House of Lords approve new compulsory training on behaviour for all peers

Former judge Lord Mance, chair of the Lords Conduct Committee, which proposed the changes Pic credit; June Buck

The House of Lords approved without a vote new rules which will mean that all 798 peers will have to attend behaviour training course or face being reported to the Lords Commissioner for Standards for breaching their code of conduct.

two public dissenters

The scheme had only two public dissenters – both Conservative peers – who claimed it was unnecessary. The move followed a couple of cases in the last year where two former Labour peers were found to have bullied and harassed Parliamentary staff. See my last blog here.

Lord Cormack, a former Tory MP who had a junior job in the Thatcher government said; “Speaking as one who has served in Parliament for over 50 years now, it is a very ​sad day when I am told that I have to be trained on how to behave. That is extremely unfortunate, and I believe that it is unnecessary. “

 … “I regret and deplore it. After all, it is right that people accused of any offence should be appropriately dealt with, but I do not suppose that it would be thought appropriate for your Lordships to be given a course in how not to burgle.”

Lord Balfe, who as Richard Balfe was a former London Labour councillor and a Labour MEP until he switched to the Tories in 2002, called for the House of Lords Conduct committee to reconsider the move.

“I regret the compulsion attached to this training. I have done the training. It was largely irrelevant; most of it was about the House of Commons, or appeared to be.”

Lord Mance, a former judge and deputy president of the Supreme Court, chairs the Lords conduct committee which proposed the compulsory training, received support from a number of other peers who welcomed the move.

He said: “There is, unfortunately, a clear problem, even in this House. People sometimes behave in ways that one may not conceive of oneself, but that are recorded in great detail in the press and in the reports issued by the commissioner. Unconscious attitudes, and lack of consciousness of a problem, are real issues that the Valuing Everyone training is designed to address.”

All peers will have to either have attended or booked a training course by next April. Half of them have already attended one.

Lords behaving badly: “Value Everyone” compulsory training proposed for all peers next week

Changes proposed after two peers in their 70s and 80s were found to have bullied and sexually harassed women

A new report from the House of Lords says all 798 peers must undergo training courses in ” Valuing People” or face sanctions including the withdrawal of services.

And former MPs who become peers will face fresh investigations by the authorities if they face complaints about bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct while they were a Member of Parliament. At present a loophole means if peers are accused of anything while they were an MP they can escape investigation.

These tough new rules from the House of Lords conduct committee come into force next week if the peers vote for the changes. The full report is here. Members have until next April to complete the training. Those who refuse after that date will be referred to the Commissioner of Standards for breaching the code of conduct.

It is against a background of growing number of complaints about the treatment of staff by both MPs and peers. One former Tory MP and minister is under investigation by the Met Police for alleged rape of a staff member at the moment.

In the last year two Labour peers have been investigated by the Lords Commissioner for Standards, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff  TWICE for breaching standards.

18 complaints

Lord Lea of Crondall, 82, as David Lea, a former TUC assistant general secretary, had two reports whose findings were upheld. Altogether it was revealed that since 2011 no fewer than 18 complaints were made against him.

The report said: “They included one instance involving a racially offensive remark, 15 complaints involving shouting at staff, being aggressive and
making unreasonable demands, and one occasion where a woman had been made to feel uncomfortable by Lord Lea’s alleged behaviour.”

champagne and silver gilt framed photo

The complaint from the woman followed a time she accompanied him on a Parliamentary delegation. According to the report :

” Lord Lea made her very uncomfortable by his behaviour
towards her, which included inviting her to his room to share a bottle of
champagne that he had been given. “

He followed it up later when she had left Parliament for a new job . Then “she received a package from Lord Lea at her place
of work that contained a silver-framed photograph of her taken on the official visit. It also contained a letter from Lord Lea explaining, amongst other things, that he keeps a copy of the photo on his piano at his home. He also invited me to visit him at home and referred to finishing “that bottle of champagne.’’

Lord Lea told the Commissioner: “I think she is egging the pudding in some
way. I can’t think of any reason why she should, if she didn’t have some
feelings for me or some other reason to be disturbed.”

The commissioner decided his behaviour did not amount to sexual misconduct or bullying but harassment.

He agreed to take up voluntary a bespoke behaviour management course but immediately ran into trouble when he forgot to inform the security staff that his coach was coming to Parliament so they could let the person in. He took it out on his staff leading to a fresh complaint of bullying which was upheld.

