Damning inquiry report reveals 40 years of horrendous child sexual abuse and racism by Lambeth Council in London

Lambeth Town Hall

The independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse today published its worst ever findings of the scale of child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom. It looks like large numbers of paedophiles got away with the mass sexual abuse of children.

An investigation into Lambeth Council’s children in care revealed that over 700 children had alleged they had been sexually abused and treated as worthless by council staff. And this is certainly an underestimate. The scandal continued from the 1960s right through to the late 1990s.

The report which only looked at five of the council’s closed homes makes incredibly grim reading. The report said:

Cruelty and sexual abuse ” hard to comprehend”

“It is hard to comprehend the cruelty and sexual abuse inflicted on children in the care of Lambeth Council over many years, by staff, by foster carers and their families, and by volunteers in residential settings. With one or two exceptions, a succession of elected members and senior professionals ought to have been held accountable for allowing this to happen, either by their active commission or complicit omission. Lambeth Council was only able to identify one senior Council employee, over the course of 40 years, who was disciplined for their part in this catalogue of sexual abuse.”

It goes on: “By June 2020, Lambeth Council was aware of 705 former residents of three children’s homes in this investigation (Shirley Oaks, South Vale and Angell Road) who have made complaints of sexual abuse. The biggest of these homes – Shirley Oaks – was the subject of allegations against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home, involving at least 529 former residents. It was closed in 1983.

“Frontline staff employed to care for these most vulnerable children frequently failed to take action when they knew about sexual abuse. In so many cases they showed little warmth or compassion towards the child victims, who were left to cope with the trauma of their abuse on their own. 

Hostile and abusive treatment of black children

…”There were many black children in Lambeth Council’s care. In Shirley Oaks in 1980, 57 percent of children in its care were black. During 1990 and 1991, 85 percent of children who lived at South Vale were black. Racism was evident in their hostile and abusive treatment by some staff.

” Shirley Oaks and South Vale were brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish. Angell Road systematically exposed children (including those under the age of five years) to sexual abuse. 

“Nor did foster care routinely provide a safe alternative for children in care. For many years, foster carers were not adequately vetted by the Council and were not the subject of criminal record checks.”

Some of the cases described are horrendous.

Children screaming at night while they were raped

“LA-A307 was taken to Shirley Oaks at the age of nine. He described hearing other children screaming at night and he himself routinely experienced violence and sexual assault, including being photographed whilst being raped.

LA-A147 was in the care of Lambeth Council in the 1990s and 2000s, from the age of three. Over ten years, she was placed in nine children’s homes and with four sets of foster carers. She described being raped by a foster carer’s teenage son at the age of nine, and was also frequently sexually abused by older men she met whilst in care. By the age of 13, she had developed a drug addiction and was “selling herself” to fund it.

LA-A2 was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977. Lambeth Council did not inform the coroner that he had alleged being sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, his ‘house father’. In the course of Hosegood’s employment at Shirley Oaks, six out of eight children looked after by him and his wife alleged sexual abuse by him.

LA-A7 described sexual abuse by three male members of staff, including two from South Vale. Two of them separately photographed him at their private homes when he was either naked or wearing only his underwear. One of them, Leslie Paul, was convicted of indecent assaults against LA-A7.”

Only six perpetrators prosecuted

Extraordinarily just SIX people have been successfully prosecuted by the police, meaning that hundreds of people must have got away with the vile sexual abuse of children.

All this took place against a background of fraud, corruption, racism, nepotism by both staff and some councillors. Those who tried to stop it were intimidated and threatened. The report shows even two chief executives, Herman Ouseley and Henry Gilby were the subject of intimidation.

Lord Ouseley – staff bugged his home and office when he was chief executive and his family was threatened

“Lord Ouseley described how both his office and home were ‘bugged’ at the instigation of one of his own staff. He also received threats to his family. Mr Gilby’s office was the subject of a serious arson attack. His home and office were broken into and computer records were stolen during a time when he was attempting to deal with corrupt practices. Dame Heather Rabbatts was Chief Executive from 1995 to 2000. She described how she inherited a Council with a culture of “fear and sexism and racism”. No witness identified which individuals or groups were the driving force behind this vicious and regressive culture, but there was little doubt that a succession of leading elected members were mainly responsible, aided and abetted in some instances by self-serving senior officials.”

The inquiry has decided to ask the Met Police to investigate whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation into Lambeth Council’s actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding LA-A2’s death.

Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who is representing the sister of a teenage boy who killed himself in a care home after making allegations of abuse against staff member Donald Hosegood, told Mail On Line: ‘It is clear from today’s report that Lambeth Council deliberately withheld information from the coroner in order to give the impression that our client’s brother was happy in care.”

All in all this report shows why it was necessary to have a full scale inquiry into child sexual abuse – which despite naysayers trying to deny the extent of the problem – was obviously rampant in some parts of the country. The council has apologised .The real tragedy is that so many people have got away with it leaving their victims with broken lives.

