Tagged: child protection

Unity, fear and hopes for a better society

Sarah Champion MP addresses attendees of the 3rd White Flowers Campaign vigil opposite Parliament

Sarah Champion MP addresses attendees of the 3rd White Flowers Campaign vigil opposite Parliament

Ian Pace live tweeted yesterday’s (14 January 2015) White Flowers campaign meeting in the House of Common’s here. My summary of the meeting, plus the meeting I had afterwards with Hilary Benn MP is below.

Committee Room 14 – the largest committee room in Parliament – was packed with survivors, campaigners, whistle-blowers, charities and concerned members of the public for the White Flowers Campaign Group meeting aimed at kick-starting the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry. A number of MPs were there as well, including John Mann, Simon Danczuk and Sarah Champion who all addressed the audience (it wasn’t clear how many more were in the room, or how many had engaged outside the meeting).

Dr. Liz Davies (whistle-blower and reader in child protection) explained to the audience that the White Flowers name comes from the Belgian campaign which remembers the children who were abducted, abused and murdered by a paedophile ring involving members of the Belgian establishment. The idea has spread internationally (e.g. Australia).

Photo of white flowers, The 3rd White Flowers Campaign Vigil, opposite Parliament.

The 3rd White Flowers Campaign Vigil, opposite Parliament. (http://bit.ly/1CamFuP)

The first White Flowers vigil was outside Elm Guest House; the second at Grosvenor Avenue, Islington honoured victims from Islington Children’s homes. The third vigil took place before yesterday’s campaign meeting in Parliament and was very well attended by survivors, campaigners, MPs and members of the public and press.

The campaign group meeting was chaired by Phil Frampton who is a survivor from Southport Barnados (his story is here). He opened by saying that survivors have been called treasure hunters, publicity seekers and now even conspiracy theorists. In Phil’s experience, the only thing that stopped abuse from happening was people coming together and acting – unity is needed. This was the main theme of the meeting and something echoed by all the speakers. The meeting was the first time that MPs, survivors, whistle-blowers and charities had come together in a public meeting. The media were there too, and Phil said they were essential in getting messages to survivors and driving for the truth. But they mustn’t exploit or exaggerate survivor stories to sell papers – this undermines the cause.

Phil said the group would not respond to the Inquiry until it was transparent and had a drive for justice, and when it safeguards and protects those coming forwards. The Inquiry is only one tool to do the job though. More whistle-blowers need to come forward, and journalists must be true to their profession and uncover the truth.

Actress Samantha Morton, a survivor herself, was unable to attend the meeting due to her filming schedule, but sent a message of support to the meeting. She said survivors must not be quiet. Abuse is happening right now to children – we must all come together for justice.

Nigel O’Mara spoke about the long-term effects of sexual abuse. It affected the individual deeply, but also those around them, and society as a whole. He had rebelled against his abusers and ended up being sent into care in the 1970’s. He lost his chance of education and as a result ended up homeless and destitute, not emerging from prostitution and hard drug use until his mid-20’s. Forty years on from his abuse he is still unable to find work – partly because of education – but mainly because he experiences difficulty in situations where people have power over him, such as in the workplace. Survivors can only ever learn to live with effects – there is no cure. He asked the Government to put proper support in place for survivors.

Chris Tuck, a survivor who runs the Survivors of Abuse Network, also spoke about the long term effects, which include PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Chris said we need a body that supports victim’s needs and helps them through the criminal justice system. At the moment, no-one knows what is happening – this has a negative impact on survivors. Chris also called for mandatory reporting of abuse – something which has strong support across government, and proper sex and relationship education in schools so children understand what is a good and a bad relationship and learn to set boundaries. Chris said it was controversial, but we also need help and support for paedophiles.

Andy Kershaw – a survivor of Forde Park – shared some of his experiences, including how the authorities had consistently failed to deal with reports of abuse. Whistleblowing had built evidence against 190 people but only 4 were ever convicted. Andy reiterated the White Flowers Group’s call for the cut-off date of the inquiry to be pushed back to 1945. Andy said the Group had confidence this was going to happen.

John Mann MP speaking to the press by the 3rd White Flowers vigil

John Mann MP speaking to the press by the 3rd White Flowers vigil

John Mann MP spoke of the symbolism of holding the meeting in a parliament committee room. He said how in his Nottinghamshire constituency people had now come forward from every single care home to report abuse. But the police and social services need the resources to deal with this – at the moment they don’t. He said that if those in the room couldn’t be united then they would be handing power back to the abusers. We must stand together.

Liz Davies said we’d moved from whispering about abuse and cover-ups from dark corners during the early 1990’s to shouting it out loud today. However, the stakes are very high for those trying to stop the organised abuse because it relates to so much power and money. Evidence of the abuse was being used to manipulate the abusers, so there were vested interests in seeing the abuse continue. We are challenging the establishment, so people are trying to undermine us, spread disinformation, attack us – academics are trying to justify paedophilia – but we will continue to fight them off every day. With the cross-party support we have we will move forwards. Personal testimony was so important when evidence is routinely ‘destroyed’ – not just the Dickens dossier, but on many investigations, including Liz’s in the past.