Lord Lea was asked to apologise to the member of staff :

He wrote: “I am not known for being a bully: I acknowledge having been very argumentative— highly audibly so—on that fateful day, concerning the predicament I found myself in regarding the apparent disappearance of my newly appointed trainer and you said you had felt ‘belittled’ as a consequence.”

Sexist and transphobic remarks

Lord Stone of Blackheath,78, a former managing director of Marks and Spencer, has also TWICE been found by the Commissioner to have breached the code of conduct. Complaints by four women were upheld only to be followed by a complaint from a fifth woman about being harassed.

In the first case it included allegations of sexist and transphobic remarks as well as unwanted touching.

Among several alleged incidents recorded by the Commissioner, he told a colleague that she was beautiful “to boost her self-esteem” and grabbed her arm.

He also allegedly stroked another staff member’s arm and said to her that he hoped a document on the bill to outlaw upskirting came with photos.

The second case involved two more complaints from women. He met one young woman at a dinner party and offered her a private tour of Parliament. She came with her cousin. He told her she was ” young and beautiful”.

“Lord Stone greeted her in an overfamiliar manner, kissing her on both cheeks near her mouth, and repeatedly touched her arms and her waist during the tour and while having tea in one of the House’s restaurants.”

Lord Stone told the commissioner that: “He was “upset by the inference
that [his] behaviour toward… was anything other than to try and assist”.
He accepted that “her account is factually accurate” but insisted that “the
connotations of inappropriate behaviour that she makes are wholly inaccurate and seem to me be the product of her imagination.”

He was found to have broken the code by harassment and has taken a bespoke course in behaviour management.

Labour Party suspension

Both peers have been suspended from the Labour Party. Half the members of the House of Lords have voluntarily attended the course already. The full list is here.

It is an extraordinary situation that in the times we live that such courses are needed, let alone deemed compulsory. One would have thought that people when they join the House of Lords would know that bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are out of order. But perhaps not.

Search for Justice: New Podcast on the 50s women struggle for their delayed pensions

BackTo60 at the Royal Courts of Justice before the pandemic set in. They are now applying to appeal to the Supreme Court after losing their judicial review

I have given a long interview to Dave Niven, one of the country’s leading figures on the safeguarding of children, for socialworldpodcast on the issue of justice for the 50swomen. This podcast is aimed at the social work and caring professions and is watched by 2000 people in the field.

Dave contacted me after a gap of over 20 years because he had seen my writing on the plight of the 50s born women and wanted me to do an interview for his podcast. We last collaborated on a story in the 1990s when I was on The Guardian though both of us can’t remember what the story was exactly about.

He now runs his own consultancy, David Niven Associates (info@dnivenassociates.co.uk) which provides media training, and consultancy on child protection and safeguarding.

The podcast can be listened to here. That is the link to his site where you will also find other podcasts.

regular series of podcasts

It is part of a regular series of weekly podcasts on Thoughts on the Social World. Previous people who have been interviewed include Jim Gamble, a former national policing lead for child protection and the architect and CEO of the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. He is now  CEO of the INEQE Safeguarding Group. http://www.ineqe.com

He also recently interviewed Christopher Lamb, a former Australian ambassador and chief diplomat with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva. He is now an adviser.to IFRC and the Australian Red Cross.

My own interview covers the case I have made on my blog for justice and proper equality for the 50swomen. I also talk about the exposures I did on The Guardian which led to the resignation of Tory ministers Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith over the “cash for questions” scandal in the 1990s and the first resignation of Peter Mandelson from the Labour government over his hidden ” home loan” to buy a posh pad in Notting Hill. And also my award winning story on how the former head of the Student Loans Company devised a scheme for legitimate tax avoidance which led to the government discovering that they had 2500 civil servants doing the same thing.

Former Minister X v. Ryan Giggs and Sir Philip Green : Parliamentary hypocrisy or protecting a complainant?

Parliamentary Privilege: All right for some

Today I am reproducing a blog by Alistair Parker, a solicitor, with the firm, Brett Wilson LLP, a specialist media and professional litigation solicitors, on the issue surrounding the former Tory minister under police investigation for the alleged rape and sexual assault of one of his female staff.

