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.
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.
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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After some highly critical reports into the cover-up of appalling child sexual abuse in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has now produced a new report into other faith organisations in England and Wales – notably Muslim and Orthodox Jewish faith groups, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It also covers a wide range of other faiths from the Methodists and Baptists to Buddhism and Sikh religions.
The report contains more horrific tales of abuse by people in charge of these organisations, their denial and cover up of what is happening, their failure to safeguard vulnerable children and the lack of measures to ensure proper inspection of the schools they run.
Worse of all after holding this inquiry the IICSA reveals that they don’t know the extent of the problem in these faith organisations because a number of them don’t want to co-operate with state institutions. Even police forces don’t keep records of how many recorded child sex abuse cases there have been in these faith organisations. And some of them even don’t carry out basic security checks on the people they employ to make sure they do not have criminal records.
Abuse at an Orthodox Jewish community
Examples of the horrific abuse stories include Todros Grynhaus, a prominent member of the Charedi Jewish community in Manchester and a Rabbi’s son. He sexually abused over 20 years two girls and a boy – one girl regularly between the age of seven and 15. Only when one of the girls went to Israel and told a rabbi there did the abuse become known and Grynghaus was offered counselling. Two years later when she was 18 she told prominent Jewish members of the Charedi community and was offered £5000 compensation and told not to go to the police or she would be regarded as a Moiser – what we know as a snitch – by informing on another Jew. When he faced charges Grynghaus fled the country on a forged passport and had to be extradited from Israel. Eventually the case did go to court and Grynghaus in 2015 was sentenced to 13 years in jail. But only after one of the rabbis was compelled by a judge to give evidence.
Abuse at a Muslim Madrassah school
Another example involved years of abuse at a Muslim madrassah school -held in a home- of a girl from the age of the age of eight to 11 by the 16 year old teenage son of the family ending in her rape. When she told of the case at the age of 14 she was abused as ” a tart” and a “slag” by the Muslim community who did not want the boy’s family disgraced. Eventually it did go to court and he went to prison for a year.
Four year old girl sexually abused at a Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible class
Another example involved the sexual abuse of two young girls by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses during Bible classes. One of the girls was as young as four and the abuse continued until she was nine. Peter Stewart was a ministerial servant in Kingdom Hall responsible for the organisation. He was arrested in 1994 when another person accused him of sexual assault. The girl did not tell her mother for six years about the sexual abuse and only decided to tell her after he was released from prison for the first offence. By the time the police got around to arresting him, he had died. The mother pursued a civil claim against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and won the case – despite the organisation fighting the claim.
The report goes into detail about the failure of many faith organisations to protect and train people in safeguarding and take the issue seriously rather than try and cover it up. In the three cases above the organisations tried to cover up what had happened and not take responsibility.
Two immediate recommendations
The report makes two immediate recommendations . They are that all religious organisations should have a child protection policy and supporting procedures;
and that the government should legislate to amend the definition of full-time education to bring any setting that is the pupil’s primary place of education within the scope of a registered school, and provide Ofsted with sufficient powers to examine the quality of child protection when undertaking inspection of suspected unregistered schools.
It estimates that 250,000 children are given supplementary education by faith organisations and none of the schools need to be registered or inspected.
They also have some long term proposals that will appear in a further report. These include whether mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse should be introduced; whether criminal checks should be compulsory for all faith organisations; and whether child protection policies should be compulsory for every faith organisation.
Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry said:
“Religious organisations are defined by their moral purpose of teaching right from wrong and protection of the innocent and the vulnerable. However when we heard about shocking failures to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse across almost all major religions, it became clear many are operating in direct conflict with this mission.
“Blaming the victims, fears of reputational damage and discouraging external reporting are some of the barriers victims and survivors face, as well as clear indicators of religious organisations prioritising their own reputations above all else. For many, these barriers have been too difficult to overcome.”
“We have seen some examples of good practice, and it is our hope that with the recommendations from this report, all religious organisations across England and Wales will improve what they do to fulfil their moral responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse.”
The independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse today published its worst ever findings of the scale of child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom. It looks like large numbers of paedophiles got away with the mass sexual abuse of children.
