Finally shopworkers to get more protection: Tougher law for those who attack them

In the dying days of last week’s Parliament the government finally quietly agreed that shopworkers alongside other workers who serve the public should get greater protection from abusive customers.

USDAW campaign poster

Ministers are using the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill to make it an aggravated offence to assault or abuse people who are serving the public. At present it is up to the judges’ discretion whether it is under the present sentencing guidelines.

It follows years of campaigning by USDAW, the retail workers union, to get more protection for shopworkers and growing evidence, sadly, of more violence, abuse and threats, from customers to staff.

The government chose the House of Lords to amend the bill last Wednesday night.

Baroness Williams., minister of state at the Home Office: Official portrait

Baroness Williams of Trafford, a junior home office minister, said: “The amendment places in statute the aggravating factor applied by the courts in cases of assault where an offence is committed against those providing a public service, performing a public duty or providing a service to the public.

…..”This includes assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding and threats to kill, as well as an inchoate offence in relation to any of these offences. These are the assault offences most likely to be experienced by front-line workers. Importantly, the provision also allows the court to apply the aggravating factor to any other offence, where the court considers this factor relevant.”

“This amendment will reinforce in statute the seriousness with which the courts should treat these offences. It will send a very strong signal to the public that assaults of this kind are totally unacceptable. The Government want to ensure that all those who serve the public can feel protected from abuse when working.”

Baroness Trafford added: “

“During the pandemic we have all seen some appalling stories of how shop workers have been treated. USDAW has been really good in standing up to that.

I pay tribute to John Hannett, the former general secretary of USDAW, to Paddy Lillis, the present general secretary, to the staff and to the many hundreds of thousands of USDAW members who have not let this issue rest. I also pay tribute to some really good employers, the supermarkets that understand the problems their staff have. The Co-op, Tesco and many others have stood up and backed the union and its members. This amendment has also been led by the work of Daniel Johnson MSP in Scotland. He got his Private Member’s Bill through last year. “

Lord Vernon Coaker, official portrait

The move was welcomed by all peers include Lord Coaker, who as Vernon Coaker was Labour MP for Gedling in Nottinghamshire, and an USDAW member, who proposed a specific offence to protect shopworkers resulting in one year’s imprisonment.

The union itself described it as ” a step in the right direction” after years of campaigning for it.

Former Tory minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: ” That is against a background of 455 security incidents a day, according to the BRC,[British Retail Consortium] and very few prosecutions.

Inadequate police response

“The police response to these incidents has historically been inadequate. We need to ensure that the police have the right resources and can put a higher priority on prosecuting these retail crimes. This is particularly important given the role of retail workers in enforcing Covid restrictions such as masks, but also in addressing knife crime and shoplifting23>

She succeeded, in getting a promise from the minister to review how the new measures were working in a year’s time.

This was backed up by Lord Dholakia, a Liberal democrat peer, who said: “forces such as Thames Valley Police inform local shops that they will not send out officers to deal with shoplifters who steal less than £100-worth of goods. How can this foster trust and build confidence? It cannot; it means that many businesses feel as if they are alone in this fight—a fight that is a risk to their very business.”

Natalie Bennett Green P:arty peer

Green Party peer Baroness Natalie Bennett also pressed the minister whether the change in the law would cover threats over the phone or on line. The minister thought it would.

One extraordinary omission in this debate was any reference to the fact that Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, is about to submit an application from the United Kingdom to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.

This change in the law speaks directly to both the spirit and letter of the new convention and will certainly be used as an example that the UK is complying with it. Yet it seemed to have passed ministers and peers by. Perhaps this government is so disjointed that Therese Coffey has not talked about it with Priti Patel, the home secretary. Given all the furore on everything else perhaps she forgot to tell her.

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The cheapskate botched and useless investigations into child sexual abuse by Leicestershire Police that led to no timely prosecution of Greville Janner

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry keeps private more detailed report to protect victims

Another coruscating report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has condemned Leicestershire Police and Leicestershire County Council for their handling of allegations from survivors of abuse.

Following damning reports by the inquiry into Rochdale, the London borough of Lambeth, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, a picture is now emerging across many parts of England of failures among the police, social services and the churches to tackle this problem with thousands of survivors being let down by authorities that should have protected them.

The national press and the BBC have rightly highlighted the failures of the police and the council to adequately investigate claims by survivors yet again in cases of historic child sexual abuse.

However it is in the mind blowing detail of the report that exposes how incompetent the police and council were in handling the investigations. It reveals a picture of quarrelling under resourced police officers, hiding of key evidence, and a difference of approach to investigations into a VIP figure, Lord Janner, from other less prominent people.