My position has been that he should not be named – solely to protect the claimant who requested anonymity not to spare him embarrassment. But what this article highlights is the hypocrisy over the use of Parliamentary privilege by MPs – they use Parliamentary Privilege to name other prominent people, whether it is a famous footballer or a well known businessman, knowing they cannot be sued. But when it is one of their own the shutters come down and Parliament protects them as they are supposed to be honourable members.

The irony is that probably every MP and every lobby journalist knows his name but keeps quiet – perhaps only telling curious close friends. Thanks to Brett Wilson LLP for giving me permission to reproduce the blog. The link to their media blog is here.

Suspect anonymity: The hypocrisy of parliamentary privilege – Alistair Parker

1 August 2020 marked the parliamentary revelation that a sitting MP had been arrested by police on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and controlling and coercive behaviour. All offences were alleged to have taken between July 2019 and January 2020 against the MP’s former staffer. Police confirmed the suspect was a male Tory in his 50s, and a former minister. Subject to police guidance, the name of the man was not revealed. This is because he has not been charged and is still under investigation, with a police bail date now extended until early November 2020. 

A man suspected of a serious sexual offence therefore remains a serving MP. He has not had the Tory whip removed or been sanctioned at all, (apparently) for fear that this would identify him. Indeed, his anonymity has been carefully guarded by all sides of the House. Is this a proper observance of the right to pre-charge anonymity, or can we detect a whiff of hypocrisy?

Parliamentary privilege, which by Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 guarantees that “the freedom of speech and debates of proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament”, has long allowed members of Parliament, be they in the Commons or the Lords, to name criminal suspects in these situations.

Both peer and MPs have on occasion exploited this privilege, even identifying individuals who were protected by court injunctions:-

In 2011, then Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named Ryan Giggs as the footballer who secured an anonymised injunction to prevent publication of allegations he had an affair with a former reality TV star.

Also in 2011, Mr Hemming revealed that the banker Sir (as he then was) Fred Goodwin had obtained a super-injunction protecting his identity in relation to an alleged extra-marital affair. The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham poured oil on the fire adding “How can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague?” he asked. “If true it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would know about it.”

In October 2014, Labour MP Jimmy Hood used parliamentary privilege to make serious accusations against Sir Leon Brittan (both have since passed away). Mr Hood said “By the way, the current expose of Sir Leon Brittan, the then home secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children will not come as a surprise to striking minors of 1984”. Sir Leon was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing once it was finally established these allegations were among the prolific lies of Carl Beech. 

In November 2018, Labour peer Lord Hain used Parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip Green as the ‘anonymous businessman’ who had used Non-Disclosure Agreements in settling numerous claims of bullying and sexual harassment with five complainants. This was despite the fact the High Court had maintained the injunction preventing publication of Sir Philip’s name and also that two of the five complainants supported this. We wrote about this matter at the time

The past decade therefore shows that UK politicians, in both houses, have been prepared to use Parliamentary privilege even when it:-

– Breaches civil court orders with impunity,
– Reveals personal details such as extra-marital affairs of high profile individuals, and
– Names a suspect in a serious criminal investigation, where the allegation turned out to be provably false.

Fast forward to the present day: The complainant of ‘Former Minister X’ has apparently been lobbying for his identification by urging MPs and peers to use parliamentary privilege to put his name into the public domain. If this is true, she is doing so despite the strong chance it will result in her own identification.

However, this led to an unprecedented response last week, when the Speaker of the House stepped in to urge MPs not to do so. Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned MPs that “while the investigation is ongoing, I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate for any further reference to be made to this matter in the House, including an attempt to name the member concerned.”

Sir Charles Walker MP: Former chair of the procedure committee which ruled MPs who are arrested should not be named Pic credit: Twitter

Indeed, back in February 2016, the cross-party Procedure Committee voted to end the tradition of the automatic naming of any MP who had been arrested. Its Chairman at the time, Tory MP Charles Walker said that MPs “should have the same rights to privacy as any other citizen, and in future their names should not be put in the public domain if they were arrested, unless this was directly connected to their role as an MP”. It seems Mr Walker had not considered the irony that the right to privacy of “any other citizen” can be trampled on via the use of parliamentary privilege. 

The conclusions we can draw are that, in the last decade, various parliamentarians have been happy to use parliamentary privilege to name and shame those being investigated for crimes and those embroiled in personal civil proceedings – even where they have court orders protecting their anonymity. However, when the ‘shoe is on the other foot’ and the accused party is himself a parliamentarian, it seems the House of Commons is a zealous believer in the right of pre-charge anonymity.