An investigation into Lambeth Council’s children in care revealed that over 700 children had alleged they had been sexually abused and treated as worthless by council staff. And this is certainly an underestimate. The scandal continued from the 1960s right through to the late 1990s.
The report which only looked at five of the council’s closed homes makes incredibly grim reading. The report said:
Cruelty and sexual abuse ” hard to comprehend”
“It is hard to comprehend the cruelty and sexual abuse inflicted on children in the care of Lambeth Council over many years, by staff, by foster carers and their families, and by volunteers in residential settings. With one or two exceptions, a succession of elected members and senior professionals ought to have been held accountable for allowing this to happen, either by their active commission or complicit omission. Lambeth Council was only able to identify one senior Council employee, over the course of 40 years, who was disciplined for their part in this catalogue of sexual abuse.”
It goes on: “By June 2020, Lambeth Council was aware of 705 former residents of three children’s homes in this investigation (Shirley Oaks, South Vale and Angell Road) who have made complaints of sexual abuse. The biggest of these homes – Shirley Oaks – was the subject of allegations against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home, involving at least 529 former residents. It was closed in 1983.
“Frontline staff employed to care for these most vulnerable children frequently failed to take action when they knew about sexual abuse. In so many cases they showed little warmth or compassion towards the child victims, who were left to cope with the trauma of their abuse on their own.
Hostile and abusive treatment of black children
…”There were many black children in Lambeth Council’s care. In Shirley Oaks in 1980, 57 percent of children in its care were black. During 1990 and 1991, 85 percent of children who lived at South Vale were black. Racism was evident in their hostile and abusive treatment by some staff.
” Shirley Oaks and South Vale were brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish. Angell Road systematically exposed children (including those under the age of five years) to sexual abuse.
“Nor did foster care routinely provide a safe alternative for children in care. For many years, foster carers were not adequately vetted by the Council and were not the subject of criminal record checks.”
Some of the cases described are horrendous.
Children screaming at night while they were raped
“LA-A307 was taken to Shirley Oaks at the age of nine. He described hearing other children screaming at night and he himself routinely experienced violence and sexual assault, including being photographed whilst being raped.
LA-A147 was in the care of Lambeth Council in the 1990s and 2000s, from the age of three. Over ten years, she was placed in nine children’s homes and with four sets of foster carers. She described being raped by a foster carer’s teenage son at the age of nine, and was also frequently sexually abused by older men she met whilst in care. By the age of 13, she had developed a drug addiction and was “selling herself” to fund it.
LA-A2 was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977. Lambeth Council did not inform the coroner that he had alleged being sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, his ‘house father’. In the course of Hosegood’s employment at Shirley Oaks, six out of eight children looked after by him and his wife alleged sexual abuse by him.
LA-A7 described sexual abuse by three male members of staff, including two from South Vale. Two of them separately photographed him at their private homes when he was either naked or wearing only his underwear. One of them, Leslie Paul, was convicted of indecent assaults against LA-A7.”
Only six perpetrators prosecuted
Extraordinarily just SIX people have been successfully prosecuted by the police, meaning that hundreds of people must have got away with the vile sexual abuse of children.
All this took place against a background of fraud, corruption, racism, nepotism by both staff and some councillors. Those who tried to stop it were intimidated and threatened. The report shows even two chief executives, Herman Ouseley and Henry Gilby were the subject of intimidation.
“Lord Ouseley described how both his office and home were ‘bugged’ at the instigation of one of his own staff. He also received threats to his family. Mr Gilby’s office was the subject of a serious arson attack. His home and office were broken into and computer records were stolen during a time when he was attempting to deal with corrupt practices. Dame Heather Rabbatts was Chief Executive from 1995 to 2000. She described how she inherited a Council with a culture of “fear and sexism and racism”. No witness identified which individuals or groups were the driving force behind this vicious and regressive culture, but there was little doubt that a succession of leading elected members were mainly responsible, aided and abetted in some instances by self-serving senior officials.”
The inquiry has decided to ask the Met Police to investigate whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation into Lambeth Council’s actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding LA-A2’s death.
Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who is representing the sister of a teenage boy who killed himself in a care home after making allegations of abuse against staff member Donald Hosegood, told Mail On Line: ‘It is clear from today’s report that Lambeth Council deliberately withheld information from the coroner in order to give the impression that our client’s brother was happy in care.”
