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It described  current rules as ” unclear and out of date.”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

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.

 

 

” Darth Vader” mandarin’s unstellar performance on crime mustn’t pay

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Mark Sedwill as Darth Vader centre right next to Theresa May

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Earlier this month I railed about the extraordinary findings of a report by the National Audit Office which showed Whitehall’s abject failure to confiscate the stolen assets of  criminals.

Theresa May’s claims that crime musn’t pay were torn into tatters by a report which showed  what a woeful record the present government has in confiscating them.

You would think that her top Home Office civil servant – permanent secretary Mark Sedwill – would do everything to make amends for this poor performance.

But think again. When he came to account for missing almost every target set by Parliament a few years before his complacent response so angered MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that he was sent packing by the chair Labour Mp, Meg Hillier.

I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

Now Mark Sedwill has a stellar nickname – thanks to a jokey reference in a  recent Christmas card put out by the Commons Home affairs Committee, which monitors the home office.

He is proud to be depicted as” Darth Vader ” the evil figure in the Star Wars movie – to Theresa May’s Princess Leia as part of cast of characters on their Christmas card ( see picture above.)

As he told Civil Service World  ” It’s always better to be one of the stars, even if you’re the dark lord, than to be disregarded. I think he’s the coolest character in the pantheon – so I’m not that bothered.”.

His performance before the committee was anything but stellar. And the criminals would be delighted that the man representing the Dark Side was happy to pretend he had recovered their loot.

He obfuscated, denied reality and pretended that he had never agreed with the report’s findings in the first place. He even started quoting government propaganda that  ministers were delighted with his efforts – which left at least £203m worth of assets uncollected.

So angry was one Tory MP, Stephen Phillips, a QC and member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, that he accused him of turning the hearing into ” a farce”and said his performance was ” an exercise in Sir Humphreyism.”.

And the committee abruptly halted the hearing – an almost unprecedented event- when Meg Hillier told him:” I do not think we have any option but to adjourn this. This is something I never wanted to do in this Committee. As Mr Phillips said, we want to get answers. This is a hugely important area and I am really disappointed that we are going to have to take this form of action. I do not think we are going to get very much further today.”

He has a chance to redeem himself next Tuesday when he will have to come up with some real answers at a resumed hearing.  We have to hope  this time the  MPs will turn into Jedi knights to get some explanations.

You can watch the hearing here..

 

 

Helping crime pay with Theresa May

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Theresa May, home secretary, ensuring crime can pay. Pic Credit: conservatives.com

Politicians love simple slogans especially bashing criminals. Tony Blair was famous for his ” Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” mantra. Theresa May, the home secretary  told the Police  Federation  last November that she was getting tough on criminals to ensure ” crime doesn’t pay”  when it comes to forcing them to hand back their swag.

But a forensic inquiry across Whitehall by Parliament’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office tells a different story. Read it here. It exposes politicians like May speaking warm words on the subject and doing the opposite. Indeed it could be said she is creating circumstances so it is even easier for criminals to get away with it.

No doubt Teflon Theresa will deny this -pointing out new laws saying hardened criminals will stay longer in prison if they don’t cough up where they have hidden their ill gotten gains.

But Parliament can pass as many laws as it likes. If there are fewer resources to tackle the problem and  no determination to do anything about it nothing will happen. So May’s words will  remain just a meaningless political slogan.

Her ” crime doesn’t  pay” mantra contrasts with the fact that uncollected debt from crimes is at record £1.156 billion – up £158m in two years.

True an extra £22m has been confiscated in the past two years but it hasn’t kept pace with crimes. And confiscation orders from the courts are DOWN 7 per cent.

The report says:“The total value of orders imposed also fell by £31.5 million to £247.3 million between 2012-13 and 2014-15 (an 11% reduction) after adjusting for inflation.”

It ominously warns : “We estimate that the reduction in the number and value of orders imposed is likely to continue in 2015.”

But  even more seriously the NAO  reveals the number of as ‘confiscators’, employed to find the stolen goods and money  has fallen from 1,440 in September 2013 to 1,358 in September 2015, down 6%.

The report says: “The fall has mostly been seen across police forces. Reasons for the fall include budget cuts and greater demand for the skills of experienced financial investigators in the private sector.”

So Theresa May’s support for austerity is ensuring crime will still pay. In other words public officials who have had pay restraint  and face spending cuts have been lured to join the private sector. Indeed even wealthy criminals could offer them better paid jobs.