In simple terms, if you are being investigated of a crime, then any parliamentarian can publicly name you without any consequence to themselves. But if you name a parliamentarian who is in a similar predicament, get ready for formal legal consequences.

Although the identity of “Former Minister X” remains a mystery, surely the pattern of politicians protecting themselves could not be any clearer.

British stalkers and abusers rejoice: Life will get easier in Europe after Brexit

Government Campaign Poster on Domestic Abuse

Imagine you are being pursued by a stalker or an abusive ex. You get a court order or an injunction to stop them pursuing you. You decide to take a break to get out of the country and away from it all . Your abuser follows you abroad and starts to pester you. You call the local police.

If that happened now a European directive would allow you immediately to invoke the order in 27 countries and the person would be arrested and would likely end up in jail.

But from January 1 the order you obtained from a British court will no longer be recognised and you will have to start from scratch if you want your abuser to be stopped. And the change is coming just as good legislation under the Domestic Abuse Bill will give courts new powers to stop abusers – mainly but not exclusively men – harassing you on pain of being jailed.

Details of this state of affairs has come to light in an obscure report to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee. The issue was thought to be so minor that neither the EU nor the UK thought it worth even discussing in their negotiations – which shows you how low down the agenda domestic abuse is for top officials.

Victims Right Directive

The directive – known as the Victims Rights Directive -allowed any UK court order including restraining and stalking orders to be automatically applicable in the 27 EU countries, including when a person was on holiday there, without having to resort to separate civil action.

It has actually taken a committed Brexiteer – Bill Cash as chair of the committee – to raise the issue at all.

He writes in a report:

“From 1 January 2021, it will no longer be possible for orders made by UK courts to safeguard an individual against a criminal act that may endanger their life, physical, psychological or sexual integrity, dignity or personal liberty to be recognised and enforced in a foreign jurisdiction if that individual moves (even temporarily) to an EU Member State.”

Domestic Abuse Bill

 Her added: “There will no longer be a relatively simple mechanism for ensuring, for example, that the domestic abuse protection orders envisaged in the Domestic Abuse Bill will be recognised and enforced within the EU.”

The junior minister in the Justice department, Alex Chalk, also confirmed this.

“There is “no comparable fallback option” after transition as the European Protection Order is “a unique European Union law-based mechanism”. As a consequence, “an individual seeking a protective order after transition will need to secure a domestic (civil) protection order from the EU Member State that they are visiting.”

Frankly it seems extraordinary that this issue has been overlooked. As it is this measure is very simple – allowing British law to be extended to 27 countries to protect British citizens. Yet we are throwing this away on January 1 for the sake of ideology. I have written about this measure for Byline Times earlier this month.

There is a glimmer of hope that the matter could be taken up by the Women and Equalities Committee in Parliament or the Joint Committee on Human Rights. But sadly there is very little time to do anything about it. Ministers have promised to include the provision in domestic law – so people will have to have a staycation to stay safe.

How internet innovation could sound the death knell for trolls and pedlars of fake news

I am reprinting this article by an Irish academic because it not only finds a way of dealing with major providers like Facebook and Google harvesting personal data for financial gain but could help stop anonymous attacks on people and organisations by spreading hate and fake news.

It has struck me for some time that some of the most vile attacks on people – whether on anti semitism,or directed at survivors of child sexual abuse, on Brexit or the 50s born women courageously fighting for a pension come from anonymous accounts which can’t be easily verified.

This proposes a new way of identifying people before they can get on the internet without the whole system being controlled by the state.

It would stop attempts by people – particularly by those who support paedophiles and regularly abuse child sex survivors on line – being able to hide behind anonymous Twitter handles or claim websites they run are not their responsibility.

And it would make it much easier for the police and other regulatory authorities to identify people behind these attacks and prosecute if necessary. It is an interesting read.

Four ways blockchain could make the internet safer, fairer and more creative

Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock

Hitesh Tewari, Trinity College Dublin

The internet is unique in that it has no central control, administration or authority. It has given everyone with access to it a platform to express their views and exchange ideas with others instantaneously. But in recent years, internet services such as search engines and social media platforms have increasingly been provided by a small number of very large tech firms.