Police incompetence

The report shows there were two separate police investigations into child sexual abuse by Leicestershire Police – one in 2000 Operation Magnolia – into abuse at two children’s homes and the second -Operation Dauntless in 2005 – into specific complaints against Greville Janner. The first also involved Lord Janner though it was mainly directed at suspected staff in the homes.

The initial budget for the first operation was just £10,000- and it kept being paused as investigating officers were put on other police work including murders.

The inquiry reports: “Detective Constable (DC) Nigel Baraclough, one of the team of officers involved in Operation Magnolia, told us that the Operation was a low-priority investigation, allocated to the least experienced SIO[senior investigating officer]and Deputy SIO, and was poorly staffed. The Operation was classed as a Category C investigation, the lowest of three gradings for a major investigation.”

During the investigation two residents alleged they had been sexually assaulted by Lord Janner which would normally trigger a reference to the assistant chief constable. This does not appear to be have been done and one officer thought the allegations were “lies”. Lord Janner was never interviewed. Nor were the two cases ever referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. The rest of the allegations against staff of physical or sexual abuse led to no prosecutions by the CPS. The statements given by the two children against Lord Janner were locked away in a drawer at Market Harborough Police Station.

They only resurfaced after fresh allegations were made against Lord Janner in 2005 when Operation Dauntless was launched. Even then no attempt was made to reinvestigate them or even find out whether the children were still alive. Officers argued whether Lord Janner should be arrested and his home searched.

“Staggering, bewildering and disappointing” a policeman’s verdict

Detective Sergeant Swift-Rollinson told the inquiry it was “incredible that an individual such as Lord Janner should be treated any differently by not interviewing him, not arresting and searching” his properties. He stated that the fact that Lord Janner “was not allowed the opportunity to dispel those allegations or provide a reasonable account is staggering, bewildering and disappointing”.

This time the CPS was informed but before any further investigations took place. The CPS advised not to interview Lord Janner or pursue this any further. The inquiry describes the view as complacent. The case was wound down despite protests from some officers.

It was not until 2012 when Leicestershire Police launched a further investigation, Project Enamel, that Lord Janner was finally charged when 33 former children came forward. By then Lord Janner was not well and died before any trial could take place.

This has left a situation where all the complainants have no resolution to what happened to them and Lord Janner’s family are left denying the charges but cannot challenge them in court. Daniel Janner, his son, has however been wrong in trying to stop the inquiry investigating the circumstances as this report will remain a permanent guide on how not to investigate child sexual abuse cases. Without it other police forces could be tempted yet again to dismiss such allegations.

One issue the inquiry has decided I find rather difficult. This comes from the decision to produce two reports – an expurgated report-now published – and a much longer and more detailed unexpurgated report. The inquiry’s explanation is that they have to protect the anonymity of those who allege were sexually abused for life. They did not answer my questions on whether the survivors will see the report, whether they also took this decision to prevent any litigation from Lord Janner’s family who have been opposed to the inquiry and would find the details of the allegations pretty damning.

A spokesman told me: “In order to protect the identity of complainants, who are entitled to lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, a part of the public hearing for this investigation was held in closed session, reflecting the necessity for a restricted report.  The Inquiry took steps to ensure that as much evidence was heard in public as possible, and the same approach was taken in regard to the unrestricted report. Whilst the restricted report cannot be publicly published due to anonymity issues, it will still be used by the Chair and Panel to inform findings and any recommendations they choose to make in the Final Report. ”

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry

Chair to the Inquiry Professor Alexis Jay said:“Despite numerous serious allegations against the late Lord Janner, police and prosecutors appeared reluctant to fully investigate the claims against him. On multiple occasions police put too little emphasis on looking for supporting evidence and shut down investigations without pursuing all outstanding enquiries.”

“It was a similar picture for Leicestershire County Council, which had a sorry record of failures in relation to the sexual abuse of children in its care over several decades. A number of council staff had concerns about Lord Janner’s association with a particular child in residential care, and further enquiries should have been carried out.”

“This investigation has brought up themes we are now extremely familiar with, such as deference to powerful individuals, the barriers to reporting faced by children and the need for institutions to have clear policies and procedures setting out how to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse, regardless of the prominence of the alleged abuser.”

Previous Blogs https://davidhencke.com/2017/04/11/independent-child-sexual-abuse-inquiry-will-investigate-the-late-greville-janner-and-whether-there-was-a-cover-up/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/10/16/why-the-children-of-greville-janner-believe-he-must-be-innocent-of-33-child-sex-abuse-allegations/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/09/11/abuse-of-trust-a-horrible-reminder-of-a-child-sex-scandal-as-the-jay-inquiry-prepares-to-examine-greville-janner/

https://davidhencke.com/2014/12/13/police-re-open-child-sex-abuse-investigation-into-labour-peer-greville-janner/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/09/06/daniel-janner-is-wrong-to-say-all-allegations-of-child-sex-abuse-against-his-father-must-be-fabricated/

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DWP dumps on benefit watchdog and ignores plea for more help for victims of domestic violence

The Department of Work and Pensions has rejected any changes to its new minimalist regulations to exempt victims of domestic violence -mainly women – from paying the ” bedroom tax ” and helping them to find out how they could qualify to keep more of their benefits.

