet the Home Office and Devon and Cornwall Police had investigated child abuse at Forde Park School as early as 1958. Further report of abuse from pupils emerged in 1976, but still no staff member was prosecuted by police. For decades authorities were aware that children were being still placed at risk of brutal violence and sexual abuse.
Then when survivors as adults finally compiled enough evidence for police to investigate seriously and prosecute Forde Park’s predators, Devon County Council instead of investigating survivor’s cases and offering support and counselling, passed them on to their insurance company to limit liability and compensation.
“Survivors were steamrollered”
Another Forde Park survivor, who testified anonymously to the inquiry, added: “Survivors were steamrollered by the council’s lawyers. This just compounded our original abuse.”
“People’s claims were valued at higher figures than what we got,” he explained. “In my case it was valued at £15,000 and I got £4,000 and there was no explanation as to how those figures were met.”
He also slammed Devon County Council’s apology during the inquiry and offer of support and counselling “too little and too late: it should have been offered to us 45 years ago.”
He added: “It has been harrowing for all of us to testify at this inquiry. I would like to see more detailed recommendations for the civil justice system, and we all think reporting of suspicions of abuse going on should be mandatory for people who work with children, who should face the weight of the law if they fail to.”
A “lottery” for survivors
David Greenwood of Switalskis Solicitors represents many of the core participants at the inquiry’s Accountability and Reparations investigation.
“From their evidence it quickly emerged that they had each been kept in the dark about what was available to them. Some had failed to get recompense, apologies or support. Some had been compensated after many years of court proceedings and some had given up trying,” he told The London Economic.
David Greenwood said the inquiry’s damning report “shines a light on the cloudy world of accountability and reparations for child sex abuse crimes and compensation. The report acknowledges that :
‘The evidence which has been heard in this investigation leaves us in no doubt that none of the avenues for redress which we examined – civil justice, criminal compensation (CCOs and CICA awards) or support services – is always able to adequately provide the remedies which are sought as accountability and reparations for the survivors of abuse.’”
He described the compensation route for survivors of child sexual abuse as a “lottery.”
“The evidence showed that the passage through the compensation system is down to chance – some are fortunate enough to have an insurer or organisation realise that it owes a moral responsibility to claimants to compensate them and provide support. Most encounter insurers or defendant bodies who defend themselves in a legalistic way, using expensive lawyers to resist these claims,”explained Mr Greenwood.
“The evidence was that most insurers and organisations hide behind the rules on time limits where possible. A case must be brought before the age of 21 and this time will only be extended in exceptional circumstances. This has led to highly controversial and unfair decisions from the courts in cases where the fact of the abuse can be proved. The Association of British Insurers have pledged to avoid using this law in future but we will see…”
The issues of Limitation laws and a general redress scheme for survivors are to be debated in a separate inquiry on November 2019.
Mr Greenwood added: “The Inquiry has given strong hints that it will recommend the removal of the time limits and will introduce a national redress scheme.
“For now it is good that this murky scene is out in the open and that the Inquiry are making recommendations which give more information to claimants and which attempt to push insurers to ease off from their hard legal tactics.
“Importantly recommendations on therapy support in my view should go much further than the signposting and encouraging insurers to establish a rehab code – a national network of good quality therapists should be put together.”
“Baffling, frustrating, hostile and ultimately futile.”
Professor Alexis Jay OBE, Chair of the Inquiry, said: “For victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, the suffering does not stop when the abuse ends. In our investigation we found that the criminal and civil court proceedings for redress can be frustrating, hostile and ultimately futile.
“Many are left retraumatised and deeply unsatisfied with the often lengthy and confusing litigation. Equally concerning is the lack of clear signposting for the compensation and support which survivors could be entitled to.
“The Panel and I hope this report and its recommendations can help make seeking redress a less complex and distressing process for extremely vulnerable people.”
The inquiry’s report on the Accountability and Reparations investigation focuses on the aftermath of child sexual abuse and the legal process of seeking justice and claiming compensation.
The report found survivors of abuse searching for justice and redress let down at all stages.
During 15 days of public hearings, the Inquiry heard from 40 witnesses. These included survivors of abuse; police forces that were meant to stop perpetrators; the councils in whose care the most vulnerable victims of child sexual abuse were and the giants of the insurance world that admitted to using limitations on compensation.
“I had my childhood stolen from me”
Not all who managed to survive the regime of horror at Forde Park school are still alive to read this week’s report. One survivor died before the inquiry was finished.
