Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry: an update

Today, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) will resume hearing evidence as part of Phase 4 of its public hearing sessions.

Phase 4 is on residential care establishments run by male religious orders. Previously in this phase, opening statements and evidence were heard over nine days between 4 and 20 June 2019 relating to one establishment run by a particular order. Part of the evidence heard on 20 June was given by a convicted abuser currently serving a ten year jail sentence. A video link from Dumfries Prison to SCAI in Edinburgh was used for that purpose. The man concerned was accompanied by a solicitor when giving his evidence. He was advised in advance by SCAI’s Chair, Lady Smith, of his right not to answer any question where his evidence may incriminate him beyond his present conviction. He was also warned that any evidence given by him could be used in the context of any future criminal proceedings. It could also be used in future civil cases. The man continues to maintain his innocence. He explained that he has made an application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission for his case to be reviewed.

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Historical abuse developments in Northern Ireland

This report starts first with a comment on the sad death of Sir Anthony Hart, the Chairman of the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry.  He died suddenly on Tuesday.  Sir Anthony was a well respected member of the Bar and retained that respect as a county court Judge, Recorder of Derry and Belfast and, subsequently, a High Court Judge.  Our sympathies go to his wife, family friends and colleagues.

In the same week, the Northern Ireland Select Committee heard evidence from Jon McCourt (Survivors North West), Gerry McCann (Rosetta Trust), Professor Patricia Lundy (Ulster University and Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty).  The Committee recommended that the Redress Scheme (recommended by the HIAI) be progressed through Parliament as quickly as possible.  This recommendation was originally contained in the recommendations of the HIAI, lead by Sir Anthony, published in January 2017.  The collapse of the NI Assembly shortly after that means there has been little or no progress since then.

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Interim Advocate for Survivors appointed in Northern Ireland

We previously indicated that an Interim Advocate would be appointed to aid victims and survivors during the hiatus in implementing the recommendations of The Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

One of the recommendations of the Inquiry was the creation of a commissioner with an independent office to act as a voice for victims and survivors.  The delay of over two years and the on going lack of progress with no imminent end in sight has lead to an interim appointment to this role.

Brendan McAllister has a long history of working with victims and was one of four commissioners previously appointed to advise the Northern Ireland Executive on how they could help the victims and survivors of Troubles related issues.  That role was one he filled between 2008 and 2012.  His CV includes working as a social worker and he is an advocate of mediation as a means of dispute resolution.

Mr McAllister met with Victim and Survivor groups in Belfast on Tuesday.  He has said that he intends to “ensure legislation is passed as quickly as possible”. He considers the law needs to reflect what survivors believe their needs are and that includes urgent consideration of care arrangements.

It is likely that there will be requests from survivors and victims for changes to the recommendations regarding the level of payments under any redress scheme and the way in which those payments are to be applied.

We can anticipate an increase in the profile of the Survivors campaign with the assistance of an Advocate although details of the budget provided to Mr McAllister and the support staff he will need have not yet been made clear.

Written by Ciara McReynolds at BLM

Should there be anonymity for those accused of sexual offences before they are charged?

The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is an important tenet of any civilised society. So much so, that this essential right is enshrined in a number of countries’ codes and constitutions.

Under English and Welsh common law, it is for the prosecution to prove the accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The United Kingdom is also, of course, a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights which deals with similar such rights at Article 6, further encapsulated in domestic legislation in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998.

What then, of those who feel that their rights in this respect have been undermined?

Radio presenter Paul Gambaccini has recently spoken out about those falsely accused of sexual offences, having been accused of sexual offences himself that he says he did not commit. He was arrested in 2013 on suspicion of historic, or non-recent, sexual offences and was never charged; he has always denied the allegations.

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The Archers confront historic child abuse

In a controversial new storyline the long-running Radio 4 drama the Archers have decided to address the issue of historic/non-recent child sexual abuse.

For those who tune into the radio show you will be aware that in recent years the Archers have confronted some of the more thorny issues that we face as a society.