Ministry turns down plea from social security watchdog

As I reported ten days ago the release of minutes from the little known Social Security Advisory Committee revealed in July the body chaired by Stephen Brien who worked for Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank had written to the ministry criticising the proposed regulations for being too narrow and the ministry for not running a prominent campaign to let victims know they will now be exempt.

The exemption applies to anybody who wants to stay in their own home and has thrown out an abusive partner and enrols in a sanctuary scheme – which provides extra locks, a fireproof letterbox and in extreme cases a reinforced door to a ” panic room” should the abusive partner return and break into the house.

The problem is that not all women know about this and the exemption only applies to council homes and flats. Also abuse from stalkers or strangers is not covered by the new regulations.

Mr Brien wrote: “Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.”

Ministry rejects plea to change the regulation

But the DWP has told me not only will there be no changes but they had already implemented the regulations which came into force on October 1.

A DWP spokesperson said:

“The Department offers support to victims of domestic abuse, whether in the private rented sector or not. The benefit system acts as a safety net for people who find themselves in need of financial support with living and housing costs for a variety of reasons. A range of Universal Credit measures are designed to support victims of domestic abuse, including special provisions for temporary accommodation, same day advances, easements from work-related requirements and signposting to expert third-party services.”

Now for these regulations to become law they have to be scrutinised by Parliament. So I looked up what had happened.

It turns out the ministry laid the regulations before the House of Commons and the House of Lords on September 9 – a Thursday evening just before MPs and peers went off for the weekend. They were laid under what is known as a negative statutory instrument – which means that unless a peer or a MP objects they automatically can become law three weeks later.

Not one MP or peer spoke up about this

The regulations were laid alongside numerous other regulations including changes to Covid 19 pandemic regulations. Not one MP or peer objected or even spoke about it.

They would not have known about the criticism from the watchdog body because its minutes had not been published then. Nevertheless this shows up the ineffectiveness of MPs and peers – who have more time – in scrutinising what the executive is doing.

Given the high profile issue of violence against women after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer it is pretty deplorable that a ministry can get away with this.

Benefits watchdog keeps mum

I sent the ministry’s response to the watchdog body – which regards scrutinising regulations as its main priority – and it decided not to comment, preferring to keep silent about its advice being ignored .I haven’t had a reply from the House of Lords on why the new regulations were missed.

However I have discovered the ministry has issued new advice six days ago to its housing benefit officers. It is here and victims of domestic abuse should challenge officials about getting an exemption.

For those in England I would suggest contacting Shelter. The charity has a comprehensive guide for victims of domestic abuse here. It includes a list of other charities who can help.

So if the ministry, the social security watchdog and Parliament are so ineffectual, at least this blog can highlight some information so more people know about it.

Previous Blog

https://davidhencke.com/2021/10/03/exclusive-half-baked-and-half-hearted-dwps-help-for-women-facing-domestic-abuse-and-violence/

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EXCLUSIVE: Half baked and half hearted: DWP’s help for women facing domestic abuse and violence

With the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer dominating the headlines by coincidence the government’s benefit watchdog this weekend released minutes of a meeting with officials from the Department for Work and Pensions on tackling domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse Pic credit: HelpGuide.org

The little known Social Security Advisory Committee was examining new regulations from the ministry due to come into law on payments and help for victims (usually women) of domestic abuse.

You might not think the DWP would have any role in domestic violence but actually it can help by removing benefit penalties and also open the door to money to improve security measures in a victim’s home.

The ministry must have been pretty tardy in doing anything about this as the reason for the new regulations stemmed from a government defeat at the European Court of Human Rights.

At the centre of this case was the much loathed ” bedroom tax ” where 14 per cent of your housing benefit payment can be clawed back if you have more bedrooms than you need.

Women who throw out an abusive partner or grown up member of the family could find themselves liable for this ” tax” if they want to stay in the family home. This regulation exempts them.

No relief from benefit penalties if you are pursued by a stalker

But as the committee found it is a pretty narrow concession. If you are being abused by a stranger or a stalker you can’t escape the penalty. The ministry has decided they are not ” family” even if they are being as violent or frightening as any member of the family.

And it only applies if you live a council house or flat – is you live in private rented accommodation you have to apply for a discretionary housing payment – and given it is discretionary you may not get it. And that applies whether it is family or a stalker.

That’s why I think the change is half hearted and half baked -designed to help a minimum number of people.

