Unreported by the national media: How some bosses can help if you are one of 2 million people enduring domestic abuse

Elizabeth Filkin

Elizabeth Filkin: chair of the steering group of the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse

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This week the BBC hosted an extraordinary conference on how business and public employers can act to help employees if they are suffering the living hell of domestic abuse.

The conference attracted big names. Lord Hall, director general of BBC; Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police Commissioner; Amber Rudd, the home secretary (by video); Ben Page, chief executive of ipsos MORI;Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, Chief of Defence People;Victoria Atkins,Home Office minister for crime and directors from accountancy giant, Grant Thornton, and Vodafone, the mobile phone provider.

It also was addressed by a remarkably brave woman,Serena, who told her story of both child sexual abuse and an adult abusive relationship, which led her unsympathetic employer to sack her and the actor and series producer of TV drama Holby City, whose story line included an abusive gay relationship which ended up with one partner being beaten up.

The event was organised by an organisation you have probably never heard of – the Employers’ Initiative  on Domestic Abuse – run by Elizabeth Filkin, a no nonsense figure who as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards once took on Peter Mandelson and Keith Vaz over allegations of bad behaviour..

People might think what has business got to do with people’s personal lives – but what was noticeable was the firms that are backing the initiative had got involved after a traumatic event involving their staff.

Cressida Dick told the extraordinary story of how a very competent senior police officer in the Met rang her own switchboard to report that she was  a victim of domestic abuse. The police commissioner read out her testimony and described how she , though finding it an extremely difficult thing to do, is now coping with it

Another  big accountancy firm became involved after an employee jumped off London Bridge and committed suicide because they couldn’t cope with domestic abuse.

And a person attending from a hotel group told me they got involved after a young man attending a function was sexually abused when sleeping off the effects of too much alcohol on their premises. He went to the police, they decided they should join an organisation that dealt with abuse.

The BBC’s involvement comes some 18 months after the shock of the Jimmy Savile scandal – and ironically the conference was held in the same room where Tony Hall pledged to take action in the wake of Dame Janet Smith’s devastating findings on the issue.

Ad the Ministry of Defence actually tackles predators as well both those serving in the forces and those in the families of serving officers.

But they are the good ones. Ben Page told the conference that HR departments ” talked the good talk ” but often didn’t take any action or did not know how to to take action. Only one in twenty medium and large companies have a policy to deal with domestic abuse.

He described the present situation as akin to the position on mental health – which had been ignored by firms but was now accepted as an issue. He was an optimist saying ” In 10 years time all the misogynists will be dead ” – a point challenged by Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley, who takes up domestic abuse issues, and is regularly trolled by people on the net.

Probably his most interesting admission was as chief executive of an organisation employing 1400 he did not know or had never come across a case of domestic abuse among his staff. He admitted that could not be the case.

His report makes a number of recommendations which could be included in the government’s new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill- including removing the minimum qualifying period for domestic abuse victims to get flexible working and introducing  ten days paid leave a year for domestic abuse victims. The latter, he admitted, would lead to protests from the Tory right. I can just imagine MPs like the nappy change refusnik Jacob Rees Mogg having apoplexy.

The government is obviously keen on employers sharing responsibility. But below the surface there are huge issues of resources, the fate of women refuges, austerity, pressure on local authorities and the police and social services to handle this huge problem.

I shall return to some  of these issues in future blogs. But one point needs to be made. This conference was covered by none of the national media – not even the BBC who hosted it. Only The Telegraph and ITN did show some interest. And that is despite energetic efforts made by conference  organisers.

There is an interesting parallel. In the media industry – only the BBC and ITN – have  signed up  to the group which now numbers over 150 companies who are trying to help victims of domestic abuse.

So the entire national  and regional press and the major social media sites believe there is no problem with domestic abuse among their thousands of employees. A likely story. No wonder they didn’t cover it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will the BBC get all its cash from its new freedom to raise millions from video on iPlayer?

BBC Broadcasting House

BBC Broadcasting House

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The BBC has taken a hammering from this government. It has had to impose cuts, agree to fund free TV licences from the over 75s, lose staff and transfer BBC3 to the internet. Further cuts could affect its 24 hour news service and its ability  to mount news investigations.

Yet is the BBC really taking advantage of the one lifeline thrown to it by the government – to be able to raise money from people who don’t watch it on TV  but via video on demand on iPlayer?

A completely unreported assessment by the National Audit Office – soon to be given powers by the government to directly audit the BBC – has called into question whether the BBC is really up to the job. I covered the report in Tribune.

The NAO after looking at the figures came to some startling conclusions. It found before the BBC had got new powers on September 1 that it was  already losing tens of millions of pounds by not chasing up people it should.

