Child abuse survivors strike back: A reflection on Reflections UK

Jenny tomlin: one of three organisers of the new Reflections  group

Jenny tomlin: one of three organisers of the new Reflections group

Yesterday in a community hall in Loughborough a new group  calling itself Reflections UK representing survivors of child abuse  across the UK was born.

It has arisen because many survivors – at first buoyed up by the creation of the over arching child sex abuse independent panel – have been knocked down by its replacement body, the statutory Lowell Goddard inquiry. While there was a populist demand for a statutory inquiry – many don’t seem to have realised that the price of that was to exclude survivors from sitting on it.

There has now been a strong backlash from survivors who believe their voices  have been excluded and they have decided to do something about it. Yesterday’s meeting was the start.

It is a powerful 21st century response to a government trying to find a traditionally 20th century solution to a very, very serious issue. The Goddard inquiry is a classic way governments try to solve problems – appoint an eminent judge, bring in a bevy of QC’s, hold hearings, make recommendations and spend a lot of money on an inquiry to sort it. The great and the good solve it all for the great unwashed who are eternally grateful.

Reflections UK is a 21st century response to this – made possible through instant communication on Facebook and Twitter – and expecting the survivors to be treated as equal partners. And they are not going to keep quiet and nor are they going to have their very emotive, raw and angry response to what happened to them filtered by the Whitehall bureaucracy. And in the 21st century they have the medium and the power – through the internet – to do it.

Perhaps the most telling example was the treatment of Jenny Tomlin, one of the organisers of the meeting. ( Local blog followers should know she lives in nearby Tring), She is a survivor of sexual abuse and a successful author ( see her book list on Amazon). As she told the meeting ” the great and the good” (not her words) asked her to apply to sit on their advisory group. But when she received the form it was more interested in  academic qualifications than raw experience and direct personal knowledge so she was rejected. How very last century!

The meeting itself drew a very strong cast of speakers. it was opened by Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, who made it very, very clear that she was there as the MP for Loughborough and not as a Cabinet minister. She also refused any media interviews and managed to make a speech without commenting on child sex abuse. But at least she turned up.

Speaker Jess Phillips,MP, a " big gob" for child abuse survivors? Pic Credit: Twitter

Speaker Jess Phillips,MP, a ” big gob” for child abuse survivors?
Pic Credit: Twitter

More interesting was newly elected MP, Jess Phillips.Labour, Birmingham,Yardley, who defeated Liberal Democrat John Hemming in the last election.

She didn’t hold back. As a Victims Champion for Birmingham, a person who had worked with a charity handling domestic abuse -she was well aware of the issue.

She is already making waves in Westminster as an MP. As she says in this article in Total Politics she has ” too big a gob” to shut up. And she certainly went down well at the meeting saying ” My mother told me you  only go for power to give it away” and promised to take an active role in raising cases.Indeed before she had left she had already taken some up.

Other key speakers included a GP Dr Sanjay Panwar; Graham Wilmer ( an ex panel member); Survivor Esther Baker, an Iman Muhammed Al-Hussaini  and a lawyer Nigel Thompson who pointed out how Lowell Goddard has already signed a contract promising to keep secret some of the information she may receive in her role as inquiry chair -presumably from the security services.

The most devastating personal contribution – to my mind – came from Diane House from Loughborough. She told a very familiar tale and illustrated it by going silent in the middle of her contribution. It had all the familiar ingredients of a tale from a person who had been sexually abused by seven different people. Family not believing her, friends calling her a slag, police lacking empathy and even today given a very low priority to investigating her case – which unlike some – did not include any VIPs just nasty human beings.

What was clear from this meeting organised by Phil Lafferty is that out there is a very large group of angry, frustrated people who are determined not to be ignored by the authorities and will make their views known. Lowell Goddard ignores them at her peril because they have the power in the 21st century to tell their stories which would have been denied them in the last century.

When a short sharp shock policy turns into mass sexual and physical abuse

While attention has been focused on a Westminster paedophile ring an extraordinary police investigation into a now closed young offenders institution in Durham is revealing the mass abuse of inmates.

No fewer than nearly 900 people  have come forward alleging physical and sexual abuse  at Medomsley young offenders institution in Durham  dating back to 1970s and 1980s  a decade or so after a trial did convict two people of abuse.in 2003.

The investigation was triggered after former prison officer Neville Husband was jailed for eight years for abusing five youths.Others coming forward and he was subsequently jailed for a further two years for other attacks.He died in 2010, after being released from prison.

His former colleague Leslie Johnson, who was jailed for six years in 2005 for sexual offences, has also since died.

But now I gather Durham Police  have traced 24 other people involved in the abuse – six of them have also since died – but  up to 18 people could well be charged – if the Crown Prosecution Service agrees they should face justice.

The abuse not only took place inside the closed institution but I gather inmates were taken off the premises across Durham to be physically and sexually abused.

If the case goes ahead it will be the largest number of people ever abused in one institution. There is also an interesting cross reference to Neville Husband’s previous job at Portland prison in Dorset..It is worth reading a blog by Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform here linking issues at the two penal institutions.

Before  reporting restrictions severely limit what can be said – one common factor is emerging – many of the people who were abused at a time when the Thatcher government was enthusiastically pursuing under William Whitelaw the ” short sharp shock ” policy – a tough regime for petty offenders aimed at making them go straight.

I am sure Willie Whitelaw and Margaret Thatcher did not intend to promote sexual and physical abuse of young offenders – but what does appear to have happened is that the policy in this one institution became a licence for this  type of abuse.