But the meeting also disclosed much more. To qualify for these payments and removal of penalties you have to enrol in a sanctuary scheme. This is service which can protect you in your home -by installing extra locks, fireproof letterboxes and in some cases a ” panic room” with a reinforced door where you can flee from attack from an abusive partner or intruder and call the police.

But guess what? The onus is on the claimant to find out about the sanctuary scheme – not on the Department to tell them about it. Just like the millions of 50swomen over their pensions and the millions of people opted out of SERPS who have lost out on a guaranteed minimum pension, the ministry is not bothered to ensure they know. Both of these issues led to rulings of ” maladministration” against the ministry by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Department for Work and Pensions hasn’t a clue

But it is even worse than that. The ministry hasn’t a clue how many people are in sanctuary schemes because there is no central record.

Only next year will local authorities have a duty to collect this information but otherwise it is being left to charities, the police and other bodies to tell claimants. The minutes say: “A number of ways to identify claimants in scope of the measure were attempted – requests were made to local authorities, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office – but the information is not available”

Details of the sanctuary scheme are here – it is aimed at charities.

Stephen Brien;:Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee

Such a situation has led the chair of the committee, Stephen Brien, to write to the DWP:

“Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.

” A number of claimants will be unaware “-Stephen Brien

“Given the vulnerable situations within which this group finds itself, there is potential risk of harm should these claimants remain unaware of the support available to them resulting in their leaving a home where additional security has been installed.”

He also said the definition of who could escape the penalty was too narrow and should be extended to stalkers and that there was not enough being done to support people in private rented accommodation.

“The narrow focus adopted by the Department could lead to inconsistent treatment of people at risk of violence because their circumstances fall outside of those defined by the regulations.”

The SSAC has not formally objected to the new regulation but is seeking some improvements.

This seems to be yet another example of the ministry not informing people of their rights and in this case in an area where public concern has been heightened by the issue of male violence makes it doubly important that something is done. Will the DWP do it though?

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Exclusive: “Frightening” DWP letter to pensioners: Report for telephone interview or we can stop your pension

The ” frightening” DWP letter ( the telephone numbers of the pensioner and the official and his name have been blacked out

This a picture of the offending page 2 of the DWP letter

The headline in this story is a paraphrase of an extraordinary letter to be sent out to 15,000 people randomly chosen by the Department for Work and Pensions. Some 180 pensioners are being contacted this month.

The ministry has mounted an exercise to check fraud and error in payments for the state pension alongside universal credit, attendance allowance, PIPs, carer’s allowance, pension credit, housing benefit, and the employment and support allowance. It is run by the Performance Measurement Team. The ministry are asking people on other benefits to send them original documents showing their savings, pay slips, rent books and tenancy agreements.

It comes as the ministry faces a potentially damning report from a National Audit Office inquiry into the underpayment of state pensions to tens of thousands of women under the old state pension system replaced in 2016.

The NAO want to know how these mistakes occurred , what is being done to put them right and what lessons have been learnt. The NAO made it clear yesterday it had nothing to do with this exercise mounted by the DWP.

This also comes on top of a finding of “maladministration” by the Parliamentary Ombudsman over the ministry’s failure to inform 3.8 million 50swomen adequately about the rise in the pension age from 60 to 66.

The letter reproduced above is pretty insensitive to say the least – since it will be going to elderly people aged anywhere from 66 to their 80s and 90s.

Onus put on pensioners not the DWP

As you can see it puts the onus on pensioners to answer questions correctly-with the threat of prosecution or fines if they don’t.

” You have a personal responsibility to make sure all the information you give during the call is correct and complete.

If it isn’t and we pay you too much money you may have to pay the money back. You also risk being prosecuted or having to pay a financial penalty.”

But it gets worse. Under the heading What will happen if I do not hear from you it says:
If you fail to be available for this review and do not contact me, your entitlement to State Pension may be in doubt and your payments may be stopped. ( Bold type my emphasis).

This is “coercive and threatening language”- Rosie Brocklehurst

Pensioner Rosie Brocklehurst

Rosie Brocklehurst from St Leonards, is one who got the letter and contacted me.

She saId: “There could be 15000 terrified pensioners receiving this letter all of whom are being threatened with having their state pension. stopped if they do not “make themselves available.” This is abusive coercive and threatening language in my lexicon.”

She is 71.  She said: “The letter they send out is couched in language that is designed to frighten and certainly frightened me. I am not well and have had a chronic condition for 18 months. I have no other income but state pension and pension is not means tested. I am married and claim nothing else but my pension..”

Two points First you have to claim your pension but the calculations are done by the DWP. So if the figure is wrong it is not your responsibility, it is theirs and there is a history of the ministry getting things wrong.