The government has done some eye catching little initiatives to redress like giving a paltry £10m a year to police forces to boost their efforts. But as the NAO reveals this compares with £800m over five years to try and tackle tax evasion. Small potatoes.

And as for Theresa May’s claim that longer sentences will force criminals to disclose where they have hidden the money – the NAO say not proven.

New arrangements with foreign government to try and find out where assets have been hidden abroad have so far had little success. Only £6.5m of the estimated £300m of criminal assets held overseas have been recovered, though for the first time the United Arab Emirates has returned £300,000 to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The arrangement seems to have benefited foreign governments more with £28m being returned to Macau from criminals working in Britain.

Probably the most damaging fact is that the Commons public accounts committee told the government all this two years ago – and precious little has happened.

Obviously  Teflon Theresa has to be seen stopping  criminals living a luxury lifestyle on stolen goods But she is not prepared to do much about it.

I have also written about this in this week’s Tribune Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theresa May’s new immigration official: the private landlord

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Home Office HQ: running ” an ineffective and possibly racist ” scheme

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On Monday Britain’s immigration officials are to be swelled by millions of new recruits – an army of private landlords.

February 1 marks the day landlords  and any private home owner  who takes in lodgers will be expected to act as immigration officers and check the immigration status of anybody renting a room. British, Swiss and EU citizens are exempt. But anyone with a foreign sounding name, black face or Aussie or American accent will immediately  be under suspicion.

Failure to do so will mean that private landlords  face a fine of  up to £3000 (less for a first offence) and even once they are registered the landlord faces another fine if he or she fails to tell the Home Office when the lodgers’ visa runs out.

According to James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, it is all very easy and should prove no burden to millions of British citizens who let out rooms or have buy to lets.

As he says “Ahead of the scheme’s roll out, we have been working very closely with an expert panel to make sure their feedback is taken on board and to design a scheme that is as simple and light touch as possible. Many responsible landlords have already been undertaking similar checks – these are straightforward and do not require any specialist knowledge.”

Apart from his insult to thousands of professionally trained immigration staff, James Brokenshire’s comment is wide of the mark. As I wrote in Tribune magazine last week the scheme is so simple that the Home Office’s  so called new ” simple guide” for landlords issued on January 8 was suddenly withdrawn and archived seven days later.

The reason became very clear. it was pretty complicated and required landlords to be able to distinguish between fake immigration papers and real ones.

The government’s brilliant test run has proved not to be so. Trialled in the West Midlands in places like Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Sandwell, it turned out that half the landlords never registered and it was difficult to find out who was taking lodgers. Some people relying on agents decided the best thing was not to take any foreign people at all, and the dangers of racism was obvious.

This suggests it could be difficult to enforce, particularly over lodgers. Nobody need be registered if they are staying less than three months. The rules say tenants leaving most of their belongings in a property for more than three months or are registered to vote or with a local doctor would have to be checked. And will  cash strapped local councils have time or inclination to check.

They also want landlords to certify the documents are genuine, the picture is of the immigrant and to be wary of damaged documents.

In my view this another example of the government dumping its responsibility to check immigrants coming into Britain on to the general public rather than having an effective and well staffed Borders Agency in the first place.

But it will also be ineffective. My  knowledge is limited  and is mainly through connections to the Kurdish community after my daughter married a Kurdish asylum seeker – who now has a UK passport.

But it seems clear to me that each community sticks to its own – and is a mixture of people who have British passports, are awaiting asylum applications, and are illegal. The  accommodation arrangements  for the latter  are informal and wouldn’t be covered by the new Immigration Act as no contracts would be signed. So unless Mr Brokenshire is going to ask the police to raid the house of every former immigrant in England he will never  discover what is really happening.

Instead he has dumped a bureaucratic system  on millions of law abiding citizens as a ” window dressing ” operation to cover up his government’s failure to police the immigration system itself.

 

 

 

How Leon Brittan lost his job as home secretary – Charles Moore’s fascinating account 30 years on

Leon Brittan when he was EU commisisoner in late 1980s

Leon Brittan when he was EU commissioner in late 1980s

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While the  Met police continue to investigate  now into whether top figures were involved in a Westminster paedophile ring in the 1980s a fascinating account of the beginning of the fall of Leon Brittan in British politics has appeared in the second volume of Charles Moore’s authorised biography of Lady Thatcher. Amid all the rows over the miner’s strike, Westland and Europe, are three pages describing the events that led effectively to the demotion of Leon Brittan and how rumours of child sex abuse reached the ears of Lord Armstrong, the Cabinet Secretary, and Lady Thatcher herself.

