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.

The Tories who tried to pressurise judges to keep secret their character references for a sexual offender ex MP

Lord Freud :” failed to act on his personal honour”. Pic credit: gov.uk

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.

Charlie Elphicke Ex MP Now in jail

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.

Dame Victoria Sharp pic cap : Judiciary.uk web site

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.”

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers

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.

Updated:The disgraceful case of the expelled ex Labour peer

Lord Ahmed Pic credit: BBC

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.

A damning indictment on the uncompassionate Roman Catholic Church

Cardinal Vincent Nichols: Pic credit: Twitter

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.”

sexual crimes

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.”

terrible indictment

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
cases.”

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.

Will the Church of England keep faith with supporting and compensating child sex abuse survivors?

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, moved to help survivors with emergency fund

It will take time to implement and insiders think it will cost the Church tens of millions of pounds to put right

Just three weeks before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse produced its shocking report on child sexual abuse inside the Anglican Church, the Archbishops Council decided to provide both help and financial support for survivors of this heinous crime.

The support was two fold – an emergency fund drawn from the reserves for just over a handful of desperate child abuse survivors and a long term project for a major compensation and support scheme for possibly hundreds if not more survivors.

As well as direct financial support this would fund counselling for survivors which is by nature long term and very expensive.

bigger demand from survivors

Inquiries revealed that the emergency package of help has already produced a bigger demand from survivors than anticipated. As the Church Times reported one survivor known as ” VB” received emergency funds both before ( at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s insistence) and after the emergency fund was set up after suffering bouts of severe depression following historic child sex abuse by multiple church officers as his business, already hit by Covid-19 was about to go bust.

Last week the Church confirmed that three survivors had received emergency help – one of them receiving a large sum – and that 12 people had either been referred or applied for help from the fund.

The good news is that the Church says none of 12 has been ruled ineligible for help and that more money will be forthcoming from the reserves to help them if that is what is required. The figure for the fund is being kept confidential but I understand it is not far short of £1m.

The big question us the long term solution. Phil Johnson, chair of the Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, and has been critical of the support given to survivors in the past, is delighted at the support being given now.

Could cost tens of millions

He estimates that if the Church is to help all the people who have been victims of child sex abuse the cost could run ” to tens of millions of pounds”- if not shy of £100m.

This will be a tall order and must raise the issue of whether the Church will have to sell any of its assets and investments.

The Church itself says: “No way to tell [the final cost] and there is an important point to make that redress is not all about money but also apology, restorative justice and other factors. The Church is now responding to and engaging with survivors to provide the help and support needed to overcome the impacts of abuse, whatever form that takes. This is initially with the most urgent cases for help but eventually to address the needs of all Church-based abuse survivors.”

The delay in setting up a permanent fund is because it will take time to set up formal structures and procedures and the Church hopes to learn from running the emergency fund the best way to proceed.

Meg Munn

Meg Munn, chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, is also keeping an eye on progress.

She said :We were updated that work is ongoing on the final scheme with recruitment of a manager for it. Work is also underway to establish the interim hardship fund that was agreed by the Archbishop’s council in September.

“We don’t have a date for when the interim scheme will be in place, but we were assured that there is a desire to have this in place as soon as possible.”

Meg Munn’s warning

In a recent blog she wrote: “Profound change will not be established until there is complete acceptance across the whole of the church that striving for a safe church is at the heart of its mission. Consequently, the current structure which sustains unaccountable and powerful clergy must change. Without this, the Church will continue to have dangerous places for children and adults as I described in my interview nearly two years ago.

“There may never be a better opportunity for those with responsibility and influence to step up to this challenge. It will mean tackling long and dearly held principles, something some might not want to do. But not doing so will lead to more lives devastated, and more damage to the reputation of the church. Is this generation of church leaders prepared to accept that? “

If the Church do proceed and keep up their good intentions perhaps at last the stain of hidden child sex abuse will be finally removed. That is why I am pleased IICSA will look again at the progress made by the Anglican Church before the inquiry is over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 complaints

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

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

champagne and silver gilt framed photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexist and transphobic remarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour Party suspension

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

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

The Curate’s Egg: Child Sex Abuse inquiry reveals the Anglican Church has only half tackled the problem

Alexis Jay; Chair of the inquiry. Pic credit: iicsa

It is over six years ago that on Exaro News I worked with seven MPs from all parties to press Theresa May, then home secretary, to launch the Independent inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Now after two general elections only two – Caroline Lucas and Tim Loughton – remain as MPs.

Another Zac Goldsmith is now a government minister and peer. The remaining four Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk, Tessa Munt and John Hemming are Parliamentary history.

At the time with the help of Exaro colleague Mark Conrad, we drafted the letter that went to Theresa May – on behalf of the MPs- outlining the scale of abuse in the UK and citing specific cases and saying what needed to be tackled. She acted.

Tim Loughton MP

As Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, put it at the time:

“Virtually every week, the public is bombarded with new stories about sexual abuse of children coming to light, yet they stretch as far back as the 1960’s.