The second is you are entitled to your pension. There is no way the DWP or anybody else can take it away from you. Whoever drafted that letter should have changed it for pensioners. I suspect that it may be illegal for the government to stop pension payments which they have already calculated. Certainly if the grounds are not agreeing to be interviewed.

I have contacted the DWP press office but they took over two days to reply. This is their reply;

“We urge people not to worry. We would only suspend payments in very specific circumstances such as where a pensioner has died and we are continuing payments.

“These reviews, introduced in 1997, take a sample of claims from across several benefits to help us identify cases where the department has paid the wrong amount.”

“The wording of our letters is kept under constant review.”

However what does it not say is that the state pension was exempt from all reviews since 1997. A decision to include it was taken in February this year. No explanation was given why the ministry suddenly decided to include it.

Sellafield bullying cover up: Important three week whistleblowing tribunal case opens

Alison McDermott – whistleblower Pic credit: BBC News

A potentially ground breaking case bought by whistleblower Alison McDermott, a former consultant to the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield, began a three week hearing at Leeds Employment Tribunal this week.

The case of McDermott versus Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and former Sellafield HR director Heather Roberts has been brought under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 – also known as the Whistleblowers’ Act.

Alison McDermott, an HR professional and diversity specialist, claims that the sudden termination of her freelance contract in October 2018 by Sellafield was linked to her protected disclosures containing evidence of systemic bullying, and racist and sexist incidents at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. The original story was reported in Byline Times

Since the report came out the BBC did an investigation into what it called toxic bullying, homophobia, sexual harassment and racism at the nuclear plant.

At the beginning of hearing Employment judge Philip Lancaster told the tribunal: “This, of course, is not a public inquiry into an alleged toxic culture at Sellafield and it is certainly not a forum to investigate specific allegations of improper behaviour on behalf of named individuals.”

The case has been complicated by one of the organisations fighting her, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, changing its stance and is distancing itself from Sellafield. More will come out later in the case.

Ms McDermott faced aggressive cross questioning of her stance by Deshpal Panesar QC, representing Sellafield and Ms Heather Roberts, the plant’s former human resources director.

” I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here”- HR director

Ms McDermott was paid £1,500 a day – the same sum paid to previous consultants Capita -to monitor equality, diversity and inclusion at the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site in September 2018.

Mr Panesar pointed out that she had taken no action when she first met Heather Roberts who is said to have told her “”I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here.” He said this was a reference by Ms Roberts because of security at the plant where people had to have photo passes. She said she was horrified by the reference but did not raise it with her because it was their first meeting.

Yet later after she had investigated other complaints she had pressed for a formal inquiry into a series of complaints and allegations about bullying, homophobia and sexual harassment. He accused her of ” weaponising” the issue at the plant.

Ms McDermott denied this,

She said Ms Roberts then asked her to take part in a covert investigation to “flush out” issues raised in the report, but she refused and advised her there needed to be a formal investigation.

Mr Panesar suggested she had agreed to take part in an undercover investigation, using focus groups to question staff.

The case continues next week.

Exclusive: What’s missing for women’s rights in the UK: Former judge Dr Jocelynne Scutt and former chief prosecutor Nazil Afzal talk about CEDAW

Dr Jocelynne Scutt, President of panel of judges of the CEDAW People’s tribunal , Nazir Afzal Legal Consultant to the tribunal

Two of the leading people talk in advance of the planned People’s Tribunal in London

Later this year there will be a People’s Tribunal in London to evaluate the need for the UN Convention on the elimination of all discrimination against women to be put into domestic law. The convention, signed and ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has never been put into domestic law though parts of it are in the Equalities Act, 2010.

The tribunal will examine the failure to integrate CEDAW into domestic legislation; decide whether those delays are legitimate or not; and make necessary recommendations as to how the Convention can be given full effect in the UK, advancing women in all aspects of society and recognising historic inequalities.

Dr Jocelynne Scutt, the Australian feminist who is president of the panel of judges CEDAW People’s Tribunal and Nazir Afzal, newly appointed Legal Consultant to the tribunal. have talked about their hopes for a massive legal change.

Jocelynne Scutt is a senior law fellow at the University of Buckingham. She was Tasmania’s first anti discrimination commissioner and is a member of the Labour Party in Cambridge and the Australian Labor Party. She is a former judge in Fiji.

Nazil Afzal, is the former Chief Crown Prosecutor for NW England and formerly Director in London. Most recently, he was Chief Executive of the country’s Police & Crime Commissioners. During 24 year career, has prosecuted many high profile cases and advised on many others and led nationally on Violence against Women & Girls, child sexual abuse, and honour based violence. His prosecutions of the so called Rochdale grooming gang and hundreds of others were groundbreaking and drove the work that has changed the landscape of child protection. He is the new legal consultant to the tribunal.

