Home Office rewrites definition of child sexual exploitation

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Home Office: trying to define child sexual exploitation Pic credit: gov.uk

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This week  the Home Office quietly announced a new definition of child sexual exploitation which will be used by all practitioners in the field – from the police and social workers to voluntary organisations and charities.

The decision was overshadowed by an announcement that the Government was spending an extra £40m tackling child sex abuse.

It included the launch of a new Centre of Expertise on child sexual abuse, an extra £20 million for the National Crime Agency to tackle online child sexual exploitation, £2.2 million for organisations working to protect children at risk of trafficking and the launch of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs) in 3 early-adopter sites across the UK.

The latter service will initially be provided by Barnardo’s in Wales, Hampshire and Greater Manchester ahead of a full national roll out.

However the change in the wording of what constitutes child sexual exploitation had been a minefield for the ministry. The consultation paper admitted the existing definition of child sexual exploitation adopted since 2009 had not worked and had hampered investigations.

It described  current rules as ” unclear and out of date.”

“Voluntary organisations, devolved administrations and local agencies have responded over time by developing a number of alternative definitions. Partners have told us that this has led to local agencies using different definitions or using the terms ‘child sexual abuse’ and ‘child sexual exploitation’ interchangeably, resulting in ineffective multi-agency working, inconsistent risk assessments and poor data collection.”

But changing the definition has not been easy. The first draft proposed a year ago has been attacked as both being too broad – and threatening to include all sexual relations between 16 and 17 year olds – and too narrow in its definition of exploitation over the internet.

The original proposed draft said:

“Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse. It occurs where anyone under the age of 18 is persuaded, coerced or forced into sexual activity in exchange for, amongst other things, money, drugs/alcohol, gifts, affection or status. Consent is irrelevant, even where a child may believe they are voluntarily engaging in sexual activity with the person who is exploiting them. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact and may occur online.”

The Home Office received criticism from organisations over under 18 year olds being ” persuaded, coerced or forced into sexual activity”.

” There were concerns that the definition was too broad and had the potential to be interpreted as covering age-appropriate sexual experimentation as well as cases of child sexual exploitation. In particular, a number of respondents felt that the inclusion of the word ‘persuaded [into sexual activity]’ could cover a range of ‘normal’ behaviours within the relationships of 16 and 17 year olds that would not fit the coercive nature of child sexual exploitation.”

Persuaded has now being dropped in favour of ‘coerce, manipulate or deceive’..

The Home Office was also thought to have too narrowly defined exploitation using the internet.

“Respondents thought the phrase ‘may occur online’ in the proposed definition did not adequately capture exploitation that might occur through the use of mobile phone applications and other forms of technology.
We have amended the definition to refer to ‘the use of technology’.

The new revised definition which comes into force next month now reads:

“Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.”

The full results of the consultation can be read here.

It goes to show how difficult it can be to define what people might think is a simple issue – and also if you get it wrong it may explain while child sexual exploitation has not always been properly tackled by the police and social services if no-one agrees what it is.

Brian Altman: The scuba diving prosecutor who “speared” Milly Dowler’s killer

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Brian Altman – new lead counsel for the independent child sexual abuse inquiry. Pic credit: 2 Bedford Chambers

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The announcement this week that former Treasury counsel Brian Altman has been appointed lead counsel  from March to the much troubled Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse should be  good news for survivors.

The man has a formidable reputation as a forensic prosecutor and a particularly strong line in bringing criminals to justice in  ” cold case ” murders.  For once the phrase ” highly experienced”  used by the inquiry chair, Alexis Jay, is no exaggeration.

He has yet to get a cameo role as a lawyer  in ” Silent Witness” – though he did appear in a BBC 4 Real Crime and Punishment series ( sadly no longer available on BBC i-Player.).He has received much praise from journalists who regularly cover Old Bailey trials for the way he ensnares defendants who hope to escape justice for unspeakable crimes.