The “systemic maladministration ” facing the disabled applying for Personal Independence Payments -official findings

Margaret Kelly Northern Ireland Ombudsman

Northern Ireland ministry and Capita under fire

An absolutely damning report has been issued by Margaret Kelly, the Northern Ireland Ombudsman on the way hundreds of thousands of disabled people between the ages of 16 and 64 are assessed to see if they qualify for personal independence payments.

This two year investigation into the benefit is the first made by the Ombudsman using new powers under Northern Ireland legislation giving their Ombudsman the power to initiate inquiries if the Ombudsman thinks something is going wrong. This type of inquiry would be illegal in England, Scotland and Wales because Ombudsman do not have the same powers.

In Westminster Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is currently refusing to even introduce draft legislation to give Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. similar powers to start his own inquiries.

The findings apply to the 250,580 people who applied for the benefit in Northern Ireland but as the NI Ombudsman’s Office says ” there are many similarities to PIP across other parts of the UK.”

The report – which examined 100 cases in minute detail, made extensive inquiries of the ministry and Capita, and looked at statistics governing appeals concludes there has been ” systematic maladministration” by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities and Capita, who were administering the assessments.

Not “one off mistakes”

The report says these were not one off mistakes. Instead she” identified repeated failures which are likely to reoccur if left unremedied. It is therefore my view that there is more work to be done to improve the experience and outcomes for claimants, the robustness of decision making and public confidence in the system.”

She has made some 33 recommendations and has given the ministry and Capita six months to rectify them. She can’t compel the ministry to implement them but has said she will do a follow up report to see what they have done. The report also went to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Ms Kelly said:
“Too many people have had their claims for PIP unfairly rejected, and then found themselves having to challenge that decision, often ‘in the dark’, and on multiple occasions, while not knowing what evidence has been requested and relied upon to assess their entitlement.

” Both Capita and the Department need to shift their focus to ensure that they get more of the PIP benefit decisions right the first time, so that the most vulnerable people in our society get access to the support that they need, when they need it. Furthermore, it will safeguard public resources by reducing both the time and costs associated with examining the same claim on multiple occasions.”

The report reveals a serious lack of leadership and guidance from the ministry, poor communication with claimants and a failure to get key additional medical information which would have helped them get the benefit. As a result many of them had their applications turned down only to appeal and get the benefit – at a cost of some £14m to the taxpayer. If the ministry and Capita had got the information in the first place there would have not have been the need for an appeal.

Capita had an incentive NOT to get further medical information to help claimants

She also discovered that disability assessors working for Capita had a perverse incentive NOT to get additional information to help the claimant because they would get a bonus if they completed the application quicker and getting extra information slowed down the process.

Capita were also criticised for poor communications with health professionals as well as claimants. When evidence was requested from Health Professionals named by the claimant, the request letters sent by Capita were often poorly completed and did not specify what information was sought.

In face to face assessments, the evidence from the consultations was often the primary and in some cases the only source of evidence relied upon by the Disability Assessors when providing their advice to the Department.

I came across this report because of a link to my blog from UKAJI, the United Kingdom Administrative Justice Unit, who have reviewed the long report. Their article is here.

I concur with their review which was impressed with the high standard of the research and the bar it set for future Ombudsman investigations.

To my mind this again shows the current weakness of the Parliamentary Ombudsman in Westminster. The present Ombudsman can only investigate complaints and therefore is left with a much narrower remit. By having powers to do a broad ranging investigation, much more detail can be investigated and issues that governments don’t want to address can be highlighted. Hence the conclusion in this report that the disabled have been subject not just to maladministration but ” systemic maladministration”. I bet disabled claimants are similarly treated in the rest of the UK but nobody has the resources to properly investigate their poor treatment. Let’s see what happens in Northern Ireland following this devastating report.

Tory MPs “egregious behaviour” in pressurising judges to hide their lobbying for convicted sex offender colleague

Charles Elphicke , former MP and sex offender

If ever there was a case of one rule for the well connected and another for ordinary plebs, the exposure of this ruling out today by the House of Commons Standards Committee is a great example.

It centres round the conviction of Charles Elphicke, the former Tory MP for Dover,  of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in last September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.

The MPs had given glowing character references for Mr Elphicke in the hope of mitigating his sentence and became alarmed when newspapers wanted the judge involved in the case to release the names of everybody who had given character references for him.

So instead of publicly objecting the MPs decided to write on Commons notepaper to Dame Kathryn Thirwall, Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, and Dame Victoria Sharp, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, copied to Mrs Justice Whipple. Mrs Justice Whipple had heard the trial of a former Member, Charlie Elphicke, and was to hear and decide on an application to release the pre-sentencing character references.

Natalie Elphicke MP – organised the letter for her husband

The five Tory MPs were Mrs Natalie Elphicke, the former MP’s wife; Sir Roger Gale, former Cabinet minister, Theresa Villiers, Adam Holloway and Colonel Bob Stewart. Natalie Elphicke organised the letter.