The audit office examined the BBC’s licence evasion strategy and concluded that it needed to update it and get accurate figures on how many people were watching TV on their computers, Ipads and mobile phones and no longer had a TV set. Others used game consules.

Figures in the report estimated that the BBC may lose £34m a year by not monitoring the rapidly growing group which has seen people watching iPlayer on their computers jump from 1.6m a day in 2009 to 8m now.

The findings also questioned whether the BBC was losing money by not  collecting  enough licence fees from students, military personnel, lodgers and second home owners.

The audit office estimated that while most students did not need a licence for watching TV because they went home during the vacations the BBC still only collected licence fees from half the number of students who should pay – some 22,000 out of 43,000.

The BBC, while acknowledging the shortfall, defended their decision not to concentrate on these evaders. The BBC was also found by the NAO to use forms that had not been changed for 15 years when they visited licence evaders referring only to TV sets. These have now been changed.

The BBC argued: “Students in halls of residence make up fewer than 1 per cent of addresses needing a licence, and fewer than 10 per cent of them need a licence. Students who normally live with their parents in the holidays will be covered by their parents’ licence at university if they watch live TV on a device which is not plugged into the mains e.g. a laptop or mobile phone.”

“The BBC will seek independent assurance where there are substantive changes to the model. In addition, we will assess how we deal with those likely to evade as a result of changing technology and audience behaviour… but to put this in context, these groups make up 1.15 % of the licensable base.”

Yet the same report also disclosed the scale of people who do not watch TV on TV.

The BBC’s own survey shows that 79 per cent of 16-24 year olds are now more likely to watch TV on other devices than a TV set. The figure for 25 to 34 year olds is 53 per cent.

Surely some mismatch here? And my suspicion is that the BBC is being a tad complacent about it.

Also even if the BBC is right and they have got 99 per cent of people paying a licence fee that extra £34m could make  a few more TV programmes and prevent staff being sacked.

It may be a drop compared to the £3bn raised from the licence fee but for the BBC at the moment every penny counts.

 

 

 

Time for Dame Lowell Goddard to explain why she quit

lowell goddard

Dame Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC

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The shock decision of Dame Lowell Goddard to quit the child sex abuse inquiry has been compounded by her very terse statement on why she resigned. See here Dame_Lowell_Goddard_letter

Survivors have been suddenly let down  by someone who only two years ago committed herself to a five year comprehensive inquiry that would cover every aspect of child sex abuse from VIP paedophiles to institutions as varied as children’s homes, religious orders,  schools and colleges.
It already has a packed programme  including a controversial hearing of the facts surrounding the allegations against Lord Janner; the scandal in Rochdale around Sir Cyril Smith, Lambeth Council, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England to name but a  few. It was also, I understand, to look at the Westminster paedophile ring and Operation Midland but not until 2018.

So her decision to leave at this crucial moment when the inquiry was starting to get into its stride is more perplexing. Her statement today in full  read :

“I announce with regret my decision to resign as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, effective from today.

“When I was first approached through the British High Commissioner in Wellington in late 2014, and asked to consider taking up the role, I had to think long and hard about it. After carefully discussing the matter with the Home Secretary and her Officials and seeking the counsel of those people in New Zealand whose opinions mattered to me, I decided that I should undertake the role, given my relevant experience and track record in the area.  It was however an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family.

“The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.

“While it has been a struggle in many respects I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the victims and survivors and have particularly enjoyed working with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel which I established.”

What I find particularly perplexing is her implication that she should never have been appointed to continue the inquiry in the first place. If suggests that she did not think things through.

The inquiry following the resignations of Baroness Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf because of conflicts of interest had already been remodelled – changing it from an independent panel to a  statutory judicial inquiry. Its work  and costs have gone up enormously and Lowell Goddard, as The Times pointed out, has taken time off and obviously misses her family.

The volume of work must be enormous – I know from sitting on a much smaller independent panel myself which I cannot talk about – that historic inquiries generate masses of documents.

In the child abuse area  a chair also needs to have a tough skin and a focused mind – since he or she is entering a minefield of controversy – and will face a barrage of complaints from a small but vocal minority who don’t believe that most of the child abuse took place – and most survivors are liars or bounty hunters.

Remember there are websites  devoted to the idea  that Jimmy Savile was totally innocent and everything has been made up by disturbed people. After all as Dame Janet Smith found the BBC either didn’t know or couldn’t bring itself to believe that he was a paedophile.

Therefore it seems to me that if she thinks there is something wrong in the process she should say so and she owes  the public who paid her a lot of money to chair this inquiry a full and frank explanation.