“Few areas have been left untouched with increasingly alarming stories involving schools, churches, care homes, entertainment, sport and of course politicians and celebrities.

“Most alarming is a consistent theme of the reluctance or, more worryingly, the seeming complicity of police and other agencies to investigate the allegations seriously, and pursue the perpetrators rigorously.”

A lot has happened since – including the sentencing of Carl Beech, a paedophile , who made false allegations against prominent figures – as well as successful prosecutions in North Wales by the National Crime Agency – of paedophiles who got away with it for years.

Now the work of this inquiry has begun to bear fruit – and the publication this month of its over arching report into the Anglican Church and The Church of Wales is its most detailed investigation yet.

The report reveals both some progress and failure to tackle the problem. But I am pretty convinced without the catalyst of the national inquiry the Church would have continued to bury its head in the sand and still not taken half the measures it has.

The history of child sexual abuse in the church is damning. Since the 1940s as the report says 390 people have been convicted as sex offenders.

It goes on:” In 2018, 449 concerns were reported to the Church about recent child sexual abuse, of which more than half related to church officers. Latterly, a significant amount of offending involved the downloading or possession of indecent images of children. The Inquiry examined a number of cases relating to both convicted perpetrators and alleged perpetrators, many of which demonstrated the Church’s failure to take seriously disclosures by or about children or to refer allegations to the statutory authorities.”

As extraordinary are the figures spent on safeguarding children – see below. A pathetic £37,000 was spent for whole Anglican church in 2013 a year before the call for the inquiry . The last year for 2020 is not fully approved.

The report shows failings in the culture of the church which allowed paedophiles to hide and a highly complex devolved hierarchy which meant there are many gaps for allegations of child sexual abuse not to be reported because of the autonomy of different sections of the church. For example cathedrals are not as you might expect run by bishops but the Dean and Chapter. Also although safeguarding has now been highlighted, the people in charge are designated as advisers rather than officers, allowing the clergy the last word on whether action should be taken.

On the plus side it looks as though the Church is taking safeguarding seriously and training its staff about the issue. Newly recruited ordained priests seem to have the most detailed training and the church is at last doing criminal checks before appointing anyone to an important position.

There have been a number of attempts to check back on historical sex abuse allegations. The numbers checked look impressive at 40,000 but only 13 cases were identified as it was mainly a book keeping exercise.

Salisbury cathedral – one of seven dioceses where past cases of child sex abuse are being re-examined because they may not have been competently checked. Pic credit: Flickr

When this was re-examined by Sir Roger Singleton, a safeguarding expert, he recommended: ” An “updated version” of the PCR[ Past Case review} should be conducted in the dioceses of Ely, Lichfield, Rochester, Salisbury, Sheffield, Winchester, and Sodor and Man given “the absence of evidence that the Past Cases Review had been carried out competently in these dioceses”.

This is now being done again and will report in 2022.

counselling cancelled

The report also includes some rather horrifying cases because the system did not work properly. In one case a person who was claiming compensation from the Church’s insurers for past sexual abuse had his counselling cancelled because a lawyer advised the Church he shouldn’t have it since he was claiming against the Church,

It is also clear that much abuse was not revealed at the time. When the inquiry looked into a past case of Bishop Victor Whitsey, who died in 1987, but was during his career Bishop of Chester, Suffragan Bishop of Hertford at St.Albans and a priest in Blackburn and Manchester, some 19 people came forward saying he abused them including a brother and sister.

The report also discloses that there is still much to do . The Church is divided about mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, with even the Charity Commission thinking they could be flooded with too many cases; the position over insurance and compensation for victims is unresolved and the process of clergy discipline measures needs reform and artificial time limits covering complaints removed. The rules over disclosure of child sexual abuse during confessions needs to change – exempting it from the sacred duty of confidentiality. And record keeping in the Church of Wales needs a thorough overhaul as there is a serious problem there.

The inquiry plans to come back over these issues and rightly so.

But perhaps one of the most chilling and sad paragraph in the report is a description of the Church’s problems with sexuality.

fear and secrecy over sexuality

“There was a culture of fear and secrecy within the Church about
sexuality. Some members of the Church also wrongly conflated homosexuality with the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. There was a lack of transparency, open dialogue and candour about sexual matters, together with an awkwardness about investigating such matters. This made it difficult to challenge sexual behaviour.
Mr Colin Perkins, diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA) for the Diocese of Chichester, told us that homosexual clergy may have found themselves inadvertently “under the same cloak” as child sexual abusers, who sought to mask their behaviour “in the same cultural hiding place”.

For those who follow this blog this report signals that I am back keeping a regular eye on child sexual abuse issues. Those who follow me on the fight for 50swomen know I don’t give up easily.