Jocelynne Scutt believes there are many cases -particularly those involving violence against women and rape cases- where women are still not seen as credible because of prejudice or the way they dress. She points to protests from women groups over rape cases with placards saying ” Wearing a dress does not mean yes” as a good example of the way women are treated by men. She says this is similar to the ” stop and search” policy by the police where just because a black man is driving a posh car it is assumed it is either stolen or he is a drug dealer.

She said one of the big changes CEDAW could bring is to change the law to make people treated as a whole human being instead of being categorised in different legal columns. She cited a discrimination case brought on both sex and gender and racial discrimination.

” The law as it is either treats the case as a sex and gender case with a bit of ethnicity added on or a an ethnicity discrimination case with a bit of gender discrimination. People are not like that.”

The standard in courts is still based on ” Benchmark Man”

She says courts are still dominated by white male values despite the fact we have more women barristers and judges. ” As one of my colleagues says the standard is Benchmark Man- that is still the standard for everything.”

She thinks that middle class women have an advantage over working class women to progress in their careers.

” Middle class women in professional jobs can get through the glass ceiling or at least see it . For working class women – such as cleaners and care workers – they are stopped by a concrete canopy- they can’t even see the glass ceiling let alone break through it” This is something that CEDAW would change.

Both she and Nazil Afzal believe CEDAW will bring about big changes. She is optimistic that support for CEDAW will build and build to become a major issue.

Nazil believes there is no legal impediment to introducing CEDAW only a political one. He also believes that if Scotland and Wales decide to implement CEDAW while England declines to do so – it ” will lead to an even greater postcode lottery in judicial decisions than it is now.

” Probably only one per cent of lawyers understand CEDAW”

He believes that at present the vast majority of lawyers don’t understand CEDAW even though its is recognised by the courts as international law.

” Probably only one per cent of lawyers -unless it is their speciality – don’t understand it and probably among that one per cent only one per cent understand it fully “

He thinks the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill has made the case for putting CEDAW into domestic law and also for the United Kingdom to sign up to the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic abuse.

Some 45 countries have signed up and 34 have ratified the convention. The UK is not one – one of the stumbling blocks for the UK is that it would have to give migrants equal rights.

Revealed: The chequered past of the Highgate Care Home consultant assisting with evicting centenarians

Isla Meek : pic credit; Linked In

The controversy over the sale of the Mary Feilding Guild care home in north London to social care entrepreneur and property developer Mitesh Dhanak, continues unabated as he begins to arrange for the residents to leave.

Since his take over the now renamed Highgate Care Home he has brought in two consultants to help him move the residents out, two of them centenarians, so he can demolish the home and apply for planning permission to build a new one.

One of the consultants is Isla Joanne Meek. Her Linked In entry says she is managing director of Isla Meek Consulting, a small business based in Radstock, a town in Somerset. She has a long list of services she provides and she has both a management and nursing qualification. These include helping the management of new homes, safeguarding people, helping homes maximise their occupancy and charge higher fees for services and the occasional work advising homes how to handle Care Quality Commission inspections.

What she doesn’t disclose is that she was once consultant to a failing care care home in Westbury-On-Trym and for a period was struck off the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.

The care home in question ,Holmwood House nursing home, was subjection of a BBC TV investigation in 2014 and stories in a local community paper The Bristolian. The links to the tales are here and here.

Holmwood House; Pic credit:BBC

Holmwood House had eight substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect of residents there between 2012 and 2014,

Admissions had been temporarily suspended twice since June 2012 and, under a voluntary arrangement, no-one with nursing needs was admitted during that time.

The home’s owner Ghassan Al-Jibouri said he had “nothing to hide” and his first concern was the health and welfare of residents.

Isla Meek, then struck off by the NMC, was working there as a consultant and audited controlled drug records for manager Simone Smith which turned out to have had numerous forged signatures.

Since then Isla Meek has been reinstated on the NMC register – the NMC told me people could reapply for reinstatement five years after they had been struck off.

Wentworth Court: Pic credit; Care Choices

The Highgate Home is not the only work she has done for Mr Dhanak. She also acted as a consultant for Wentworth Court in Cheltenham, a home for people with serious dementia. The home has a good rating but its financing is similar to all Mr Dhanak’s other companies. It is run by First Cheltenham Care Ltd, a £100 company with him a sole director. The financing of the home comes loans and mortgages from Barclays Bank and the property is revalued most recently at £6.3 million.

Isla Meek Consulting is more modest. It has two directors, herself and Tim Meek and is based in a property solely owned by Tim Meek which he paid £170,000 five years ago. The latest accounts up to May 2020 show the business has assets of around £17,000 and capital and reserves of £7300.

I did ask Ms Meek for a comment via Highgate Care Home but none has been received at the moment.