On the face of it, companies such as Google and Facebook claim to provide a free service to all their users. But in practice, they harvest huge amounts of personal data and sell it on to others for profit. They’re able to do this every time you log into social media, ask a question on a search engine or store files on a cloud service. The internet is slowly turning into something like the current financial system, which centrally monitors all transactions and uses that data to predict what people will buy in future.

This type of monitoring has huge implications for the privacy of ordinary people around the world. The digital currency Bitcoin, which surfaced on the internet in 2008, sought to break the influence that large, private bodies have over what we do online. The researchers had finally solved one of the biggest concerns with digital currencies – that they need central control by the companies that operate them, in the same way traditional currencies are controlled by a bank.

Bitcoin was the first application of a blockchain, but the technology shouldn’t stop there. AnnaGarmatiy/Shutterstock

The core idea behind the Bitcoin system is to make all the participants in the system, collectively, the bank. To do this, blockchains are used. Blockchains are distributed, tamper-proof ledgers, which can record every transaction made within a network. The ledger is distributed in the sense that a synchronised copy of the blockchain is maintained by each of the participants in the network, and tamper-proof in the sense that each of the transactions in the ledger is locked into place using a strong encrypting technique called hashing.

More than a decade since this technology emerged, we’re still only beginning to scratch the surface of its potential. People researching it may have overlooked one of its most useful applications – making the internet better for everyone who uses it.

Help stamp out hate

In order to use services on the internet such as social media, email and cloud data storage, people need to authenticate themselves to the service provider. The way to do this at the moment is to come up with a username and password and register an account with the provider. But at the moment, there’s no way to verify the user’s identity. Anyone can create an account on platforms like Facebook and use it to spread fake news and hatred, without fear of ever being identified and caught.


Read more: Now there’s a game you can play to ‘vaccinate’ yourself against fake news


Our idea is to issue each citizen with a digital certificate by first verifying their identity. An organisation like your workplace, university or school knows your identity and is in a position to issue you with a certificate. If other organisations do the same for their members, we could put these certificates on a publicly accessible blockchain and create a global protected record of every internet user’s identity.

Since there’d be a means for identifying users with their digital certificate, social media accounts could be linked to real people. A school could create social media groups which could only be accessed if a student had a certificate issued to them by the school, preventing the group being infiltrated by outsiders.

Never forget a password again

A user could ask for a one-time password (OTP) for Facebook by clicking an icon on their mobile phone. Facebook would then look up the user’s digital certificate on the blockchain and return an OPT to their phone. The OTP will be encrypted so that it cannot be seen by anyone else apart from the intended recipient. The user would then login to the service using their username and the OTP, thereby eliminating the need to remember passwords. The OTP changes with each login and is delivered encrypted to your phone, so it’s much more difficult to guess or steal a password.

Vote with your phone

People are often too busy or reluctant to go to a polling station on voting days. An internet voting system could change that. Digital currencies like Zerocash are fully anonymous and can be traced on the blockchain, giving it the basic ingredients for a voting system. Anyone can examine the blockchain and confirm that a particular token has been transferred between two parties without revealing their identities.

Blockchain could ensure more people are able to vote. TarikVision/Shutterstock

Each candidate could be given a digital wallet and each eligible voter given a token. Voters cast their token into the wallet of their preferred candidate using their mobile phone. If the total number of tokens in the wallets is less than or equal to the number issued, then you have a valid poll and the candidate with the most tokens is declared the winner.

No more tech companies selling your data

People use search engines everyday, but this allows companies like Google to gather trends, create profiles and sell this valuable information to marketing companies. If internet users were to use a digital currency to make a micropayment – perhaps one-hundredth of a cent – for each search query that they perform, there would be less incentive for a search company to sell their personal data. Even if someone performed a hundred search queries per day they would end up paying only one cent – a small price to pay for one’s privacy.

Blockchain technology started as a means for making online transactions anonymous, but it would be shame for it to stop there. The more researchers like me think about its potential, the more exciting possibilities emerge.

Hitesh Tewari, Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Theresa May’s mental health act reform: Warm words but scant action

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

You may well have missed it under the Brexit deluge but Theresa May announced a major reform of the Mental Health Act this month – the first for 30 years.

Sir Simon Wessely, a tame report on reviewing the mental health act

She had commissioned Sir Simon Wessely, Regius Professor of Psychiatry at King’s College London and president of the Royal Society of Medicine to examine the legal state of Britain’s mental health system.