Reports suggested to me that her decision to go was not sudden. She has been seen as a little distant from event ( and not just physically ). There have been suggestions that Home Officials have tried to capture the direction of an independent inquiry and other suggestions that Ben Emmerson, the counsel in charge of the inquiry, may have had too much power.

Whatever happened we need a full explanation. And action from the Home Office and Theresa May, the PM who originally set up the inquiry as home secretary to make sure investigations and hearings go ahead regardless.

As I am the only person made redundant from Exaro who has a personal website – I intend to continue reporting on child sex abuse issues here and on Byline.com. Those who wish to keep abreast of developments should follow this blog or keep an eye on  Byline.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Leak of Dame Janet Smith report on Savile and the BBC nominated for national media award

My  set of stories for Exaro News earlier this year revealing the contents of Dame Janet Smith’s report on Jimmy Savile’s activities at the BBC  has been nominated for a national media award.

The series of stories have been short listed in the breaking news story of the year  for next month’s Drum On Line Media awards – pitching it against TV coverage of the Shoreham air crash , the Alton Towers disaster and the BBC’s coverage of the Paris terror attacks.

The report which was highly critical of the culture at the BBC that allowed  Jimmy Savile to flourish. By the day after Exaro published the report every national paper was carrying the story.

The leaked report revealed how Dame Janet Smith, the retired judge who led the review, condemned BBC culture over Savile’s paedophile activities at the Corporation. She criticised the BBC for a “very deferential culture”, its “untouchable” stars and “above the law” managers.

In a series of articles, Exaro revealed how BBC employees were too afraid to report Savile to managers, and how BBC people feared blowing the whistle even more now.

The series of articles also exposed a BBC culture where celebrities were treated with “kid gloves” while managers drank heavily, and how the Smith review warned that “a predatory child abuser could be lurking undiscovered in the BBC even today.

The series of 22 stories published on the same day revealed how more than 100 BBC employees told Smith that they heard about Savile’s predatory sexual conduct, and how the review raised evidence of sexual abuse at Top of the Pops that went far wider than Savile.

Exaro also published more than 37,500 words of extracts from Smith’s entire report.

I have no idea whether  we will win the award but the short listing of the  Exaro articles show that investigative journalism is still alive at a time when Exaro has taken criticism from other national media for its coverage of other controversial issues like the child sex abuse scandal.

I would also like to pay tribute to my brave source and my colleagues at Exaro particularly Alex Varley Winter. Without the leak of the story people would not have been so well informed on the day when the report was published and Dame Janet Smith had to account for her report and the BBC director general, Tony Hall, had to explain what he was going to do about it.

 

Holding Tony Hall, BBC director general to account over Savile

BBC director general Tony Hall

BBC Director General Tony hall. Pic Credit:BBC

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The press launch of Dame Janet Smith’s forensic review into Savile’s  predatory activities at the BBC was an impressive affair.

Survivors are naturally disappointed that she failed to land a terminal blow on senior management at the BBC. They did not have the satisfaction of seeing heads roll for Savile getting away with sexually or indecently assaulting 72 people at different BBC venues or in private flats after attending BBC events. But it was not a whitewash.

It was impressive for two reasons. Dame Janet is a formidable performer ( as I found out when I tried to sneak  two questions past her) and had a  real grasp of the issues of why Savile had been able to get away with his monstrous behaviour for decades.

Tony Hall – who looked visibly moved after reading her horrific findings – did not take the easy way out. He did not as I feared say this was a dark period for the BBC but now everything was OK  after new measures had been taken to protect children and encourage whistleblowers. He took it on the chin the modified conclusion of Dame Janet that there could be another manipulative, charming, clever paedophile still working at the BBC or any other major organisation. He also pledged to do something about it.

Dame  Janet who in my view gratuitously threw away half her terms of reference dealing with recommendations for new child protection guidelines has laid down a pretty tough schedule to make sure something is really done at the BBC.

As she says  “My recommendation is that within, say six months of this report, the BBC should set out its official response to all the reports and should explain what its current rules, policies and procedures are in respect of each of the areas which have been open to criticism and demonstrate that these apply current best practice.”

“…the BBC should.. commission an independent audit of the operation of those rules, policies and procedures. It should set out the timeframe in which each of these areas will be subject to audit, how the audit will be undertaken and should confirm that the results of each audit will be made public. Further, it should undertake now to make any changes to procedures recommended by those audits to ensure that it maintains best practice in these extremely important areas.  ”

She also called for greater commitment to whistleblowers  at the BBC and for the BBC to change its hierarchy and stop its worship of “Talent” who  like Savile seemed to be able to get away with anything as a BBC VIP.

Tony Hall has to be held accountable to do all of this. His contrition should not been seen as a one day wonder. He owes it to brave journalists like Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean,  who were determined to expose Savile but were thwarted by the BBC establishment. He owes it, above all to all the survivors, and any future victim of sexual abuse on BBC premises.