His case list of successful prosecutions is impressive. They include the notorious serial killer and rapist Levi Bellfield who murdered  teenager Milly Dowler and  killer Colin Ash-Smith convicted 21 years after he murdered 19 year old Claire Tiltman.

He has also prosecuted in a joint British and Dutch investigation  of canal murderer John Sweeney who killed and dismembered former American model and photographer, Melissa Halstead, in Holland in 1990, and disposed of her remains in a Rotterdam canal, and Paula Fields in London in 2000, whose dismembered body parts were found in the Regent’s Canal in 2001.

He has a string of other murder cases – where he both defended and prosecuted killers – and successfully prosecuted terrorists-including  those involved in a disrupted Islamic state terror plot and Syrian trained terrorists planning attacks in the UK.

He is familiar with the workings of the security services  and bad behaviour by MPs – he once advised on whether to prosecute one for expenses fraud – and his client list include members of a Middle  East Royal Family – though not disclosing whether it is the Saudi Arabian one or not. For a full list see his entry on his  chambers website here.

All this should bode well  for those who want forensic examinations of some of the most highly contentious cases that will be looked at by the child sexual abuse inquiry. This will in time include the Westminster paedophile ring, Greville Janner and the Leicestershire institutions involved in child sexual abuse and some of the more contentious child sex abuse scandals in London.

Historic child sexual abuse is also a ” cold case ”  issue – so this quote should comfort the sceptics.

“For cold case murders, he is the go-to barrister because he is able to draw together all the small pieces to provide a coherent analysis, and he knows these cases so well that there is nothing the defence can come up with to outfox him. He is completely relentless, extremely personable and a great team player”; “He is a master of detail who never makes a mistake.” Chambers & Partners 2016 (Crime)

Frankly  the inquiry after all the row surrounding the departure of his predecessor, Ben Emmerson, could do with a boost. Given there is also outside pressure – thankfully resisted by Theresa May who set it up – to try and get the government to close the inquiry down because of its scope and cost, this is doubly important.

Brian Altman in his Linked In profile also lists two hobbies – scuba diving and travel. I can well understand  he will sometimes want to get away from it all after all this work pressure.

He is  coy about where he has travelled and where he has scuba dived. He tells me one of the places he has not yet visited is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the largest scuba diving place in the world.

Given he is probably lead counsel for the largest child sex abuse inquiry in the world- perhaps he also should also get some time off to relax there as well soon.

 

 

 

 

Paedophile loses case to ban Facebook from publishing his criminal past

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Belfast High Court Pic Credit: BBC

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An important judicial decision came out over the Christmas recess in a highly controversial case in Northern Ireland which has led a paedophile to claim £20,000 for harassment because of a blog revealing his criminal past.

The ruling is particularly significant as more people get their news from Facebook and Google rather than traditional mainstream media.

The case has been featured on this blog before. It arose after  Joseph McCloskey set up a Facebook profile page called ” Keep Our Kids Safe from Predators 2 ” which posted information about a convicted sex offender called CG.

CG was released from jail in 2012 after serving a sentence for gross indecency and indecent assault offences against a young girl and a teenage boy.

He is now over 40 and he remains under supervision by the authorities.He has been assessed as posing no significant risk to the public.

His lawyers argued that an online campaign after his details appeared on the page had reached the level of dangerous vigilantism..One user called for him to be hung while others endorsed shooting or castrating him.

CG also claimed he has been threatened with being thrown off a pier during a fishing trip, hounded out of a cinema and had to use a supermarket trolley to fight off another tormentor.

None of the information published  by McCloskey was private. It was all in the public domain at the time of CG’s conviction. CG’s solicitors complained to Mr McCloskey  who removed the posting. He later put two posts disclosing CG’s criminal record and his picture.

The lawyers weren’t satisfied and went to court claiming the sex offender had been harassed on Facebook and his human rights breached by the publication on Facebook misusing private information.

The judge found against the campaigner and Facebook and awarded the sex offender £20,000 damages for harassment.Facebook decided to appeal as it thought the ruling was excessive.