His report came out earlier this month. Frankly it is full of warm words but proposes scant action and dumps the problem of better treatment for mental health patients on the NHS.

The good part of his report is that it does give better rights for patients held under community treatment orders. and some useful changes when mental patients die in police custody including restoring non means tested legal aid to challenge the authorities.

The bad part of his report is that it fails to offer a solution to what is one of the most glaring problems in the mental health service – the vast number of Afro-Caribbeans who are sectioned compared to the majority white population.

It acknowledges it exists and in his introduction Sir Simon Wessely quotes the view of one ethnic minority person who told him “for a black person, a psychiatric hospital is seen as the place where they drug you up, and at worst even kill you”.

He goes on to confirm that nothing much has changed in 30 years.

“it is sad to record that little has changed. There does appear to be more consensus that this increase is real, and not an artefact, and also that it is related to experiences of discrimination, exclusion and racism. There is also consensus that even taking this into account, the use of coercion is far greater in this population, finding its most painful expression in the statistic that those of black African or Caribbean heritage are over eight times more likely to be subjected to Community Treatment Orders than those of white heritage. In other words, too often and in too many areas the experiences of those of black African and Caribbean heritage is one of either being excluded or detained.”

He then admits institutional racism exists even if it is unconscious but the main body of the 307 page report does not address the issue of why psychiatrists accept that Afro-Caribbeans are eight times more likely to be schizophrenic or suffer from psychosis than anyone else. Nor does it propose any remedies for this particular problem. You can read the report via this link.

institutional racism

As Suman Fernando,a psychiatrist and author of a major work on institutional racism , put it:

Suman Fernando. Pic credit: http://www.sumanfernando.com

” The first question to be asked is whether this report would have had the same approach to ‘race’ if the victims of institutional racism had not been ‘black and minority ethnic’ people but a white minority / majority group?   The issue here is about white privilege and power. And the question arises as to how this systemic failure of an official report has come about.  Second, who carries responsibility for the failure of this report to have race on its agenda for change? “

He concludes:” This Review has raised false hopes in the minds and hearts of many black people “

Consultations on this report will begin in the New Year with legislation to follow. But it will get nowhere without a big commitment to resources and a change of culture and attitudes by psychiatrists treating patients.

As Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman put it: “In the Government’s response to the Review, there must be a commitment to invest more money to support those at crisis point and help people before they reach crisis point. The Conservatives to date have failed to adequately invest in Mental Health. Without strong goals and commitments from the Government, rising detention rates will not be adequately challenged.”

tame conclusions

My conclusion is that both Theresa May and Simon Wessely are speaking from the same song book. They are prepared to speak warm words about the problem but are not prepared to take radical action to solve it. No wonder he can calmly state that no political influence was brought to bear on the report. It wasn’t necessary given its tame conclusions.

Fifty Shades of Child Abuse: How a brave survivor is pioneering a fight back in Cumbria

Resilience Film 2

A snapshot from the Resilience film being shown across Cumbria

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Cumbria is amongst the first regions in England to try and tackle the poisonous chalice of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including child sexual and physical abuse using medical science developed in the United States and extensively trialled in Southern California and now here in the UK.

The Cumbria community initiative, known as The Cumbria Resilience Project, comes from a 61-year-old survivor himself – a victim of the notorious paedophile and abuser John Allen – sentenced to life imprisonment on 33 counts of sexual abuse against 19 boys and one girl- aged between 7 and 15 – while running a children’s home in North Wales. Allen like so many paedophiles denied all of this and claimed the people making the allegations all wanted to make money. But the jury at Mold Crown Court disagreed.

The  anonymous survivor has just written a very readable  book – available from Amazon here for £7.99p  – Aces in the shadows – Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences.

He thought he might call it 50 Shades of ACEs because of sadly the variety of adversity, including physical, sexual, and bullying abuse (some inflicted by other traumatised children as well as adults) which damages thousands of children in their homes, schools, places of safety and in war zones and among refugees.

ACEs science comes from a health questionnaire used in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACEs Study, which is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being in the USA, can now be used by GP’s and trained counsellors to act as a gauge on how deeply traumatised children and adults have become following adverse childhood experiences through abuse, neglect and household challenges, often caused by members of their family, teachers, children’s home staff , and priests leading to perpetual mental and physical health outcomes in later life including Cancer, Ischemic heart disease, Liver disease, Alcoholism, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Depression.