The MPs said  to disclose the references would be a “radical change to judicial practice” which “could have the [sic] chilling effect and harm the criminal justice system”. 

They got a stiff reply from the Private Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales November to the letter stating that “It is improper to seek to influence the decision of a judge in a matter of which he or she is seized in this way. [ … ] It is all the more regrettable when representatives of the legislature, writing as such on House of Commons notepaper, seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary”.

Their names- along with life peer Lord Freud- became public when Mrs Justice Whipple released them in a court ruling.

Theresa Villiers MP – as a barrister should have been aware it was an improper act

The Standards Committee ruled today that what the MPs” by acting as they did risked giving the impression that elected politicians can bring influence to bear on the judiciary, out of public view and in a way not open to others. Such egregious behaviour is corrosive to the rule of law and, if allowed to continue unchecked, could undermine public trust in the independence of judges.”

The committee recommends that three of the MPs Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, and Theresa Villiers be suspended from the House for one sitting day, and should apologise to the House by means of a letter to the Committee.

Sir Roger Gale -Unrepentant ” I would do it again”. Pic credit: Twitter

The other two MPs, Bob Stewart and Adam Holloway – who decided to sign the letter after glancing at it for 20 seconds- should apologise to the House of Commons in a personal statement.

The committee recommends all five Members should also apologise to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales by letter copied to the Committee. The terms of all the apologies (both by letter and by personal statement) should be agreed in advance by Mr Speaker and the Chair of the Committee.

Four of the five MPs have been contrite about bringing Parliament into disrepute after being summoned by the committee – but Sir Roger Gale has refused to apologise and said he would do it again. He told the committee: “I would find a different way of doing it, but would I do it again—would I seek to achieve the same effect? Yes, I would”.

The report points out that Theresa Villiers is an experienced Member of the House, a trained barrister, and a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “We would have expected a Member of her seniority and experience, with legal expertise, to have been particularly aware that her actions in this case were an attempt improperly to interfere in judicial proceedings.”

Earlier this year Lord Freud was ordered by the Lords Commissioner for Standards to apologise and make a statement. A report was published on my blog here.

Parliamentary Ombudsman officially says maladministration over 50s women pensions – but it will still be a long wait for justice

Amanda Amroliwala, Deputy Ombudsman Pic Credit: Parliamentary Ombudsman

Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, today published his report finding there was maladministration by the Department for Work and Pensions in issuing advance warnings over the rise in the pension age for women born in the 1950s and 1960s.

The report – as previously revealed on this website – is little changed from its draft version – and still insists that up to 2005 there was no maladministration over telling the women that their pension age would rise. After that the report says there were delays.

Amanda Amroliwala, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman CEO, said: “After a detailed investigation, we have found that DWP failed to act quickly enough once it knew a significant proportion of women were not aware of changes to their State Pension age. It should have written to the women affected at least 28 months earlier than it did.

‘We will now consider the impact of these failings, and what action should be taken to address them”

The decision to publish the first part of the investigating before announcing whether the women will be compensated is unprecedented. But according to the press office ” this is because it is the most important investigation we have done” and ” there is a lot of public interest”.

The report is now laid before Parliament and MPs will be able to press the government about its findings.

Andrew Gwynne MP

Andrew Gwynne, joint chair of the All Party Group on the State Pension Inequality for Women, said:

This report is a landmark moment in the ongoing fight for 1950s women to receive justice, and a vindication of what campaigners have been saying for years. The PHSO has conducted a thorough investigation of a number of complaints and found that there were failings in the actions of the DWP in communicating changes to State Pension.

The DWP must urgently address these findings and advise 1950s women what actions they will take to right the wrongs committed by successive Governments. For too long 1950s women have been ignored, and this must change.”

The question is now what will happen next. The report is the first part of a three stage process.

What happens next?

The next stage will be to examine how badly the women were affected by this process. According to the press office this may not be just examining how the six complainants were affected but will look wider. It is not clear at this stage how this will be done and how long it will take.

Then there is a third process -deciding how much compensation the women will get. It will be nothing like the sums of money women lost – often adding up to as much as £50,000 – but is more likely to be hundreds or low thousands.

Again it is not clear whether the Ombudsman will publish these two processes separately or just issue a final report.

My guess – and it is only a guess- is that this may take a year.

Even when it is published the Department for Work and Pensions will need time to respond and a lot will depend on the timetable the Ombudsman gives them to respond and compensate people.

If I take previous cases involving the DWP- the six will get their compensation within a month- while the remaining millions will have to wait. Also the Ombudsman cannot compel the DWP to compensate them – but pressure from MPs should ensure that people will eventually get the money.

The 3.8 million women and those born in the 1960s are still a long way from justice despite this ruling today.

Previous stories on my blog on this issue are:

https://davidhencke.com/2021/06/07/exclusive-parliamentary-ombudsman-proposes-to-say-maladministration-by-dwp-over-the-rise-in-the-womens-pension-age/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/06/12/50s-women-pensions-flaws-in-the-parliamentary-ombudsmans-preliminary-maladministration-report/

I haven’t gone into much detail on the report as you would have read it when I published the draft on June 7.