In some sense the historic disclosures resonate with today’s government’s punitive views -pursued particularly by Chris Grayling, the current justice secretary- whether it is banning access to books for prisoners or the record suicides among young people in prisons.

If people are treated like dirt by politicians and are seen by society to be worthless – then those in charge of them might well be tempted to abuse them because it doesn’t matter what happens to them. Given Chris Grayling unlike Theresa May, the home secretary,is on record to a member of the public that he thinks having an inquiry into sexual abuse is  “a waste of money” one wonders whether there are current Medomsley’s in the present system.

Child Sex Abuse: Failings in the Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam Review

Peter Wanless: Some failings in his inquiry PicCredit: www.thirdsector.co.uk

Peter Wanless: Some failings in his inquiry
Pic Credit: http://www.thirdsector.co.uk

Yesterday Theresa May, the home secretary was rightly called before Parliament by her shadow Yvette Cooper, to answer questions about the findings of the Wanless and Whittam Review into the missing dossier naming VIP paedophiles given to her predecessor, Leon Brittan by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP. If Yvette hadn’t done it, Tessa Munt, one of the” magnificent  seven” MPs who called for an overarching inquiry was already planning to do so.

The report with its 12 annexes was rushed out at 11.30 am leaving MPs of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee precious little time to digest it before questioning both authors in a session truncated because of the timing of May’s statement. No wonder Keith Vaz, its chairman, might have been a bit tetchy during May’s statement.

In conducting a meticulous search inside the Home Office  both  Wanless and Whittam did a thorough job – as far as they could – to try and find any references to  what appears to be a long destroyed document. They also exposed the chaotic state of the Home Office’s record keeping and if you look at the annexes to the report shed a little more light on other cases.

So far so good. They then seem to have asked other Whitehall organisations to conduct a search on their behalf but as Zac Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond, quizzed her over the failure to find anything at the old Director of Public Prosecutions, where the dossier was sent, still left a question in this area whether the work had been thorough.

They also seem to have spent some time chasing officials who held documents at the time they have been destroyed in  the hope that they might get them. This is important – even though their report is sceptical about it – because in one of my investigations for Exaro  official documents have turned up because someone kept them in their attic.

They also questioned the Home Office whistleblower who came forward to Tom Watson MP with his fears that a senior civil servant,Clifford Hindley, may have been involved in the funding of the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange.

But where they failed – and this was taken up by Steve McCabe, Labour’s shadow social services minister, – was in pursuing civil servants who were around at the time. The lame response from Theresa to appeal to people to come forward was not good enough.

Wanless and Whittam would have seen a lot of documents with civil servants’ names on them because of the way Whitehall has a distribution list for almost every document.Some may be dead, most will have retired.

But they missed an opportunity to be proactive and chase them up. For they must be accessible. They will all be on final salary pensions paid out by Whitehall. It would not be too difficult, to contact the semi privatised agency and get their names and addresses and ring them up. They might be a little outraged about their personal data being accessed – but this is an official inquiry to get to the facts. People do talk to each other – and also someone at the DPP at the time also got that dossier who may not want to disturb a pleasant retirement going on cruises and playing golf.

The result is that we have unsatisfactory verdict of ” not proven ” from this investigation which takes us little further than the Home Office’s original findings.

To get to the truth over child sexual abuse we are going to need a lot of lateral thinking and a sceptical investigative state of mind to prise out information. I hope the overarching child abuse inquiry takes this on board and treats the Wanless review with some forensic scepticism.

The net begins to close on the Westminster paedophile ring

As the child  sex abuse inquiry starts to take soundings from survivors a very serious development has happened for those who hoped to keep the Westminster paedophile ring dead and buried forever.

A brave survivor who has never talked to the police decided to take his courage in his hands and talk to the Met about his horrendous experiences in Dolphin Square where sexual abuse of young boys is alleged to have been combined with sadistic practices.

The survivor who has been given the name ” Nick” to protect his identity. The full story by my colleagues on Exaro was published last weekend in both the Sunday People. You can both read it in full and hear an interview with  him by editor Mark Watts  and my colleague Mark Conrad on the Exaro website.

Suffice to say they have been rumours of dark events at Dolphin Square, used for years as London flats for MPs of all parties but no one has ever testified to the police on what they alleged had happened to them.

He told Exaro that officers “are very serious” about investigating his allegations that two former Conservative MPs – including an ex-cabinet minister – and other VIPs sexually abused him as a boy at Dolphin Square and other locations.

Nick told of how the two well-known politicians raped and physically beat him after he was forced to drink alcohol. He recalled that he was taken to Dolphin Square around 10 times, from the age 11, over a period of two to three years either side of 1980.

Interestingly he also recognised the address that used to be Elm Guest House in Barnes – where the criminal investigation Operation Fernbridge began- as he place where other boys were dropped off – even though he was never abused there. This suggests there is a connection between the notorious guest house and Dolphin Square.

He is not the only person who has made allegations to Exaro about Dolphin Square but there are also other boys who must still be alive today who may also know  what happened to them there.

Given that there is now an inquiry with a remit to look at how well police investigations are conducted it is to be hoped that this time the Met will be given the time and resources to thoroughly investigate the matter. Just as Theresa May, the home secretary, has described the child abuse inquiry as a ” once in a generation ” opportunity to lay this matters to rest it is to be hoped that senior people in the Met will take their cue from her and decide they have a ” once in a generation ” opportunity to investigate  and clear up a matter that has been the subject of Westminster rumour and speculation for decades.