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

Government Campaign Poster on Domestic Abuse

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

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

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

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

Victims Right Directive

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

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

He writes in a report:

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

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Beech Verdict: A savage blow that does not mean we ignore all future child sex abuse investigations

Carl Beech: !8 year prison sentence for perverting the course of justice and fraud Pic credit:BBC

The Carl Beech verdict is a blow to child sex abuse investigations. After the trial and thorough investigation by Northumbria Police Beech he emerged as a prolific, manipulative and malicious paedophile who made false allegations against powerful people and sparked off a huge investigation by the Met Police.

 Both myself and the reporter, Mark Conrad, who investigated Beech, part company with Exaro’s former editor in chief, Mark Watts, in deciding that the verdict was “unsafe” or that he didn’t get a fair trial. Beech chose not to call a single witness in his defence and when the net was closing he fled the country.

Now the question is asked should journalists have ignored him from day one and reported nothing taking the line that no one in “the great and good” has ever sexually molested a child and anybody alleging that is a fantasist.

 Or should we try diligently to get to the truth of the matter given the limited tools journalists have compared to a police force or the powers and scope an inquiry can have to investigate a case?

The simple solution is to say allegations, particularly historic, of child sex abuse, are so problematic, so difficult to prove, that anybody coming to a journalist suggesting they are a survivor of sexual abuse should be turned away. That would a devastating to the many thousands of survivors themselves who would have no other recourse other than going to an overworked police force. It wouldn’t be just a case of not being believed but being ignored.

 It was also play into the hands of any paedophile to do what he or she liked – knowing their victims would never be listened to and they could hide behind the new populism that most child sex abuse in the UK is just a string of false allegations.

The latter fact is wrong. If you look at recent convictions hardly a week goes by -without either individuals or paedophile gangs being convicted in the courts- and that includes historic cases.

While Operation Midland was going on the National Crime Agency successfully prosecuted people in North Wales – including a police superintendent – the late Gordon Angelsea- who had denied child sex abuse crimes for years and successfully sued Private Eye and the Observer. He was one of 11 people so far successfully prosecuted through Operation Pallial including John Allen, an owner of children’s home and gang of five paedophiles led by a former professional wrestler.

Gangs have been convicted in Rotherham, Hull, Stoke on Trent, Rochdale, Lichfield and Newcastle upon Tyne to name a few.

And the idea that there isn’t a single prominent person who indulges in child sex abuse has been proved untrue with the conviction of the late Bishop Peter Ball, Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, who convinced people at the very top, including Prince Charles, for years that accusations against him were a pack of lies. And Sir Cyril Smith MP whose escaped crimes in Rochdale were exposed in a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

The only way you can investigate child sex abuse is to look for any outside facts that might stand up the likelihood of the case, test the person’s knowledge of the places where it is alleged to have happened and do a thorough test to see if the “ victim” can identify his perpetrator. You also rely on other people – not sexually abused themselves – to act as whistleblowers or people in authority at the time who can stand up the circumstances of a story.

The problem with the Carl Beech investigation was the way he undermined any diligent reporting by meticulously researching details about his victims and their premises so the” right” answers would come out.

The other was the odd way Exaro was run. Unlike nearly all news organisations there were no internal news conferences where ideas could be swapped and challenged. Reporters were forbidden from discussing the individual child sex abuse case they were investigating with any other reporter.

 As a result I did not know the true identity of Carl Beech until it was made public. I have never met him, never exchanged any emails or talked to him.

 Perhaps he would have been exposed if a tech savvy reporter had seized his computer – but I doubt the public would support journalists seizing other people’s computers while they were conducting investigations.

 There has been criticism of my colleague Mark Conrad for conducting a picture identity test after Beech had alleged 12 people had sexually abused him.  He tells me that consisted of inserting the 12 into 42 different people and took place before the police started their investigation.

 The reason why it was done was because of the disastrous episode on BBC Newsnight where the survivor Steve Messham was never shown a picture of the late Lord McAlpine who was wrongly alleged to have abused him – which would have prevented a false allegation circulating on social media..

Investigating historic child sex abuse is one of the most difficult areas to do in journalism.  Carl Beech has made it even more so. One lesson is that people who say they were sexually abused will in future have to face more scrutiny by both the police and journalists investigating their claims.   The law about anonymity for people being investigated for child sex abuse might have to be tightened up – though I would be careful in advocating this.

 But what must not happen is that the default position should move from believing a survivor to taking the view that the accusation is false. That way would provide paedophiles – who are the most cunning and manipulative of all people – with a free market to abuse whoever they wish and get away scot free.

Byline Times Exclusive: Charity Commission to condemn Oxfam over Haiti sex exploitation but ignore damning report exposing 23 other charities

Oxfam to be damned tomorrow while 23 other international charities could have a worse history of sex exploitation of women

 The Charity Commission will tomorrow issue an excoriating report on Oxfam’s mismanagement and failure to act over the sexual exploitation of victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2011.

But the Commission will ignore a much wider scandal that suggests that 23 of the world’s biggest overseas aid charities are hiding far worse sexual exploitation of vulnerable people by their own staff and of fellow women and gay aid workers.

The full story is in Byline Times here.