Those who want to see the report It is here.

England’s buses “expensive, unreliable and dysfunctional” – damning findings of a former UN human rights expert

Bus stop image; Pic credit: Pexels Suzy Hazelwood

A report out today by Philip Alston, the former United Nations rapporteur on human rights, condemns the outcome of Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation of the country’s bus services for denying rights to the people of the UK. He came to the UK to interview people about bus services and contacted some of the bus companies.

In a stinging review he finds that many people have lost jobs and benefits, faced barriers to healthcare, been forced to give up on education, sacrificed food and utilities, and been cut off from friends and family because of a costly, fragmented, and inadequate privatized bus service that has failed them.
“Over the past 35 years, deregulation has provided a master class in how not to run an essential public service, leaving residents at the mercy of private actors who have total discretion over how to run a bus route, or whether to run one at all,” said Philip Alston, who authored the report with Bassam Khawaja and Rebecca Riddell, Co-directors of the Human Rights and Privatization Project at New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. “In case after case, service that was once dependable, convenient, and widely-used has been scaled back dramatically or made unaffordable.”

He describes the form of privatisation as the most extreme possible – with the exception of London where Transport for London has overall control of how private operators run services.

He is also critical of the government’s new bus strategy started by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, saying merely tinkers with the existing system, offering ineffective half measures that fail to address the structural cause of the
country’s bus crisis.

Philip Alston getting people’s views at a public meeting in Newham, East London. Pic credit: Bassam Khawaja

Some of the points in the report.

“People living in London, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can get a concessionary pass to travel for free on buses at the age of 60, an important measure that guarantees older people access to transport. But in England outside London, the government has tied the bus pass to the female state pension age—which was changed from 60 to 66, severely penalizing those on the cusp of retirement who had every expectation that they could rely on a pension and a free bus pass in the next phase of their lives. The UK government should rectify this injustice

“The abysmal state of the bus system in many rural areas is perhaps the strongest argument against a deregulated, for-profit approach to public transportation.

” There is no reason why rural parts of the United Kingdom cannot have a functioning bus service. The Zurich region of Switzerland guarantees villages of 300 people or more at least an hourly service seven days a week. In North Hesse, Germany, bus routes reach all communities with more than 200-250 residents on at least an hourly basis, with ambitions to double public transport use by 2030. Notably, none of these systems rely on an unregulated market to provide this essential service.”

He makes a strong case for bus services to be returned to public ownership and for Parliament to lay down minimum standards for the provision of bus services.

This really is a damning indictment of the state of bus services in England and it has human rights implications because women, people with disabilities, the poor and those living in rural areas cannot access services or get jobs because of poor transport. As usual ministers are pretending they provide good services while other similarly rich countries -like Switzerland and Germany -provide services that English people can only dream about. In the meantime the bus operators make good profits by not providing the services they need.

Philip Alston hears from people affected in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Pic credit: Bassam Khawaja

Worst audit report for the Department for Work and Pensions in 33 years

A damning loss of control of Universal Credit payments has meant that the Department for Work and Pensions has received a drubbing from the ministry’s auditors, the National Audit Office, and led to its accounts being qualified for 33rd year in succession.

While the ministry has been praised for its swift response to the pandemic by uplifting Universal Credit by £20 a week and coping with a doubling of people on the benefit, the grim costs to the ministry’s finances are revealed in its annual report.

Overpayments on Universal Credit have skyrocketed, criminal gangs have targeted business payments and the ministry has had to set aside £1 billion to pay 132,000 pensioners who have been underpaid their pensions for up to 30 years.

A new problem of identity theft of some 5000 claimants has also hit Universal Credit leaving some claimants losing benefit for weeks.

Overpayments hit record £8.3 billion

DWP estimates it overpaid £8.3 billion of the £111.4 billion that it spent on benefits in 2020-21, an increase of £3.8 billion on the previous year. The rate of overpayments increased from 4.4% in 2019-20 to 7.5% in 2020-21. Nearly all of the increase in fraud and error was on Universal Credit. DWP estimates it overpaid £5.5 billion of Universal Credit (14.5%) and underpaid £540 million (1.4%).

The NAO reports: “DWP has identified four key fraud and error risks within Universal Credit that it needs to tackle, as they are the largest causes of fraud and error. It is looking to improve controls over incorrectly reported self-employment earnings, savings, living arrangements and housing costs. It has also identified several organised criminal attacks during the pandemic, with fraudsters targeting Universal Credit in particular and making claims in other people’s names.

The Department is owed £5 billion of overpayments, placing additional strain on its resources and potentially causing uncertainty and hardship to claimants. It is not sure how much of its estimated loss of £8.4 billion in 2020-21 it will recover, as it has attempted to recover only 10% of the estimated loss in the last 5 years.”