All in all this report shows why it was necessary to have a full scale inquiry into child sexual abuse – which despite naysayers trying to deny the extent of the problem – was obviously rampant in some parts of the country. The council has apologised .The real tragedy is that so many people have got away with it leaving their victims with broken lives.
If ever there was a case of one rule for the well connected and another for ordinary plebs, the exposure of this ruling out today by the House of Commons Standards Committee is a great example.
It centres round the conviction of Charles Elphicke, the former Tory MP for Dover, of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in last September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.
The MPs had given glowing character references for Mr Elphicke in the hope of mitigating his sentence and became alarmed when newspapers wanted the judge involved in the case to release the names of everybody who had given character references for him.
So instead of publicly objecting the MPs decided to write on Commons notepaper to Dame Kathryn Thirwall, Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, and Dame Victoria Sharp, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, copied to Mrs Justice Whipple. Mrs Justice Whipple had heard the trial of a former Member, Charlie Elphicke, and was to hear and decide on an application to release the pre-sentencing character references.
The five Tory MPs were Mrs Natalie Elphicke, the former MP’s wife; Sir Roger Gale, former Cabinet minister, Theresa Villiers, Adam Holloway and Colonel Bob Stewart. Natalie Elphicke organised the letter.
The MPs said to disclose the references would be a “radical change to judicial practice” which “could have the [sic] chilling effect and harm the criminal justice system”.
They got a stiff reply from the Private Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales November to the letter stating that “It is improper to seek to influence the decision of a judge in a matter of which he or she is seized in this way. [ … ] It is all the more regrettable when representatives of the legislature, writing as such on House of Commons notepaper, seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary”.
Their names- along with life peer Lord Freud- became public when Mrs Justice Whipple released them in a court ruling.
The Standards Committee ruled today that what the MPs” by acting as they did risked giving the impression that elected politicians can bring influence to bear on the judiciary, out of public view and in a way not open to others. Such egregious behaviour is corrosive to the rule of law and, if allowed to continue unchecked, could undermine public trust in the independence of judges.”
The committee recommends that three of the MPs Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, and Theresa Villiers be suspended from the House for one sitting day, and should apologise to the House by means of a letter to the Committee.
The other two MPs, Bob Stewart and Adam Holloway – who decided to sign the letter after glancing at it for 20 seconds- should apologise to the House of Commons in a personal statement.
The committee recommends all five Members should also apologise to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales by letter copied to the Committee. The terms of all the apologies (both by letter and by personal statement) should be agreed in advance by Mr Speaker and the Chair of the Committee.
Four of the five MPs have been contrite about bringing Parliament into disrepute after being summoned by the committee – but Sir Roger Gale has refused to apologise and said he would do it again. He told the committee: “I would find a different way of doing it, but would I do it again—would I seek to achieve the same effect? Yes, I would”.
The report points out that Theresa Villiers is an experienced Member of the House, a trained barrister, and a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “We would have expected a Member of her seniority and experience, with legal expertise, to have been particularly aware that her actions in this case were an attempt improperly to interfere in judicial proceedings.”
Earlier this year Lord Freud was ordered by the Lords Commissioner for Standards to apologise and make a statement. A report was published on my blog here.
The long running saga by former Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming to take legal action against journalists and people who had reported or shared unproven child sex abuse allegations against him made by Esther Baker took a new twist last month.
I have already reported the judgement in a case brought by John Hemming and a counter claim by Sonia Poulton in full on this blog last month but there has now been a further hearing to ascertain costs.
Summary judgement case lost by Hemming
Hemming lost a case for a summary judgement giving him aggravated damages against journalist, Sonia Poulton. The case will now go to a full trial.
As reported before Hemming was also unable to strike out most of her defence and the judge ruled that a counterclaim by her for damages for harassment and injunctive relief, pursuant to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could go ahead. The latter counter claim was also against Sam Collingwood Smith and Darren Laverty, whom the judge said with the MP ” have been in some communication with one another, and have to some extent supported and assisted one another in various activities, not least litigation.”