His poignant statement was read to the inquiry and makes a compelling case for mandatory reporting:
“I had my childhood stolen from me.
“The abuse I suffered was never investigated and I have never received an explanation for why staff at Forde Park were able to abuse children without anyone stepping in to stop it.
“I know that I am not the only person who reported abuse at Forde Park when it was going on. The physical abuse was no secret. It was done openly. The police and Social Services knew of it, but allowed it to continue.
“I now know that I am not the only person who made a report to the police at the time. I know that other men reported abuse at the time to the police, Social Services, their families and others.
“I want this inquiry to find out why, when the physical abuse, at least, was so well known about, did no-one in authority do anything.
“I also want the authorities responsible for Forde Park to acknowledge openly that I and so many other boys were treated like animals at Forde Park and I want a public admission that the responsible authority knew of it, or should have known of it, and an apology.”
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Accountability and Reparations recommendations in full:
Signposting civil and criminal compensation
The Ministry of Justice should revise the Victims’ Code to make clear that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse must be advised by the police that:
1. They are entitled to seek civil compensation through the civil courts and, if they wish to do so, should seek legal advice – they should be signposted to specialist lawyers identified by the Ministry of Justice.
2. They are entitled to assistance completing any application to the CICA, should they require it. Such assistance should be provided by independent sexual violence advisers or other suitably qualified and trained persons.
3. At the conclusion of any criminal proceedings, the court may make orders for the payment of criminal compensation by convicted offenders to their victims.
4. They are entitled to be referred to organisations supporting victims of sexual abuse. They should be signposted to the support services available in their local area.
The College of Policing should make changes to its guidance (currently Authorised Professional Practice) to require police officers to provide oral and written information on each of these matters.
The Ministry of Justice should also provide further information on how the new compliance framework, and any other developments, will improve compliance with the Code for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
The civil justice system
The Local Government Association and the Association of British Insurers should each produce codes of practice for responding to civil claims of child sexual abuse.
The codes should include recognition of the long‐term emotional and psychiatric or psychological effects of child sexual abuse on victims and survivors, and acknowledgement that these effects may make it difficult for victims and survivors to disclose that they have been sexually abused and to initiate civil claims for that abuse.
The codes should also include guidance that:
1. claimants should be treated sensitively throughout the litigation process;
2. the defence of limitation should only be used in exceptional circumstances;
3. single experts jointly instructed by both parties should be considered for the assessment of the claimants’ psychiatric, psychological or physical injuries; and
4. wherever possible, claimants should be offered apologies, acknowledgement, redress and support.
The government should introduce legislation revising the Compensation Act 2006 to clarify that section 2 facilitates apologies or offers of treatment or other redress to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse by institutions that may be vicariously liable for the actions or omissions of other persons, including the perpetrators.
The Department for Work and Pensions should work with the Association of British Insurers to introduce a national register of public liability insurance policies. The register should provide details of the relevant organisation, the name of the insurer, all relevant contact details, the period of cover, and the insurance limit. These requirements should apply to policies issued and renewed after the commencement of the register, and those against which a claim has already been made.
The Financial Conduct Authority should make the necessary regulatory changes to compel insurers that provide public liability insurance to retain and publish details of all current policies.
The Judicial College should revise its Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases to include a freestanding section on the damages that may be appropriate in cases of child sexual abuse.
This new section of the guidelines should advise the court to take into account the nature and severity of the abuse itself, any short‐term and long‐term physical, emotional and psychiatric or psychological injuries, and the general effect of the abuse on the claimant’s capacity to function throughout their life. The latter may include the ability to sustain personal and sexual relationships, to benefit from education and to undertake paid employment.
Criminal compensation orders (CCOs)
The Ministry of Justice should consult with the Sentencing Council, the Judicial College, the Crown Prosecution Service and other relevant bodies, in order to increase the use of CCOs, where appropriate, in cases involving child sexual abuse by, among other things, implementing guidance for the judiciary and prosecutors in the Crown Courts and Magistrates’ Courts.
Support through civil proceedings
The International Underwriting Association of London should take the lead in the production of a code for the benefit of claimants who are bringing civil claims for child sexual abuse. The aim should be to produce a code, comparable to the Rehabilitation Code or for inclusion in that code, with the objective of ensuring that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse are able to access the therapy and support they need as soon as possible.