In addressing the issue of historic/non-recent child abuse, in last Friday’s episode an elderly character disclosed that he was sexually abused in his own home by a family friend when he was eight years old. The character confided in his son that he had kept this “terrible secret” for a lifetime and finally disclosed it when he came face to face with his abuser at a surprise birthday party.

The elderly character described how in effect he was groomed by this man who was a neighbour and close family friend, trusted by his parents. He told how he had “fought as hard as I could” against the abuse but the perpetrator was bigger and stronger than him and so there was nothing he could do to stop the abuse.

The BBC have advised that they have worked closely with Survivors UK, an organisation that offers support to male survivors of sexual abuse and assault and Rape Crisis to develop the storyline.

The producers of the show hope that in dealing with sexual abuse on the show that it might encourage survivors of child sexual abuse to come forward, disclose the abuse and seek the appropriate help and support.

Katherine Cox, Supervisor, Counsellor and Groupwork Co-ordinator at Survivors UK says: “Hearing one’s own story reflected in drama can give people the words to describe their experience and help to make what feels unsayable more sayable. In a drama, a survivor can also use the reactions of others to reflect on possible reactions of people in their own life. People also use speaking about a storyline as a gateway into saying, ‘that happened to me too.’”

Director of Survivors UK, Andy Connolly, explains: “In a world where [a survivor] might feel invisible or ignored, a high-profile story such as this can really help a survivor feel that their needs and experiences are represented in the public realm.”

In 2016 the Archers ran a storyline addressing domestic violence between two central characters the main theme being that of coercive control, this storyline saw donations exceeding £170,000 being made to the charity Refuge from fans of the show.

At that time Refuge reported that the storyline had “raised unprecedented awareness of domestic violence, as well as incredible amounts of money to go towards Refuge’s frontline services, which at the time supported 3,800 women and children on any given day”.

No doubt campaigners and charities providing help to prevent child sexual abuse and support where abuse has occurred will be hoping for a similar impact.

news_21734JDWritten by Sharon Moohan at BLM

England’s schools are the worst for cyber bullying

The latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD’s) Teaching and Learning International survey has concluded that English schools are the worst for cyber bullying. The survey included data from 250,000 teachers from 48 industrialised countries and regions. It has found that teachers from English schools are more likely to face more problems from cyber bullying and the misuse of social media that any of the other 47 counties tested.

In England 2,376 teachers of children aged 11-14 and 157 head teachers completed the survey.

The survey is carried out every 5 years and indicated a significant increase in bullying which is driven by forms of cyber bullying.

The survey concluded that of those English schools asked, 14% say they faced problems reported by pupils or parents relating to hurtful material posted online, compared to an international average of 2%.

The United States has the next highest percentage at 10%.

The survey also established that English schools faced problems with pupils receiving unwanted contact online. 27% of those English school teachers asked said they deal with this type of problem each week. The international average was 2%.

Australia has the next highest percentage at 16%.

Are these problems linked to the use of mobile phones in schools? France has banned mobile phones from schools, but will this make a difference?

The OECD’s education director Andreas Schleicher blamed the problem on the lack of social media regulation in England and believes a clearer policy on cyber bullying should be introduced in England to ensure the issue is prioritised and helps schools know what to do.

The OECD’s findings are backed up by researched from Ofcom published earlier this year, which found that one in four children in the UK have experienced a form of online abuse in the past 12 months and 38% of those asked said they had been subjected to offensive language online.

Nicola Aspinwall 1cropped Written by Nicola Aspinwall at BLM

Regulating the Internet – the Online Harms White Paper consultation

There is no doubt that there is a need and a public desire for regulation of the internet and social media to protect the vulnerable. In April this year, the government published its Online Harms White Paper, which sets out its proposals to make the UK the safest country in the world to be online.  It’s described as “a world-leading package of online safety measures that also supports innovation and a thriving digital economy”, and its two top priorities are to tackle unlawful and unacceptable activity online, including Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) online.  A consultation on the white paper is currently live, with responses due by  11.59pm on 1 July 2019.

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