They explain probably why even today there is controversy over Leon Brittan – such as the recent row over Tom Watson’s intervention over whether the Met Police should have quizzed him over an alleged rape. It also explains why they are still today disputes between those like David Aaronovitch and Dominic Lawson who say he has been unfairly maligned for years and those who are convinced that he was involved in hidden sexual activities.

Charles Moore- who is meticulous in researching every fact  from Thatcher’s private papers – reveals that Leon Brittan – was heading for the chop as home secretary  in the September 1985 reshuffle. He is described as ” the weakest link.”

His book – Everything She Wants – shows that without any rumours Brittan had no Parliamentary following,was seen as a bad TV performer, and even suffered from anti-Semitism from some Tory backbenchers.

He writes: ” He also suffered from rumours that, though married,he was homosexual and even that he had been a child abuser (too often in those days the two were conflated in the minds of man). No one produced actual evidence for either accusation.”

Opinion in the press and government was divided. Michael Jopling, a former chief whip,said: ” I never heard a whisper about Leon at the time”. Sir Bernard Ingham, her press secretary said: ” He always seemed as quaint as a coot to me”- but he had no evidence.

However The Mail on Sunday – contrary to  the view of the Mail today – took a different line and all this is reported to Thatcher by Lord Armstrong.

Jonathan Holborrow, an associate editor of the paper, had met Richard Ryder now Lord Ryder, then a junior figure in the Treasury and according to Ryder told him the paper was ” on a very good thing” about Leon Brittan’s private life.

According to Charles Moore though the memos did not spell it out ” they seem to have involved accusations of child sex abuse, including an alleged relationship with a boy in his early teens said to live in Brittan’s constituency”.

He goes on; ” Its sources was a reliable one, Holborrow said, but ” their investigations had run into the sand, and they really had no usable evidence.”

An attempt was made to say Michael Bettany, an MI5 officer caught trying to spy for the Russian in 1984, had got wind of this and had tried to use for blackmail. But this was knocked down by MI5 who said Bettaney had said no such thing.

The book  reveals that Thatcher did not believe the allegations but did believe that they were troublesome for a home secretary responsible for MI5.

But whatever the truth the knives were out for Brittan. John Wakeham, the chief whip, thought Brittan had been ” promoted a bit high and too quick” and ” wasn’t up to the job.”. And Brittan was moved to the Department of Trade and Industry – a post that he regarded as a demotion in the ” pecking order”. He was later to leave altogether to become a trade and industry commissioner at the European Commission.

All this is worth noting because of a sense of deja vu – even after his death. He again faces similar accusations – though this time it is part of a  full scale police investigation into other figures – and again there is a ”  reliable ” source -a survivor of abuse who came forward.

The outcome is still not known – but the divisions about whether Brittan was involved in such unsavoury activities is as strong as it was 30 years ago.

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: Correcting a misleading report in the Guardian

On September 23  my old employer The Guardian published a report on developments in the Westminster paedophile inquiry.

The article examined the big pressures facing ” Operation Midland” the Met Police criminal investigation into claims against prominent people accused of child sex abuse. and also raised issues by survivors about the role of Exaro, – I am a freelance contributor – in the setting up of the child sex abuse inquiry.

The passage affecting me said :

“Others have raised concerns about Exaro to senior Home Office officials over its role in the setting up of what eventually became the Goddard inquiry.

One complaint came last November over the presence of its journalist, David Hencke, a former Guardian reporter, at a private meeting for survivors and their representatives. A second complaint was made to another senior inquiry official three months later, alleging that the role Exaro was playing – “seemingly with the assistance of panel members” –was “causing havoc” among some survivors.”

The facts are these.

My attendance at the meeting in question was approved by the then secretariat of the  independent panel following a request by a panel member. The meeting was not about establishing the inquiry but a consultation exercise involving survivors and other people interested  and concerned about the issue of child sexual abuse. At the meeting I was completely open, stated who I was, and agreed, because some of the accounts given by people there were very harrowing, never  to report anything that was said. I never have. No  one raised  any objections at the time. and I was thanked by the secretariat for making my position clear afterwards.

If there have been any complaints afterwards no one from the Home Office has raised them with me. I am sure they would if it was regarded as a serious matter.

I  want to put the record straight because in an entirely different capacity I am  a member of an independent panel dealing with very sensitive issues and I would not like people to think that I had gatecrashed meetings on child sex abuse without being invited in the first place.

I asked The Guardian to correct this misleading point but its Readers Editor declined. That is their prerogative. But it is also my right to put the record straight on my own blog.