The science, now accepted by the World Health Organization (WHO), shows beyond any doubt that a child’s growing brain can be arrested by such traumatic experiences, but the brain’s plasticity and the building of resilience can help people recover in later life. The book includes views from three professionals, Al Coates MBE, a social worker; Judy James, a coach-therapist; and Laura McConnell, a teacher and ADHD campaigner, on how to tackle this. The survivor adds his own views.

With a score of 10 ACEs, the anonymous survivor has endured it all – three marriages, fathered eight children, 40 sexual partners, 34 homes, two bankruptcies, copious drink and sleeping pills and a range of health conditions. Only the unconditional love of his third wife helped pull him through after years of therapy.

His psychiatrist diagnosed that he suffers from complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – something ( which I will return in a later blog) the authorities don’t wish to know about because of the expense of treating it. He concludes : ” I do not believe however he is likely to make a complete or rapid recovery because of the duration of his symptoms since childhood.”

The good news is that such episodes have become rarer while the work he is doing in Cumbria is growing beyond anything he could have expected.

” Cumbria might appear to be a beautiful place but behind the beauty are some of the highest numbers of sexual and domestic violence offences in the country,” he told me.

The Cumbrian Resilience Project has already attracted more than 300 members belonging to its closed social media forum. It also has free viewings of a film called RESILIENCE – The Biology of stress and the science of hope which explores the damage done to the body by the toxic trauma of  repeated adverse childhood experiences as a child and puts forward a scientific way of tackling it. Film showings this autumn will be in Carlisle, Penrith, Workington, Barrow, Eden Valley and Kendal to name but a few.

Interest has been shown by Cumbria Police, Cumbria NHS and across the care sector and the project founder is planning ACEs awareness training sessions for parents, social and care workers, and all frontline staff so they can understand what is needed to help children and adults affected by ACEs. Sessions this year are being held in Workington, Carlisle, Penrith and Barrow.

The project relies enormously on volunteers and survivor champions. But I hope when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) moves on to discuss how to help survivors that projects like these (they are more widespread in Scotland) are advocated on a national level. The author is a Core Participant in the inquiry and hopes to have the opportunity to raise issues of ACEs at the inquiry later in the year.

Among the supporters of the project are Graham Wilmer, who runs the Lantern Project on the Wirral :

He says: “There are people out there who are trying very hard to undermine the courageous efforts of survivors of child abuse to come forward and give their testimony. Some of these individuals claim to be survivors themselves, others include a diverse range of individuals, some professionals, others just perhaps misguided folks without much else to do, who, through the advent of social media, believe they have a right to call out and abuse anyone they want to, simply because they can.

“That will change, but, in any case, they matter not. It is the voices of those who had the courage to speak truth to power that will be remembered, not the voices of those who tried to stop them.”

Another is Dr Wendy Thorley who described the book as a ” An open and unrestricted account of the impact on ACEs for not only children but adults. The bravery of the author to put this in the public arena is not unrecognised.”

I would recommend it – the author does not go for intellectual sophism – but is direct, honest and tells the unvarnished truth – and it is all the better for that.

Race equality groups seek big changes to the mental health act to end stereotyping and over-medication

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Sir Simon Wesseley, planning to report on reviewing the mental health act later this year

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While Theresa May is battling to hold her line on Brexit her almost unreported initiative to reform the mental health act is leading to demands for the government to introduce radical reforms for treatment and new rights for patients.

A submission from Race on the  Agenda and the Race Equality Foundation to the review  by Sir Simon Wesseley, set up by Theresa May to look into why so many black Afro Caribbean people were being detained in mental hospitals and the need for changes to the Act. It also comes against a disturbing background of deaths in police custody.

The submission has been backed by the Runnymede Trust;Patrick Vernon OBE, Chair of the Labour Party’s Race Equality Advisory Group, writer Amy Kenyon and Professor Rachel Tribe, of the School of Psychology at the University of East London among others.

NEED FOR BIG CHANGES

The Downing Street interim report  contained many warm words but not a lot of action. It stated: “Experience of people from black African and Caribbean heritage are particularly poor and they are detained more than any other group. Too often this can result in police becoming involved at time of crisis. The causes of this disparity are complex.” The  full report  and details of its members  and terms of reference is available here.