The ministry is now having to bring in more staff to sort out the fraudulent claims and a criminal investigation has been launched.

On the underpayment of pensions the ministry has promised to pay the people by the end of next year.

Gareth Davies, NAO head ” fraud and error at record levels”

The NAO report says: “The Department commissioned a root cause analysis to understand the cause of these underpayments. This analysis identified a range of process and control issues including poor staff training, instructions and quality review that led to the underpayments. These issues have also affected the Department’s initial work to quantify and rectify errors. The Department has asked the Government Internal Audit Agency to review State Pension legislation to ensure there are no further entitlements that may be underpaid.”

“The impact of this underpayment on the individual pensioners is significant, and it is vital the Department learns lessons to avoid systemic underpayments in the future and correct past underpayments.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:

“I am concerned that the level of fraud and error in the benefits system continues to increase year on year, now reaching its highest level since records began. This has a real impact on public funds and on those who face deductions to their income due to overpayments.

“I recognise that the pandemic and the resulting surge in the number of claimants has increased DWP’s exposure to fraud and error. It must now review all cases that could have been subject to fraud during this time, whilst continuing to progress our past recommendations on how to reduce fraud and error.”

Top retired Cardiologist calls for whistle blowing to be a “routine and acceptable practice” throughout the NHS

Dr David E Ward, retired cardiologist

This is a guest blog by David E Ward, a distinguished retired cardiologist, formerly at St George’s Hospital, South London, in response to my last blog on the case of Dr Chris Day and a series of blogs on the case of Dr Usha Prasad

The treatment of bona fide whistleblowers working in the British NHS is egregious and primitive. This is amply exemplified by many publicised WB cases over the last 2 decades: Dr Raj Mattu, Dr David Drew, Dr Kevin Beatt, Mr Peter Duffy, Dr Chris Day, Dr Usha Prasad and many others (see Google). Just think for a second or two – is it appropriate to threaten the career, the livelihood, the families of these honest doctors who were only doing the “right thing” by drawing attention to what they honestly perceived were remediable shortcomings? In fact, it is required of doctors to report any perceived shortcomings (Hippocratic Oath and all that and more recently with the “Duty of Candour”).

How is it possible – in the democratic UK – to threaten a doctor with such punitive costs that they are forced to withdraw their legitimate claims or risk potential bankruptcy? Isn’t this behaviour something we might associate with some autocracies toward the east? In the case of Dr Chris Day, the sum spent on pursuing (persecuting) him must now be more than £1,000,000! All to extinguish the career of an honest doctor who sought only to improve the care of patients in his unit. Wouldn’t it have been more sensible (litotes here) to spend that huge sum of money on improvements to the unit in question? (see CrowdJustice, http://54000doctors.org/blogs/timeline).

Successive health secretaries did ” little or nothing” to help whistleblowers

Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary now chair of the Commons health and social care committee

Successive Health Secretaries have done little or nothing to support whistleblowers. Jeremy Hunt (yes, he who did so much damage to the NHS; see Caroline Molloy, http://www.openDemocracy essay) asked Sir Robert Francis QC to report on the issue (see Google) but then ignored most of his recommendations or feebly implemented some (for example, the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian which doesn’t really work, to say the least). The last SoS for Health and SC did nothing at all to support WBs to my knowledge (OK, there is a pandemic). The present one has probably never heard of any of the names listed above or even what whistleblowing within the NHS means! What is more disturbing is that other powers-that-be, for example the NHS Medical Director, the Head of the NHS (whoever that will soon be), other Ministers etc, seem to take no interest in this problem, none whatever. The Health and Social Care Select Committee could take an interest but it is chaired by Jeremy Hunt – who is too occupied with his own self-importance and whose record as SoS speaks for itself – so I don’t expect any action there. Perhaps these grandees are too far removed from day-to-day whistleblowing in the NHS. It wouldn’t take much time to find out what is happening at grass roots.

Time to create a public register of whistleblowing cases

Some tentative suggestions:

1. Create a register of WB cases. Whistleblowing investigations are almost invariably secretive. Why? Apart from clinical details what else need to be anonymised? All reported and ongoing whistleblowing cases should be logged in an open and accessible register kept by an independent (is that possible?) body, preferably independent of the Trust and possibly the NHS and its Byzantine structures. Progress of a case should be openly documented and questions may be submitted. Resolved cases would be available, uncensored, for retrospective scrutiny. Openness might deter shady deals behind closed doors (yes, they do happen). Above all the external investigators should be accountable to the Trust and their own professional organisations.

2. Make cost threats unlawful. No Hospital Trust should be permitted to use the threat of costs against a “little person” (i.e., doctor) who cannot possibly equal the financial power of the taxpayer-funded persecution to defend themselves (yes, for it is us, the taxpayer, who pays the bill for the outrageous sums mentioned above to “thwart” the WB but we have no say whatever in the process). If money is to be spent in this process it should be wisely and fairly spent and shared equally between the participants, that is the victim (the doctor) and the aggressor (the Trust).