The cost hearing began with an attempt by John Hemming’s lawyers and Darren Laverty to argue that as Sonia Poulton had refused an offer of mediation they should not pay her costs. But the judge did not accept this -particularly as her counter claim involved harassment of Sonia Poulton by Hemming, Laverty and Sam Collingwood Smith.
In the end the judge argued that Hemming should pay 85 per cent of her costs amounting to £8000 and Laverty should pay £6000. Laverty objected but has been told he has to pay by November when a case management hearing will be held prior to all the cases going to a full trial. Laverty has a separate claim for damages against Sonia Poulton.
The judge Deputy Master Bard also issued a general warning that litigation should not be used as a means of oppression.
In the latest move in a long running saga over the reporting of child sex abuse allegations made by Esther Baker to journalists, former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming lost a case for a summary judgement giving him aggravated damages against journalist, Sonia Poulton. The case will now go to a full trial.
Hemming was also unable to strike out most of her defence and the judge ruled that a counterclaim by her for damages for harassment and injunctive relief, pursuant to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could go ahead. The latter counter claim was also against Sam Collingwood Smith and Darren Laverty, whom the judge said with the MP ” have been in some communication with one another, and have to some extent supported and assisted one another in various activities, not least litigation.”
The judge also allowed Sonia Poulton to amend her defence when the case goes to a full trial. There is a separate case for damages being pursued by Darren Laverty.
The full judgement can be read here. It includes the history of a previous case between John Hemming and Esther Baker and the circumstances that surrounded a film interview Sonia Poulton gave which went on YouTube.
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, 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 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.
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, 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.
This week a peer and former Tory government minister Lord Freud was ordered to apologise to the House of Lords for breaching the code of conduct by “failing to act on his personal honour.”
The peer was among the signatories to two letters sent to two senior judges, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp and to Lady Justice Whipple, seeking to persuade her not to publish his name giving a good character reference to the ex MP who is now a convicted sex offender.
The MP was Charlie Elphicke, Tory and later Independent MP for Dover until 2019. He was convicted of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.
In November last year three newspapers, The Guardian, the Times and the Daily Mail, sought permission from Lady Justice Whipple to publish the character references from prominent people who were supporting him.
This led four other Tory MPs and the peer to write to two senior judges to persuade them to intervene in the case. The Lords Commissioner for Standards,Lucy Scott-Moncrieff , ruled this week in Lord Freud’s case was “was intended to persuade Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp to intervene.”
She added: “Similarly, the letter to Mrs Justice Whipple was written in terms intended to influence her thinking.”
MPs say intervention ” a point of principle”
The MPs action became public when Col Stewart asked for a ruling from Jacob Rees Mogg, leader of the House, – but he kept away from committing himself to intervene. The MPs claimed their action was on a point of principle to stop all character references being released but were shot down by the Lord Chief Justice’s office saying it was “improper” to seek to influence the decision of a judge who would ultimately rule on the basis of evidence and argument in court.
Now the Lords Commissioner for Standards has described the letters as ” emotive” and ruled: “I believe doing so in private correspondence to senior judges in terms designed to influence the trial judge must also be considered outside the standards of conduct expected of individual members.”
Existence of inquiry into MPs a secret
This leaves the question of the conduct of the MPs. They come under the Commons Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone. Under the rules of the House of Commons since 2018 it has been decided that no information on whether a complaint has been laid against an MP will be published until a final report is made. So officially it remains a secret whether there is any investigation. However the Guardian has reported that Helen Jones, the Labour MP for Warrington, North until the last election when the Tories won the seat, has put in a complaint.
It would be egregious if Lord Freud , who appears from the Lords report to have been encouraged by the MPs to write and complain, took the entire blame for this. It also, in my view, would encourage MPs to try and influence the judiciary without facing any penalty. And it smacks of the new chumocracy – one rule to protect the powerful and influential and another for Joe Bloggs.
The MPs of course say they are acting for the public who will be frightened to give character witnesses for convicted criminals if they are to be published.