The previous story is here: https://davidhencke.com/2021/03/15/how-the-genteel-retiree-world-of-centenarians-was-shattered-by-the-ruthless-modern-model-of-social-care-capitalism/

There is also an interesting article in the Ham and High: https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/care-experts-fire-mary-feilding-guild-warning-7896998 This warns about the dangers of severe health impacts on elderly people who are suddenly moved.

Mitesh Dhanak. Pic credit: Precious Homes

Independent panel of judges announced to head tribunal examining discrimination against women

Dr Jocelynne Scutt. Pic credit: Cambridge Labour Party

The campaign to introduce a comprehensive bill of rights for women by implementing in full the UN Convention for the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) takes a major step forward this weekend.

Five high profile women -one a former judge – have agreed to serve on the panel which will sift evidence to be presented at the CEDAW People’s Tribunal later this year presided over by John Cooper, QC, a human rights lawyer,.

CEDAW is “like motherhood and apple pie” – John Cooper QC

John Cooper said the issue should not be controversial – ” it is like motherhood and apple pie”.

He said the tribunal should have three main goals – independence, transparency and authenticity.

” There are three main areas to investigate: Why CEDAW has never put into UK law; whether there was any good reason for not doing so, and most importantly, to make recommendations on what should happen next.”

The movement to implement comprehensive changes in the law for all women and girls has come from the historic unequal treatment of women and the exposure of poverty and hardship by women born in the 1950s who had to wait an extra six years for their pension. Campaigners pointed out that Margaret Thatcher had signed up to the convention as long ago as 1986 but it had never been properly implemented into UK law -despite Gordon Brown’s government passing the Equality Act in 2010.

Worse the position of the 50s women was just the tip of the iceberg of unequal treatment which covers everything from unequal pay to discrimination in the workplace and women being subject to harassment and sexual abuse and even given poor treatment in jails.

The tribunal will take place as the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales are considering implementing laws to apply the convention – leading to an extraordinary situation where women will have more rights and redress against discrimination and inequality in Scotland and Wales than in England. All this will bring home the issue to the present Tory government whether it wants to do anything about it or not.

The president of the new panel is the Hon. Jocelynne Annette Scutt, an Australian feminist and human rights lawyer and senior law fellow at the University of Buckingham. She has written about money, marriage and property rights and more recently about plastic surgery, women’s bodies and the law. She was Tasmania’s first anti discrimination commissioner and is a member of the Labour Party and the Australian Labor Party. She is a former judge in Fiji.

The other panel members are:

Christine Chinkin

Christine Chinkin, FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law, Professorial Research Fellow and Founding Director of the Centre of Women Peace & Security at LSE. 

She is a barrister, a member of Matrix Chambers. Together with H. Charlesworth, she won the American Society of International Law, 2005 Goler T. Butcher Medal ‘for outstanding contributions to the development or effective realization of international human rights law’. She is a William C Cook Global Law Professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

She has held visiting appointments in Australia, the United States, Singapore and the People’s Republic of China. She is currently a member of the Kosovo Human Rights Advisory Panel and was Scientific Advisor to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the drafting of the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

Jane Gordon

Jane Gordon MA (Oxon) LLM (Distinction) is a human rights lawyer with over 20 years’ experience working in human rights legal practice and policy at domestic, regional and international levels. Jane co-founded Sisters For Change with her sister, SFC Executive Director, in 2014. Jane was Human Rights Advisor to the Northern Ireland Policing Board (2003-2008) where she co-devised the first ever framework for monitoring the human rights compliance of the police.

In 2009-2010, she was appointed Human Rights Advisor to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s national policing protest review. Jane has litigated cases of serious human rights violations against Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine before the European Court of Human Rights, and advised national human rights institutions, public authorities and oversight mechanisms in Jamaica, India, Malawi, Iraq, Ireland and across the UK. Between 2008-2017,

Jane was a Senior Fellow at LSE’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights and LSE’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security where she delivered LSE’s practitioner short course on Women’s Human Rights. In 2013-2014, Jane served as gender advisor/SGBV investigator with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Jane is additionally a member of the Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Group.

Aisha Gill : Pic Credit: Putney local website

Professor Aisha K. Gill, Ph.D. (University of Essex) CBE is Professor of Criminology at University of Roehampton. Her main areas of interest focus on health and criminal justice responses to violence against Black, minority ethnic and refugee (BMER) women in the UK, Georgia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Libya, India, Pakistan and Yemen. Professor Gill is often in the news as a commentator on early/child/forced marriage, violence predicated on ‘honour’, and sexual violence in South Asian communities.