Now the Court of Appeal has decided that Facebook should have taken down the post earlier because it was leading to the harassment of the paedophile.

But very significantly the court ruled that the two other posts which dealt with his criminal record and showed his picture can remain.

The decision by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan means that the compensation awarded to CG – which has not be paid because of legal proceedings – will be cut.

But it is also establishing a ruling that contradicts Google’s ” right to be forgotten” procedures saying that public information involving court proceedings can remain on line and cannot be construed as private information.

It was  critical of suggestions that re-publication of conviction information was relevantly private information because in principle “the public has a right to know about such convictions. Information about what has happened in open court can be freely communicated by members of the public”. This was an important aspect of the open justice principle “of very significant weight which can only be outweighed by the interest of the individual in freedom from intrusion in the most compelling circumstances”:

It also rejected the idea that because t some information is covered by the Data Protection Act is it automatically private.

considerable caution should be exercised before reading across  those matters, because the “fact that information is regulated for that [data protection] purpose does not necessarily make it private”.,said the ruling.

For those who want to follow the finer legal detail there is an interesting report by lawyer Christopher Knight, of 11KBW in London here  and a report in the Irish News which dwells on the part of the the Court of Appeal  judgement that was upheld.

 

 

 

 

The 60 year old shame of Home Office treatment of sexually and physically abused child migrants

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The list of homes the Home Office is said to have known abused children; Photo credit: ABC News

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Next month the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will hold a hearing into how British children were shipped abroad to  Australia, Canada and Southern Rhodesia ( now Zimbabwe) where they were subject to appalling physical and sexual abuse.

One of the people who has submitted evidence to the British inquiry has already raised issues about his treatment at one of these homes, Fairbridge Farm School,New South Wales in Australia.

David Hill  was interviewed by  the Guardian last year in Australia and tells a horrific story of a place where people were poorly educated and fed,brutally treated and some sexually abused. He went out with his brother in 1959 from Eastbourne in Sussex.

He has been one of the people who eventually prospered becoming chairman and managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC carried a report on his decision to send evidence here.

But his most damaging evidence is that he might not have gone there if the Home Office had acted on information they  received three years earlier after a visit of UK MPs to Australia. In 1956 they came on a fact finding mission to find out about conditions in those schools.

The result, according to evidence submitted to the inquiry. is that the Home Office were given the names ( see above in a memo) of ten schools that should have been put on a blacklist and no British children should have been sent there.

But the Home Office appeared to  do nothing even though they decided that  the schools would need a ”  complete metamorphosis ” to be fit to accept children. So they appear to have ignored the findings so they could keep the migrant programme going – where British children from poor backgrounds were offered a new chance in life. Their decision was no better than when a whistleblower, Lucy Cole Hamilton, alerted the Home Office over a decade earlier about conditions at Fairbridge Farm and warned them not to send British children there. As a report by Sanchia Berg for the Today programme revealed in 2009 the decision was to “lay by ” and do nothing.

I am hoping that this callous attitude – which seems extended today by the Home Office and Theresa May’s view that we should all but ignore the plight of immigrant children seeking asylum in the UK – is thoroughly examined by the inquiry.

The inquiry’s own research report points out the whole area is remarkably under investigated.As it states no inquiry has ever undertaken a proper  and sustained  analysis of the failings of this huge programme and properly investigated whether some of the children were sexually abused by people in institutions before they were sent abroad.

Gordon Brown has apologised in 2009 about the way the children were treated. But it was enormous programme – some 150,000 children participated and it began in the early 17C when children were sent to Virginia – though some of the largest programmes were after the second world war. It did not stop until the 1970s.

A lot of questions need to be answered – not least from the one posed by David Hill about the role of the Home Office in the late 1950s.

 

 

Police arrest man on suspicion of stalking a child sexual abuse survivor

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Met Police arrest man on suspicion of stalking Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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The Met Police this morning arrested a 51 year old man in Kendal after obtaining a warrant to search his property  under the Harassment Act.