Mrs Justice Whipple’s deft ruling
But this was shot down by Mrs Justice Whipple in a very deftly worded judgement. She distinguished between the ordinary Joe and public figures in releasing the names and references. Only those who had a public role in society were revealed – keeping to the right to know principle of public interest. As a result we also now know that Jonathan Aitken, a prominent former MP once jailed for perjury and now a vicar provided one . As did prominent local Roman Catholic priest, Father Jeff Cridland; Neil Wiggins, a community non executive director of the Port of Dover; and David Foley, chief executive of the Thanet and East Kent Chamber of Commerce. But we don’t know about 21 private individuals who are not prominent in public life.
Let’s see if anything comes from the sphinx like Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on this one.
Today the House of Lords expelled its first peer – after an excoriating report by the Lords conduct committee
Lord Nazir Ahmed, a life peer, who was ennobled by Tony Blair in 1998 and first Muslim peer in the UK, is being thrown out after the House of Lords Conduct Committee, headed by former Supreme Court judge, Lord Mance, upheld a serious complaint of sexual assault against a vunerable woman who sought his help.
The case is so bad that the report carries a health warning that it ” includes allegations of sexual misconduct and of racism which some readers may find upsetting or offensive.”
The decision to expel the peer followed a battle between him and the Lords Standards Commissioner, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff , after he appealed her findings against him and tried to discredit the woman who made the complaint. The appeal was heard by the conduct committee who have upheld her decision.
Labour Party suspension
The peer resigned once he knew the result and now says he is going to the European Court of Human Rights to clear his name. He had already resigned from the Labour Party in 2013 after the party suspended him when he said a ” Jewish conspiracy” was behind his conviction for a driving offence in Pakistan.
In 2017 he offered to help a woman who wanted to go to the Met Police to complain about a faith healer who she said was sexually and financially exploiting vulnerable people.
According to the report “Her complaint against Lord Ahmed was that when she asked him for help he initially made unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature with her and later held out the promise of using his influence to help her, when in fact his aim was to have sex with her.”
Instead of helping Tahura Zaman, the report says” “Lord Ahmed used the possibility of arranging a meeting with the Metropolitan Police to lure her to his house, where he had sex with her, possibly after drugging her. They then had a sexual relationship that lasted from September to November 2017, during which time he continued to say that he was going to arrange the meeting with the Metropolitan Police.
“During their sexual relationship she said that Lord Ahmed tried to pass her
to an associate, X, for X’s sexual gratification. She also told us that after Lord
Ahmed ended their sexual relationship, this associate deleted or made her delete all messages and other data to and from Lord Ahmed from her phone, which she believed was at Lord Ahmed’s instigation.”
Lord Ahmed denied all this and said it was a social arrangement and claimed she had initiated the sexual relationship at his house which he claimed he had politely rebuffed and tried to end.
The Commissioner found for the woman and concluded that Lord Ahmed was being dishonest and in denial over the incident. The only point she did not uphold was that she was drugged while she was a his house.
He appealed to the conduct committee which has backed the commissioner’s findings and recommended he be expelled.
Today Lord Mance in moving the motion said:
“We noted that the commissioner had found Lord Ahmed unco-operative and dishonest in the key areas and that he had shown no regret, remorse or understanding of the inappropriateness of his conduct or its effect on a vulnerable victim. We said in paragraph 45 of our report:
“The abuse of the privileged position of membership for a member’s own gain or gratification, at the expense of the vulnerable or less privileged, involves a fundamental breach of trust and merits the gravest sanction. Even though it is possible to think of even more serious breaches, the case in all its circumstances which we have set out crosses the threshold calling for immediate and definitive expulsion.”
This finding comes when the House of Lords has strengthened its code of conduct and made all peers go on courses to improve their behaviour following two other cases involving former Labour peers.
Lord Ahmed will keep his title even though he is barred from sitting in the Lords as it would require legislation to remove an individual peer’s title.
But Lord Mance added:” Lord Ahmed will retain none of the privileges of a retired Member. If this Motion is agreed today, the House of Lords Commission has agreed that with immediate effect Lord Ahmed will not be entitled to a retired Member’s pass and will not be able to access any of the facilities of the House.”
The motion was agreed unanimously. I think the time has come in cases like this to change the law so he can lose his title – otherwise he could still pose as a peer to people who do not know his circumstances.