All this will come when the BBC is under enormous pressure to cut costs savagely  under Charter Renewal and with Rupert Murdoch seeking to destroy the BBC as a  formidable media player. But the promises he made to survivors must be carried out.

He also ought to commit the BBC to playing a much bigger role in investigative journalism and use its resources to bear down remorselessly on issues like child sex abuse and corruption that need exposing. The pressure for  that won’t come  from Dame Janet.

I got the impression yesterday that investigative journalists were not Dame Janet’s favourite people. She thought that an accurate and comprehensive leak of her report  on a  issue of  major importance in a publicly funded institution was not in the public interest. Really?

Leaked Savile Report: The BBC culture that failed to protect people from abuse

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Dame Janet’s highly critical report on the BBC’s handling of Jimmy Savile leaked to me  pinpoints  very serious issues at the Corporation which are still not resolved.

The official response from Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, that this was a dark day for the BBC and it is all in the past does not wash.

Nor frankly does Dame Janet Smith’s plea to ignore this “early” draft. All the evidence  from people was taken before it was compiled and she has said she has not changed her conclusions. So will she rewrite it now?

Her draft report is not a whitewash. It is a closely argued analysis revealing a culture that allowed considerable sex abuse to flourish at ground floor level without a mechanism to report this to the top. This does not seem to have  changed and has conveniently let all the BBC’s top executives off the hook.

It reveals a  crass deferential attitude to celebrities – who could do anything they liked because they were ” untouchable” and people looked the other way. This is no different today – given the present cult of celebrity.

It also reveals an organisation that is more concerned with its public reputation that tackling the root of the problem- how to stamp out opportunities for sexual abuse.

Not only were under age  adolescents and children the victims of sexual abuse but so were  staff employed by the BBC – who did not complain because they wanted to keep their jobs.

And if anyone complained it seemed the BBC was woefully inadequate in investigating what happened – if it did indeed want to get to the real truth. That failure extended to its own investigations into the issue by its own investigative journalists who found their work dropped or sidelined.

When the BBC does publish the report it will have a lot of explaining to do. On the central issue of child sex abuse Dame Janet concludes that there could still be a paedophile lurking in the BBC and thinks the chance of this being exposed is now worse than then – because many people are on short term contracts and would worry if they could work again.

Her findings directly contradict a report commissioned by the BBC last year from the firm Good Corporation which praises the BBC’s policies in preventing a repeat of child sex abuse. Which is right?

Also it is still clear  the whistle blowing process at the BBC, is, at best, not properly promoted ( say the Good Corporation) or worse, virtually non existent  (  says Dame Janet’s review).

So I don’t think anyone should be fobbed off by complacent attitudes from the BBC and attempts to move the debate to the dim and distant past,. The BBC failed a group of survivors of sexual abuse by doing nothing then – and could be doing the same now.

Exaro Exclusive: Dame Janet Smith’s criticism of the BBC over Savile

Jimmy Savile BBC

Jimmy Savile : Credit: BBC clip

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On the day Dame Janet Smith finally promised to publish her findings into the activities of paedophile Jimmy Savile in the BBC Exaro has published the main points in her draft report which examined and analysed what happened at our major broadecaster.

The report is a devastating critique of  the BBC’s culture in the 1970s and 1980s where ” talent” was ” untouchable”, managers were ” above the law” and there was a heavy drinking culture among top executives.

Her report outlines multiple rapes and indecent assaults on girls and boys, and incidents of “inappropriate sexual conduct” with teenagers above 16, all “in some way associated with the BBC”. Altogether there were over 60 victims and possibly up to 100 people had heard rumours about his activities, but nearly all at shop floor rather than managerial level.

“Three of Savile’s victims were only nine years old.”

Many BBC employees told Smith’s “review” that they had heard about Savile’s predatory sexual conduct, but feared reporting concerns to managers. But Smith accepts a series of denials by senior figures that they were aware of Savile’s sexual misconduct.

Most of Savile’s rapes, attempted rapes and more serious sexual assaults took place in his flats or caravans, she says.

“However, I heard of incidents that took place in virtually every one of the BBC premises at which he worked. These included the BBC Television Theatre (in connection with Jim’ll Fix It), at Television Centre (in particular in connection with Top of the Pops), at Broadcasting House or Egton House (where he worked in connection with BBC Radio 1), Lime Grove studios and various provincial studios, including Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow.

Exaro reveals today how Smith’s draft report:

We also publish the key extracts from the Smith report’s summary and conclusions, and from its damning chapter on the BBC’s management culture.

I will comment about this in a later blog but the revelations as anyone can see are wide ranging and very substantial.