A statement from the Met Police said : “Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service carried out a warrant under the harassment act at an address in Kendal, Cumbria, on the morning of Wednesday, 4 January.
Police arrested a 51-year-old man on suspicion of stalking.
He was taken to a police station in Cumbria for questioning.
He has been bailed to return on a date in mid-May.”

I understand the man arrested was Simon Just and the person who was being allegedly stalked was Esther Baker, who has publicly disclosed that she is an abuse survivor.

The arrest comes while there is a separate police investigation by Staffordshire Police into  historic child sex abuse allegations involving the abuse of Esther Baker and other people. Staffordshire Police have referred the investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In a separate move  earlier another  man – understood to be Darren Laverty – has also been arrested  and charged with stalking Esther Baker and another woman, a journalist.

 

 

Henriques: Help or Hindrance

 

Sir Richard Henriques.

Sir Richard Henriques. Pic Credit: Blackpool Gazette and loucollins.uk

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The heavily censored Henriques Report – only 84 out of nearly 500 pages released – comes firmly down on the side that all the prominent people investigated in Operation Midland are innocent of sexual abuse allegations made by “Nick” and the Met police should have closed down the investigation.

It has also triggered an investigation by Northumbria Police into whether ” Nick ”  should be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice by making such allegations.

More significantly  it  questions the whole approach of the police  in handling future complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse across the country.

It amounts to a rebalancing of the way the police handle child sexual abuse and rape cases from protecting the accuser to offering more support to the suspect.

In doing so it exposes a rift between the  judge and Operation Hydrant, the national co-ordinating investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse by prominent people headed by Simon Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk.

Basically Henriques wants to  revert to the earlier situation where people who allege a crime was committed against them are treated as complainants and not victims of crimes and anyone who alleges child sexual abuse is not necessarily believed.

Simon Bailey clearly disagrees with this and makes it clear  that he believes  it will be detrimental to the trust people who have been abused  have in dealing with the police.

I disagree with both of them and think  they should be called survivors – as the use of the word victim  implies powerlessness- something I have not seen with the survivors I have met.

Henriques seems to want a return to historic times where from North Wales to London an accused paedophile could get away with it much more easily and die peacefully in his bed.

His assurances that people complaining have nothing to fear from telling the truth has  not worked in the past or we wouldn’t have this huge backlog of cases.

Savile and Sir Cyril Smith managed to avoid prosecutions altogether. But by taking abused people seriously years later North Wales paedophiles  Gordon Anglesea and John Allen have been convicted as a result of the Pallial investigation.

Operation Fernbridge also led to the  successful conviction of a well connected Roman Catholic priest who had escaped justice for some 40 years. Among celebrities who have been successfully convicted is Rolf Harris.

However the treatment of  the police of suspects like Paul Gambaccini, Cliff Richard and Lord Bramall that Henriques declares innocent  during the police  investigation seems to have been excessive and looks ( though he doesn’t go into the full detail in his heavily redacted report) that many procedural  mistakes were made.

He also challenges Bailey over the small number of false claims – and seems to suggest that there are likely to be more false claims against prominent people.

He says there is an imbalance between the anonymity granted to the accuser and the danger of the anonymity of the suspect being disclosed. However the police do not name the suspect until charged

His solution is to limit information released by the police while they are investigating the case by removing the age and the location of the person involved being interviewed,arrested or their home searched. I can see being reasonable over home raids and interviews but it is dangerous if it is extended to an arrest.

At present if a journalist becomes aware someone is arrested they will limit their coverage to avoid prejudicing a trial. If the police refuse to confirm this  they risk a  prejudiced trial because journalists won’t know and could  publish information that will damage their case.

There is also one serious error in his conclusion over Exaro’s coverage. He says the news organisation used a photo identity test on the survivor.  He implied we did it while there was an ongoing police investigation. Wrong. It took place before the police ever interviewed ” Nick”. It was done because if the person couldn’t recognise any of the people who he claimed had abused him, it would throw doubt on his claims. The  late Lord McAlpine case is an example where this did not happen with disastrous consequences.