3. Make Internal hearings demonstrably independent of both parties. All WB cases which are subject to “internal” hearings (for example Maintaining High Professional Standards panels) are vulnerable to potentially corrupt processes (as some of the above cases probably have been). They should be heard by independently appointed persons (this will require some checking because as we have seen not all so-called “independent” chair-persons are quite as independent as they may appear – see Dr Usha Prasad blogs here) and open to external scrutiny by independent authorities or suitably qualified persons. Minutes of internal hearings should be made accessible. (Employment Tribunal proceedings are already largely in the public domain).

Make falsified evidence a criminal offence

4. Make falsification of evidence by either party an offence (I think there is a name for this beginning with “P”). If defence of a whistleblowing claim by a Trust is found to be untrue or contain false or falsified “evidence”, or in some other way is dishonest (there may be some of that in some of the ongoing current cases mentioned above…) there should be appropriate retribution for the Trust and managers involved. Incidentally, it is usually managers who instigate the persecution and recruit the heavy (taxpayer-funded) lawyer-supported defence without accepting any personal responsibilities themselves. Also, the use of public money in this way could be regarded as fraudulent and a misuse of taxpayer funds.

5. Ensure the original WB claim is clearly stated. The original concern which prompted the WB to speak out should be clearly and concisely stated in language that the “man on the Clapham omnibus” (Lord Justice Greer, 1932) can understand. It should never lose its primal status. It defines the whistleblower in the first place. WB have, by definition, concerns about the environment in which they are working. They make what is termed a “protected disclosure” (Protected Disclosures Act 2014, Health Act 2004). It is remarkable that these concerns are not infrequently submerged (or completely forgotten) by the ensuing investigative process – which is often more about the Trust and its managers avenging a perceived insult by the WB than seeking solutions.

Health Trust managers use lawyers to “crush honest doctors”

Lastly, what is it that Trusts’ and their managers are so keen to defend seemingly at any cost? Very expensive lawyers are used to “crush” an honest doctor, the “little person”. A defence possibly costing much more than it would to correct the shortcomings exposed by the WB in the first place. Is it the Trusts’ or its managers’ reputations that are at stake? Would the CQC ratings be adversely affected if the Trust was found to be at fault? Are there hidden misdemeanours which might be revealed? Why do these proceedings always come across as a potential “cover-up” by the Trust? Shouldn’t the grossly disproportionate defensive stance itself raise serious questions worthy of further investigation?

It is high time the treatment of NHS whistleblowers is once again raised at the highest level (for example, in the House of Commons following the example of Sir Norman Lamb, see report above). Too many professional lives (not only doctors but nurses, physios etc) are being destroyed for no good reason. This is bad news at any time but in the middle of a pandemic it is nothing short of scandalous. Whistleblowing in the NHS is not taken seriously enough and may be a factor persuading some doctors to voluntarily leave the profession before time. In an open liberal society with everyone working for the good, “whistleblowing” should be a routine and acceptable practice. Sadly, it is cause of great distress and stigma.

BMA and ex health minister Norman Lamb back whistleblower doctor Chris Day in patient safety battle

Dr Chris Day now being backed and funded by the BMA Pic credit: Twitter

The tables are beginning to turn in a seven year battle which has cost £700,000 so far to the taxpayer between Chris Day, an anaesthetist in an intensive care unit ,employed by Lewisham and Greenwich Health Trust.

The case against the trust and Health Education England has been drawn out over seven years at employment tribunals and appeal tribunals. He was forced into a settlement in which he had to withdraw his allegations of patient safety being at risk at the ICU unit at Woolwich Hospital in return for the trust accepting he had genuine concerns as a whistleblower at Woolwich Hospital between 2013 and 2014. The trust , using expensive lawyers, threatened to land him with huge legal bills if he continued and started cross examining their witnesses. The allegations included poor staff ,patient ratios at the ICU and inadequate medical supervision. He also made the same allegations to Health England Education.

Trust forced him to settle by threatening him with huge legal bills

As he said: “After two and a half days of my six day cross examination I was contacted by my legal team and told that the NHS respondents had decided to inform me of their intention to seek costs for the entire four week hearing if I proceeded to cross examine any of the NHS’s14 witnesses and ended up losing the case,”

He had no option but to withdraw to protect his wife and family from bankruptcy should this threat be carried out.

“real prospect of success” says judge

But he has won the right to get the enforced settlement out aside and take his case to the Court of Appeal. In giving judgement the Rt Hon Lady Justice Ingrid Simler DBE stated in the Order of the Court of Appeal that “I consider this appeal has a real prospect of success. Permission is granted”. Simler LJ is a highly experienced Judge and she was previously the President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Until now he was left with trying to raise money so he could afford to pay the lawyers to fight the trust. In the last week in what amounts to a major change of heart, the British Medical Association has decided to fund his battle. Internal sources say this may be the first time the BMA has decided to fund a doctor in a whistleblowing case.