Professor Gill has been involved in addressing the problem of violence against women and girls (VAWG) at the grassroots level for the past 21 years. She is invited adviser to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) strategic support group on investigations and complaints involving gendered forms of violence against women in the UK (including domestic violence); member of Liberty’s Project Advisory Group; member of Kurdish Women’s Rights Watch; Imkaan and Chair of Newham Asian Women’s Project (2004-2009). In October 2019, she was invited to join the Victims’ Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, chaired by Dame Vera Baird, QC.

Professor Fareda Banda Pic Credit:Black Female professors Forum.

Professor Fareda Banda, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University.

She joined SOAS in 1996. She has convened and taught English Family law, Human rights of women and Law and Society since then. She has also contributed to various courses including Alternative Dispute Resolution, Law and Development, Law and Development in Africa and Legal Systems of Asia and Africa.  She has supervised PhD theses on topics including children’s rights, sexual violence against women, post-conflict reconstruction and gender. She writes on women’s rights, family law, and, more recently, religion. Fareda has been an active member of the School’s Equality Committee, first in her capacity as the union equality officer and more recently as the representative of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences.

The new panel members are delighted and honoured to be appointed. Dr Davina Lloyd, Chair of the CPT Steering Committee, said:” The well being of future generations is in excellent hands”.

Expect more of this on my blog as the campaign gains momentum throughout the rest of this year.

Another peer suspended in disgrace: Ken Maginnis brands gay MPs as “queers and deviants”

Lord Maginnis Pic credit: BBC

Peers homophobic remarks lead to his suspension

Peers accepted last week a highly critical report from the House of Lords Conduct Committee, chaired by Lord Mance, a former Supreme Court judge, that the peer was guilty of ” bullying” and” harassment” of a security guard and of ” homophobic ” attacks on two gay MPs.

The peer believes he is the subject of persecution by Stonewall because he opposes same sex marriage and even accused Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the Lords Commissioner for Standards, as biased against him because she supported Out4Marriage a charity that supports gay marriage. She has made it clear that this did not influence her judgement one jot.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass , a former Ulster Unionist MP who sat as an Independent, had a row with a security guard, Christian Bombolo, when he forgot his security pass and demanded to be let into Parliament without one. The exchange became so toxic that an MP who witnessed the incident, Hannah Bardell, SNP MP for Livingston, intervened only to be attacked by the peer using homophobic language.

Like Pollard MP : Pic credit: Twitter

The second incident happened at a meeting of the Armed Forces All Party Parliamentary Group which was chaired by Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton. The dinner meeting broke up before Lord Maginnis could ask his question and he blamed Luke Pollard for this.

The report says: “Later in the evening Lord Maginnis sent an email to James Gray MP (the Chair of the APPG), copied to a number of other parliamentarians and to my office, with the subject heading “Discrimination by Homos”.

“Mr Gray replied saying the Mr Gray replied describing Lord Maginnis’s conduct at the meeting and the content of his email as “completely and utterly unacceptable”.

He requested that Lord Maginnis withdraw his remarks and apologise, without which he would not be welcome at any future APPG events.

Lord Maginnis replied that Mr Pollard was “obviously part of the ongoing campaign against me because of MY views on the matter relating to the Cameron initiative [same-sex marriage]” and that he was “getting somewhat irked by being discriminated against so, as for any apology, forget it!”

But Lord Maginnis attended the next meeting which led to another complaint being lodged by Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield, who was also a member of the group.

“Unapologetically homophobic and aggressive “

The report says: “Before the meeting began, he saw Lord Maginnis in conversation with James Gray MP. He later understood that Mr Gray had told Lord Maginnis he could not attend the event due to his previous conduct towards Luke Pollard.
“According to Mr Perkins, Lord Maginnis “quickly responded aggressively refusing to leave and implying that the Chair would have to physically remove him”. He overheard Lord Maginnis saying “I am not going to be bullied by queers.”
Mr Perkins said that Lord Maginnis’s “entire tone was unapologetically homophobic, aggressive and disrespectful”.

“It made me feel that it was not a safe environment for—I mean, particularly for people who were gay, but I think there is a sense to which we are all conditioned and harassed by the sense that we’re not all free to be at an event like that. So both the sort of the tone of the remarks and the content of them, I think, was upsetting.”

Maginnis refused to accept finding

Lord Maginnis refused to accept he had done anything wrong but said part of his behaviour was because he was a type 2 diabetic with arthritis and often in pain and had difficulty with his hearing.

This is yet another peer who seems to think that bullying and harassment and his case homophobic views are quite acceptable. While I am sure that most peers do know how to behave, it looks as though a small minority are still clinging on to outdated views and remarkably aggressive behaviour.

As Luke Pollard says in the report that he was “shocked and surprised that this type of behaviour would happen within Westminster”.
“While he did not consider Lord Maginnis’s behaviour during the dinner to be acceptable, it was his remarks in the later email chain he had found most offensive. He said those emails made him feel like a “victim of abuse”.