I am also sceptical of him seeking ” confidentiality  agreements ” with survivors binding them forever to secrecy over their allegations which even he admits survivors would face no sanctions if they ignored it.

The survivors would in theory if the police decided there was not enough evidence to prosecute be left unable to tell anyone about his or her case. As a result they would  be left in a worse position than if they never complained to the police in the first place.

So help or hindrance? With firm evidence that there are at least 100,000 people now in this country viewing children being sexually abused for pleasure on the internet  there is a danger that a substantial shift in the balance from protecting the survivor to protecting the suspect could hinder the advances being made in bringing paedophiles to book.

You do not change the law  for the whole country based on a few very high profile cases even if a judge rules  that they were unjustly accused and there was no corroborative evidence.

Yes make some adjustments to officially confirming information to protect people who could be innocent. Don’t put back the present  direction of travel – otherwise you are giving comfort to that small minority who still persist in believing that child sexual abuse is just a ” conspiracy theory ” created by  a few people trying to make money out of innocent public figures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why prosecuting “Nick” for perverting the course of justice may not stand up in court

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Will Scotland Yard prosecute Nick? Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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The storm after the damning Henriques report  into  how the  Met Police police handled a series of high profile paedophile investigations -including Operation Midland and Yewtree  -has led to demands that one of the principal accusers called ” Nick ” be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.

I have never met ” Nick” as the story was handled by my colleague Mark Conrad but am aware of the circumstances of the Exaro investigation.

Henriques himself – while deciding that all the prominent figures accused in Operation Midland are innocent and were subject to false allegations – stops short of actually recommending this despite being pressed by the Janner family and seeing the strong demands from former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.

He says “Such a course  is well outside my terms of reference and may well be cited as a ground for staying any criminal action against ” Nick.”

But the Met Police decided to ask Northumbria Police to investigate whether ” Nick” had indeed done this.

Unless Henriques, who has only released 84 pages of a 500 page report,has secret information on Nick proving how he made all this up I have considerable scepticism that the police could make a charge of perverting the course of justice stick or even be accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

My reason is that there is a precedent. Just 16 months ago a person was tried at the Old Bailey in a court case that most of the national newspapers could not be bothered to cover.

I was a prosecution witness  alongside other journalists in that trial  in a case brought  by the Met Police against Ben Fellows   who had accused the former  Tory chancellor, Ken Clarke, of sexually abusing him.Clarke denied it vehemently and Henriques backs him up.

My involvement – which is contained in a statement on this website after the trial was over – was because I had given a statement to the Met Police while they were investigating his claims.

Fellows was a member of an undercover sting by the Cook Report which was looking at Ian Greer Associates, a long defunct lobbying company, and it was while he was working with us he alleged this had happened.

The Met Police in the end not only did not find any evidence but decided to prosecute him for perverting the course of justice.

He was acquitted of this charge by the jury.

We do not know why the jury decided this. However it was put  to them by his defence barrister that  it was the police that sought his statement not Fellows  who had actually initially refused. So he had not deliberately set out to pervert the course of justice.

The survivor Nick is in the same position. He did not go to the police demanding they investigate the Westminster paedophile ring. The police sought him as a potential witness when they contacted Exaro asking whether  we could provide his details to them.

Exaro made it clear to the police that it would be up to Nick whether he talked to them. Exaro also remained neutral on whether he wanted to talk to him – we did not pressurise him to go to the police. In the end he decided he would – but it was because the police requested it.

Given that – unless again there is something secret that Henriques knows but is not telling the public – it is going to require a high bar to prove he deliberately set out to force the Met Police to spend £2m on an investigation.

There is also another point to this. If the police ask a survivor to make a statement to them so they can pursue people where child sexual abuse crimes are  alleged to be committed are they now going to issue  a warning to the survivor. Are they going to tell survivors that if they cannot prove the case – or no other witnesses come forward – they will liable for prosecution for perverting the course of justice. If that is the new era  survivors are going to be very reluctant to come forward to the police in future.

 

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