This week concludes the IICSA’s investigation into child sex abuse in Nottinghamshire, the largest inquiry into child sex abuse conducted by the IICSA to date.
The three-week inquiry into the Nottinghamshire Councils failure to protect children from sexual abuse by staff at Beechwood Children’s Home, foster carers and other children was chaired by Professor Alexis Jay. The Inquiry Panel heard live evidence from 12 complainant core participants who were sexually abused whilst in the care of the Nottinghamshire Council’s between 1970s and the 2010s and were provided with the statements of numerous others. Witness statements of numerous other individuals who were sexually abused whilst in the care of Nottinghamshire Councils were also read to the Inquiry Panel.
Farleys represent N1, a complainant core participant who was sexually abused at Beechwood by a member of staff, Andris Logins, and I have attended the Inquiry on her behalf. Beechwood was a local authority Children’s Home in Nottingham labelled the “Home From Hell” by Sampson J when sentencing Andris Logins. Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham City Council were responsible for the care of children living at Beechwood at different times between the 1970s and the early 2000s. Both councils failed to take steps to protect children from child sex abuse or appropriately respond when they received reports of the same.
N1 gave powerful evidence about the abuse she suffered at Beechwood, a full account of which can be found here. She drew on her personal and professional experience to ask the Inquiry Panel to make several recommendations, including the need for further training for social workers, teachers and Children’s Home Staff.
She also called for the appointment of officers who are truly independent from the Nottinghamshire Councils to monitor the Councils’ treatment of children in their care and to consider the views and feelings of the child. Under S.25A of the Children Act 1989, local authorities are required to appoint Independent Reviewing Officers but there is no specification as to whether they must be employed by the local authority or where they should sit within the local authority’s structure, raising concerns of prejudice against children who may not feel able to disclose sexual abuse by local authority employees.
N1 also suggested counselling to survivors, free of charge, provided by the Nottinghamshire Councils within a timely fashion.
In addition, the Inquiry Panel heard live evidence from representatives of the Nottinghamshire Councils, Nottinghamshire Police and witnesses who have detailed knowledge of the ways in which the survivors of child sex abuse have been let down by the lack of protection and support of the Nottinghamshire Councils and Nottinghamshire Police.
In particular, the Inquiry Panel heard compelling evidence from Mandy Coupland, who is the co-founder of the Nottingham Child Sex Abuse Survivors Group. Ms Coupland asked the Inquiry Panel to consider making recommendations addressing the way in which the Nottinghamshire Councils respond to subject access requests from survivors of CSA, looking to access their social care records.
She told the Inquiry Panel that,
Most of my group haven’t got their records. A few have got a few pages and some of that information is redacted or you can’t even read it. So it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.
This problem is not exclusive to the Nottinghamshire Councils and many of our clients encounter difficulties when applying to obtain their records, suffering long delays, receiving incomplete records or records which are in disarray or illegible.
The information gathered throughout this Inquiry will affect the practice of Nottinghamshire County Council in responding to civil claims in negligence brought by individuals who were sexually abused in Local Authority Care. At present, it is common practice for most local authorities to rely on the defence of limitation in these types of claims. Under current legislation, survivors of child sex abuse have three years from their 18th birthday to bring a negligence claim and a local authority can rely on the individual’s failure to do so in defence to the claim. Colin Pettigrew, Corporate Director of Children, Families and School Services of Nottinghamshire County Council, stated during his live evidence to the Inquiry that where Nottinghamshire County Council is not working with a third party insurer, it “will not be using limitation in future as a defence”.
Tripping over a step in a council park is not the same as being in the care of the local authority and being grossly let down and sexually abused by an employee of the local authority… and limitation cannot apply in those circumstances.”
Whilst Alison Michalska, who holds the equivalent position at Nottingham City Council, failed to give the same assurance, it is hoped by Complainant Core Participants that this will drive the Inquiry Panel to make recommendations that changes be made to the Civil Procedure Rules to facilitate a less acrimonious litigation procedure for child sexual abuse claims against local authorities in England and Wales.
We now await the recommendations for change prepared by the Inquiry Panel.
If you have been affected by any information arising from the Inquiry and wish to discuss matter in confidence, call our dedicated abuse line on 0330 134 6430 or contact us by email.