The Independent Child Sex Abuse Inquiry’s verdict on lip service provision to tackle child sexual abuse
The CSA inquiry report into the Roman Catholic Church -published this week – and its handling of years of child sexual abuse makes very grim reading . It suggests that while the Church may have put in structures to deal with the issue there was no real compassionate commitment from the top of the Church to act.
In particular the report is scathing about Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, for his lack of compassion and the extraordinary failure of the former Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, to proffer even a statement to the inquiry. Instead he retired without saying a word.
This would suggest that neither Pope Francis nor the Cardinal – whatever words of contrition he made – are really bothered about the serious state of child sex abuse in the church in England and Wales.
3000 complaints of sexual abuse
And serious it is. The report says:
“Between 1970 and 2015, the Church received more than 3,000 complaints of child sexual abuse against more than 900 individuals connected to the Church. Those complaints involved over 1,750 victims and complainants. Civil claims against dioceses and religious institutes have resulted in millions of pounds being paid in compensation.
“Even so,the true scale of child sexual abuse is likely to be greater than these figures.” (my emphasis).
The Church’s attitude is in contrast to the Anglican Church – which while by no means perfect – does seem committed to change its ethos and culture. Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, seems more determined to take practical measures than Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Not that the Roman Catholic Church did not know it had a problem. Two reports -one by the late Lord Michael Nolan – who also was the founder chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life which investigated Westminster- and another by Baroness Cumberlege, a former health minister in John Major’s government -looked at the issue.
Both provided a framework to protect and safeguard children and adolescents from sexual abuse.
Lord Nolan’s thorough review
Lord Nolan made a thoroughly reviewed the situation, The inquiry said:
“His report, published in 2001, contained 83 recommendations applicable to the dioceses and religious institutes. At the heart of the Nolan report was the ‘One Church’ approach – a single set of principles, policies and practices across the Church that put the welfare of the child first.
“The first recommendation required the Church to “become an example of best practice in the prevention of child abuse and in responding to it”.
A body was set up to implement Nolan but it was not wholeheartedly done with some bishops opposing it and Baroness Cumberlege did another review in 2007. There were improvements but more needed to be done.
The report says:
“In May 2019, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “We humbly ask forgiveness … for our slowness and defensiveness and for our neglect of both preventative and restorative actions”.
“That slowness is exemplified by the Church’s failure to fully implement two of the Cumberlege Recommendations (one of which was 13 years overdue) and by its failure to establish the Safe Spaces joint project with the Anglican Church until September 2020. Six years have elapsed since this project was commenced and it seems little progress has been made to ensure that victims and survivors have access to the pastoral and therapeutic support that the Safe Spaces project was set up to provide.”
I suspect Safe Spaces was set up because the church knew they faced criticism by the inquiry.
The report details the most harrowing cases of sexual abuse.
As it says: “we heard appalling accounts of sexual abuse of children
perpetrated by clergy and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The sexual offending involved acts of masturbation, oral sex, vaginal rape and anal rape. On occasions, it was accompanied by sadistic beatings driven by sexual gratification, and often involved deeply manipulative behaviour by those in positions of trust, who were respected by parents and children alike.”
Examples include sexual crimes against children at Gilling Castle, a preparatory school for Ampleforth College; Downside School, Ealing Abbey St, Benedicts School in Ealing. Ampleforth College was particularly determined that these crimes should not exposed. Child sexual abuse at St. Benedicts was described the report as extensive.
Yet despite this harrowing evidence Cardinal Nichols did not show any compassion for the victims and survivors. The report says:
“”As the figurehead and the most senior leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Catholics look to Cardinal Nichols to lead by example. During the final public hearing in November 2018, he apologised for the Church’s failings, noting that this was a source of “great sorrow and shame for me and, indeed I know, for the Catholic Church”. But there was no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change. Nor did he demonstrate compassion towards victims in the recent cases which we examined.”
This is a terrible indictment of both the man and the organisation. The report makes seven recommendations ” covering leadership and oversight on safeguarding matters, a framework for dealing with cases of non-compliance with safeguarding policies and procedures, re-framing canonical crimes relating to child sexual abuse, reviewing policies and procedures, and also a complaints policy for safeguarding
My worry is that the Roman Catholic Church will still see a repeat of these problems even after receiving such a damning report. If the leadership is not there to get things changed, there will be no real progress.