A BMA spokesperson said:

“Chris’ case has brought into sharp public focus the challenges and adverse experiences which doctors can face when they make public interest disclosures to blow the whistle on safety concerns they identify, in the course of carrying out their job.

“Doctors have a responsibility to raise concerns they have about the safety of their patients and yet too often they are put in the position of having to blow the whistle on organisational failures when the organisation in question fails to act. The BMA’s own research shows a majority of doctors work in a culture of fear and are worried about recrimination if they speak out about patient safety concerns. The BMA has been calling for an open culture, where speaking out is encouraged and supported and where our NHS learns from concerns and errors, to improve safety for patients.

“The BMA carried out a comprehensive external review of its member support services and we are now making significant improvements in how we support whistleblowing cases and indeed all members who raise concerns within the NHS. This includes offering more specialised legal support given the complexity of such cases. We are grateful to Chris and other BMA members for their input to this review. Different processes would have been followed if Chris’s case was to arise today and we are pleased to be able to offer Chris the support he needs in the next stage of litigation in his case as well as in the wider interests of the profession and patient care”.

Chris Day said:

“I am pleased to announce that I will be accepting support from the BMA in the next stage of litigation in my case.

“I have always remained a member of the BMA and it is clear to me that the new leadership at the BMA is committed to supporting me and my family where it is able to do so. The Association has spent considerable time and effort understanding my situation and provided me with expert legal advice as I considered the best way forward.

“I know the BMA has undertaken a great deal of work to consider how it supports whistle-blower cases and it has sought to learn from the past. They have established new arrangements to ensure better support for potential whistle-blowers, including guaranteeing a meeting with a specialist solicitor and case manager that now takes place before any case is considered too weak to proceed or on cases that are initially considered strong enough to proceed where this view subsequently changes.

Sir Norman Lamb. Pic credit: Twitter

“I look forward to working with the BMA. The BMA has a critical role in ensuring that no doctor should ever be forced to choose between their career and the safety of their patients and I would encourage every doctor and medical student to join the BMA and take an active role in shaping their trade union. Doctors need a trade union now more than ever.”

Chris Day has also got the support of Sir Norman Lamb, the former Liberal Democrat health minister, who backed him while he was in government. Sir Norman is now the chairman of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust., the neighbouring trust to Lewisham and Greenwich. Despite some concern in the NHS establishment he is to continue to support Chris Day and will be a witness.

Given the dire findings in the Usha Prasad case with Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust, reported in this blog, this development is the best news a whistleblower doctor can get.

What are journalists telling you about immigrants, asylum seekers and the new arrivals from Hong Kong

Migration Pic credit: Ethical Journalist Network

Migration has always been a controversial issue – even though today’s United Kingdom along with the United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world.

Next Wednesday the Ethical Journalist Network – which aims to improve standards in journalism -is hosting a free top level webinar with outstanding speakers on how the journalists themselves report this issue.

Since most people form their views on migration from newspapers, TV, radio and increasingly from social media, how issues are reported and reflected across the media have never been more important.

If you are interested in the issue or just curious about how the make up of the country is changing post Brexit this webinar is where you can find out what you are being told or what is not being told about today’s migration issues.

It will cover the issue of the arrival of new people to the UK from Hong Kong -probably one of the largest groups of people to come here since the Ugandan Asians were driven out of their country and Afro-Caribbean people were invited to work in Britain from the West Indies.

It will contrast this with the treatment of people who flee across the Channel to the UK- and are now to be housed in substandard conditions and face being exiled to camps abroad under a new Nationality Bill put forward by Priti Patel, the home secretary.

It will also look at the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal which could be repeated when European Union people who did not get settled status here are forcibly deported, denied work and health care.

Chair and Speakers

The event will be chaired by Rizwana Hamid, Director of the Centre for Media Monitoring and EJN UK Committee member.

The speakers are:

Amelia Gentleman is a multi-award-winning journalist who spent six months working on the Windrush scandal for The Guardian which had led to the illegal deportation of Afro Caribbean people who had settled here for decades. She is the author of The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment which details the scandal and the effects it had on people’s lives.

Jamal Osman is a  Somali-born award-winning journalist, broadcaster and filmmaker. He is the Africa Correspondent for Channel Four News and has written articles for The Guardian and reported for Al-Jazeera English. His scoops include interviews with Somali pirates, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group, Al-Shabab, and an exposure of the illegal trade in UN food aid.

Marzia Rango is the data innovation and capacity building co-ordinator at the International Organisation for Migration in Berlin and is currently managing a project focusing on migration across the Mediterranean to Central Europe. She will be able to give an overall picture of the scale of migration.

Benedict Rogers is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch and co-founder and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission. He is a human rights activist and a journalist who has written extensively on the plight of people in Hong Kong where democracy is being suppressed by the Chinese authorities.