Now the submission to the inquiry proposes major changes to tackle the problem. The link to it is here. The main proposals are:

1. The Mental Health Act (the Act) should set out principles that define human rights, anti-discriminatory practice and a commitment to combat institutional racism.
2. The Act should be amended to include a clause that states explicitly that a diagnosis for a ‘mental disorder’ must take account of the patient’s social and cultural background. And the Act should allow for appeals against diagnoses via a Tribunal, with a panel that includes experts from BAME backgrounds.
3. Patients detained under the Act should be empowered to choose which carers or family members have a say in their care and can support them during an appeals process.
4. A new system of appeal whenever a new diagnosis is applied and/or continued, to a tribunal-like body, with the right of the patient concerned to have legal representation at the hearing.
5. All mental health service providers should be set targets to reduce the use of Community Treatment Orders and minimize racial inequalities in their use. This should be monitored by the Care Quality Commission  during inspections. Specific amendments in relation to supervised treatment in the community should be made to ensure this is statutory.
6. Statutory bodies should be regularly inspected by the CQC or other appropriate body to ensure that training of professionals working in mental health services addresses issues of racial bias and cultural competence.

The  submission  says: “:We were glad to see an emphasis on the urgent need to address the disproportionate number of people from black African and Caribbean backgrounds being detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA).

Equally, we were unsurprised that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) focus group participants highlighted a lack of cultural awareness in staff and a need for culturally appropriate care as paramount. We would express concerns about racism, stigma, stereotyping and overmedication. We hope that these findings will guide and underpin the recommendations made in the final report ”

It is to be hoped that Sir Simon and Theresa May do take action to remedy these many faults in the system. Otherwise it will be another case of political posturing  like help for the ” just about managing” which has so far amounted to warm words and little else.

There were concerns expressed at the recent conference organised by Rota at the University of East London that little would really be done to tackle this. If little happens it will only make matters worse and there is a need for strong campaign to make sure Downing Street does really listen.

Theresa May’s risky gamble with reforming an ” institutionally racist” mental health act

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Sir Simon Wessely, chair of the mental health review

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With very little publicity and dwarfed by Brexit  Theresa May has committed herself to a major reform of the Mental Health Act. Last year she convened a meeting at Downing Street and appointed a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Sir Simon Wessely. to conduct a review.

This month it published an interim report with a lot of warm words, some constructive proposals and a public admission that far too many people were locked up and a disproportionate number were from  the black and ethnic minority communities. A report in the Guardian on  May 1 highlighted some of the issues.

This Friday the charity Race on the Agenda  will host a conference at the University of East London on the  Stratford campus tackling the issues head on by addressing the issue of institutional racism in the mental health service.

They will have a lot to go from the interim review report which firmly  puts the case for change by highlighting the poor  and  often inhumane treatment of people of black African and Caribbean heritage in the worse case scenarios results in deaths in police custody.

It also appears to want to redress the balance between the role of the police and the NHS.

The interim report states: “Experience of people from black African and Caribbean heritage are particularly poor and they are detained more than any other group. Too often this can result in police becoming involved at time of crisis. The causes of this disparity are complex.” The  full report  and details of its members  and terms of reference is available here.

Among some of the salient points raised include phasing out the use of police cells to detain mentally ill people and using ambulances rather than police cars to transport mentally ill  people and increasing NHS involvement by looking at NHS England taking responsibility for  commissioning of health services in police custody.

This week’s conference will  go further than the report by looking at the culture and attitudes towards black people – the stereotyping, unconscious bias  and sometimes politically incorrect racism – as well as the role psychiatry has in defining who is mentally ill.

So why should this be a risky gamble for Theresa May ? The answer is the countervailing trends in society which could mitigate against reform.

First there is austerity. The state of some mental health hospitals , including one not far from the conference in Tottenham, have to be seen to be believed because there isn’t the money to provide adequate services. Thus all the reforms in the world could fall down because there are not the staff nor proper facilities to help people.

Then there is current hostile environment which led to the Windrush scandal , the rise of Islamaphobia and the Prevent strategy  which creates a climate of fear and fuels latent racism and fear among the white community of “the other”. The fight against terrorism can morph into discrimination against  particular ethnic groups in society.

So in the worst case scenario all Theresa May will be left with is warm words and no action – which, given the hope rising from the mental health act review, could make matters worse than they are now.

That is why it is important that conferences looking at issues the report may find difficult to confront – such as institutional racism – are being held and issues thoroughly aired.