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.

Child sex abuse : Why Goddard must put the Lord Janner decision at the heart of her inquiry

Lord Janner Image courtesy BBC

Lord Janner
Image courtesy BBC

I was expecting Lord Janner, the former Labour peer, to become the first prominent person to face charges for child sex abuse as a result of a plethora of current police investigations across the United Kingdom. It was quite clear from the attitude of both the Met Police and Leicestershire Police ( and it now appears Northamptonshire as well) that they had uncovered serious allegations against him dating back decades.

So in one sense it was not a surprise that the Crown Prosecution Service statement says that the Labour peer faced numerous charges.

They were following Operation Enamel ( the Leicestershire Police investigation) enough for the CPS to say “the evidential test was passed on the basis that the evidence is sufficient to have warranted charging and prosecuting Lord Janner in relation to the particular charges listed below; these relate to nine individuals:

  • 14 indecent assaults on a male under 16 between 1969 and 1988
  • 2 indecent assaults between 1984 and 1988
  • 4 counts of buggery of a male under 16 between 1972 and 1987
  • 2 counts of buggery between 1977 and 1988.

One of the victims has issued a statement through Leicestershire police. So the decision after four separate medical reports not to prosecute Lord Janner because he has Alzheimer’s Disease and is unfit to plead is devastating for all the survivors of the alleged abuse who will not be able to testify. It also must thoroughly frustrating for Leicestershire Police , who are understandably furious about the decision, after conducting such a thorough and forensic inquiry. It appears in the CPS’s view to have been done too late. There is a full report by my colleagues on the Exaro site.

At the moment we are left with an impasse over a high-profile  and contentious figure. His family can forever say he is innocent of all charges because it will not be tested in a trial. His victims and survivors can claim he is guilty and yet another member of the Establishment to escape justice for hideous crimes.

To make it worse both views are irreconcilable even among people who worked with him. Before this decision I had talked to two people who had closely worked with Lord Janner. One,a journalist, was utterly convinced that he was innocent and could not believe he would  do such a thing. Another,a politician, was highly suspicious about his behaviour with young men ( though he had never been propositioned himself).

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

If the CPS decision cannot be challenged it seems to me the only way for survivors to receive any form of justice is for Lady Goddard to step in and make this a central plank of her judicial inquiry. It has all the messy ingredients of the  current historical child sexual abuse scandal – missed opportunities, failed previous police investigations, a failure by the Crown Prosecution Service itself, and the convenient death or terminal illness of alleged perpetrators just when justice beckons.  A different scandal,involving Grafton Close children’s home in Richmond  the death of  the council’s former children’s home deputy manager,John Stingemore , just before his trial for child sexual abuse at Southwark Crown Court earlier this year, echoes Janner.. Again there were police failures, allegations were not followed up, and charges not made until years after the event.

Only a thorough examination of the entire documentation of the Janner saga and – as it is a judicial inquiry – testimony from people who people involved, including the survivors, social workers, the police, and for that matter Keith Vaz, the chair of the Commons home affairs select committee in the last session of Parliament- and a staunch defender of Janner in the past.

If Goddard fails to do this – it could also be taken up by the Independent People’s Tribunal- which is also now being set up and will provide an alternative voice to the official inquiry.

Justice has to be done and lessons learned. The biggest one involves any current allegations of child sex abuse – justice must not wait until the perpetrators are dead or terminally ill.