Chantal da Silva is a freelance journalist who helped expose the appalling conditions asylum seekers face in Napier Barracks despite attempts by the Home Office to hide what was happening. She works for numerous publications including the Independent, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Channel 4 and many other TV channels. She focuses on immigration rights.

You can register here at the EJN website or directly at Eventbrite here.

A scandalous cover up: The DWP and Ombudsman let down millions of people promised an indexed Guaranteed Minimum Pension for life

Steve Webb, former Liberal Democrat minister, who piloted the change in pension law in 2014

Only two people given a total of £1250 compensation out of millions who lost out

This is a complicated story but bear with me. Under the old pension arrangements (abolished in 2016) employers who decided to contract out of the old SERPS scheme would save on their national insurance contributions (NICs) but promised whatever happened they would still maintain a Guaranteed Minimum Pension for their workers.

But they would not pay for the indexation of the pension once people retired. That money would be paid by the state. and still is for those who have the old state pension.

But from 2016 with the introduction of the new pension that would cease with the exception of people who received an occupational second pension in the public sector – and that includes ministers, MPs, civil servants as well as other public sector workers. This exception even covers any public sector worker who moved abroad to places like Canada and Australia where their basic state pension is frozen.

This change which could lead to people losing thousands of pounds over their retirement – was spotted independently by two knowledgeable people who having got nowhere with the Department for Work and Pensions complained to the Ombudsman. 11.5 million people affected had opted out of the scheme between 1978 and 1997.

Some 21 months ago the Ombudsman reported that they had been right to spot this. The report noted:

“The National Audit Office (NAO) and the Work and Pensions Select Committee considered that the DWP had provided insufficient and limited information to individuals about the potential negative impacts the new State Pension could have, particularly in relation to indexation on the GMP. The NAO said that some people were likely to lose out and could not find the information they needed.

DWP information was misleading

It concluded:

“The DWP communicated the impact of the 2014 Pensions Act legislative change to the public. ln communicating this change, the DWP said that individuals could increase their starting amount of new State Pension. However, people who were to reach SPA shortly after April 2016 were in fact unable to make significant additional NlCs to do this. The DWP’s information was thus misleading.”

Indeed the DWP gave the impression that the change would make a mere 36p a week difference when in fact people, especially women, would lose over their course of their retirement, thousands of pounds. It is very difficult to estimate how much, but a Treasury estimate on how much money those in the public sector will GAIN by keeping this right – suggests, if inflation stays at 2 per cent, it is £13,000 for every man and £18000 for every woman over their average life span. If it is 3 per cent, it is £19,000 for a man and £27,000 for a woman. Not 36p!

Once they had retired they could do nothing about it. The Ombudsman’s report says that between 2016 and today two million people have already been affected. The bulk of the people have still to claim their pension.

The ministry to confuse matters said that the new triple lock provisions for the basic state pension meant that on average people affected would only be between £2 a week worse off and £4 a week better off. But in fact that has nothing to do with the indexation of GMP, it was part of package of measures for the new pension.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

If that change wasn’t bad enough the last 21 months nothing has happened. The Ombudsman made straightforward recommendations and wanted the ministry to report back in three months. He was ignored.

“The DWP should ensure that their literature clearly and appropriately references that some individuals, who have large GMPs and reach State Pension Age in the early years of the new State Pension, may be negatively affected by the changes.
“The DWP should direct individuals to check their circumstances. Further, the DWP should provide details to the public about how they can check their circumstances.. We have recommended that the DWP should ensure that anyone with a complaint of injustice arising from the same maladministration can have their concerns fully considered.”

Ombudsman has no power to compel the DWP to redress the injustice

Well so far the DWP has only offered to produce a fact sheet and not made any attempt to contact a single person who was misled . And the Ombudsman – who has no power to compel people to follow his recommendations – looks like letting them get away with it by agreeing to the offer. So only two people – the complainants Mr Smart and Stephen Kenny – have been compensated -offered £500 and £750 each respectively.

Despite some heroic efforts by Stephen Timms, the chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee and some questions from me the ministry has stonewalled in providing detailed information. Both the Ombudsman and the DWP are also silent on how the law was changed in 2014 -since the money was paid out before under the old system and those in public sector rather than the private sector now get it through their occupational pension.

Some readers might find this story eerily familiar. If you are a 1950s or 1960s woman it sounds like a rerun of the denial of pensions to millions of women between 60 and 66. Misleading information, nobody being told, and then no redress.

But there is also something alarming in this tale for the WASPI women who have placed their faith in the Ombudsman to save them. First compensation for the potential loss of tens of thousands of pounds is just £500 and £750. Secondly it could suggest if maladministration is proven that the DWP will just compensate the six women involved in the complaint and ignore the rest of the 3.8 million. Thirdly it looks like the DWP may ignore the Ombudsman’s recommendations -knowing he can’t compel them to do anything – or make it so difficult and obtuse for the women to claim that they will get nothing. After all you can’t prove you never had a letter!

A thank you to one of my readers Christopher Thompson who contacted me about this and helped with unearthing some of the key facts in this story.