Liz said she rejected the NSPCCs move to medicalise paedophilia, and said we need to reinstate the definition of ‘organised sexual abuse’ and the guidance to deal with it that this government had removed from the statute.

Ex-chief constable of the Lancashire Police Force, Pauline Clare, sent a message of support to the meeting say she understood how abuse has wrecked the lives of so many and it was time that abusers were brought to justice – stronger measures needed to be put in place now to protect children. She offered to work with the campaign group.

Whistle-blower Peter McKelvie recounted how, 21 years after his investigations were closed down, he went to MP Tom Watson who then raised his concerns about a paedophile ring going to the heart of government with Prime Minister David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions. Peter said that, regardless of some people saying ‘don’t go to the police’, things were changing and survivors should now go to the police with their evidence. This was a very contentious point for some members of the audience who spoke of their terrible experiences when doing this in the past – not being believed, or even being punished or prosecuted themselves as a result. Sarah Champion MP later said she was unimpressed with changes to policing following the Rotherham Inquiry, and others had expressed resourcing and capability concerns. Ann Coffey MP’s report into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester documented many similar experiences of policing. There is clearly a long way to go to build up trust. Sarah Champion MP said she didn’t want to politically point-score but the Coalition policy of police budget cuts and probation privatisation was the opposite of what we need.

Simon Danczuk MP, co-author of ‘Smile for the Camera’ which exposes the detail of the Cyril Smith scandal, said there were far too few meetings about child sexual abuse in parliament. MPs needed to connect with the mood of the nation on this. He said the factor that linked the scandals of the past to the slowness of progress today was ‘fear’. Frontline child protection workers, social workers, nurses, all say they are scared to speak out – scared of losing their livelihoods, being blacklisted, being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. Fear protects the abusers. We must introduce practical measures such as mandatory reporting and properly protect and celebrate whistle-blowers. He said people wanting to whistle-blow had contacted him to ask ‘who will protect and support me?’ Although the law had been strengthened recently, Ministers were paying lip service and not driving home the culture change. We must stop gagging public servants. This is a sophisticated cover-up. People in the frontline must be empowered to come forward.

Andy (a survivor) then spoke about how the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse was dealing with the issue in a much more robust way than our CSA inquiry was – it ensured that survivors were treated appropriately, and had the power to make people come forward. He also said that Ireland had set up an agency to support victims of the church – if Ireland can manage it then why can’t a country as rich as ours do it? Andy said he saw widespread denial about what was going on in this country. This plays to the sublime arrogance of the paedophile.

Phil Framptom said that a demand had been sent to the Tony Blair Government in 2001 for a national inquiry, but all they got was the North Wales Children’s Homes Inquiry which was limited by William Hague to looking at abuse that happened on the premises, missing out the abuse that occurred as children were trafficked around the country.

Alison Millar from Leigh Day Solicitors who represents CSA clients and has been very critical of the CSA Inquiry’s process for involving survivors, highlighted the issue of civil redress where survivors pursue legal action against the institution that failed them. She said there was currently no legal power to compel institutions to apologise to victims. Later on, Tim Hulbert talked about how insurance companies pressure Local Authorities into not apologising to victims.

Ian McFadyen – survivor and campaigner – made a point echoed later by Stuart Syvret: the CSA Inquiry is not actually about child abuse. It’s about the failure of government and institutions. Ian said many of the people in the room had been failed – for them the damage had been done and it was too late – but we can hold the people who failed us to account and make sure it doesn’t happen in the future to our children.

Tim Hulbert, ex-Director of Bedfordshire Social Services, said that missing files were not important – the most important thing was whistle-blowers coming forward. Tim talked about the malignant influence of insurance companies who, in wanting to minimise their liabilities, instruct councils not to apologise to victims. They try to narrow terms of reference and insist that the names of those involved are not released. When he resisted this the insurer started talking to the Chief Executive and councillors. They implied the threat that the council would not be underwritten if they did not comply. A statutory inquiry would have the power to tackle this. (The Jillings Report was compromised by the Municipal Mutual Insurance Company). Tim urged whistle-blowers from the institutions who had failed children to come forward.

Phil Frampton said he’d asked Barnados why they wouldn’t support victims in their quest for justice; their response was that their insurance companies wouldn’t let them. Phil said a FOI had been submitted to find out which insurers were underwriting the CSA inquiry.

Whistle-blower and ex-Jersey senator, Stuart Syvret, recounted how he had been jailed twice for whistleblowing. Jersey was further down the line in this process and could pass on some valuable lessons to the new CSA Inquiry: What do we want the CSA inquiry to investigate? And what does success look like? Stuart echoed Ian McFadyen’s point that this was not about child abuse but rather the abuse of power and the absence of real accountability of those in public office. He suggested a successful CSA Inquiry would result in properly enforced law, an independent prosecution service, and the removal of corruption from the police. He said it was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, but we still did not have the properly enforced rule of law.

I left the meeting at that point (missing the last few speakers) to meet my MP, Hilary Benn (who had signed the call for the inquiry) to discuss the White Flowers meeting and the CSA Inquiry. Hilary said he and Labour fully supported the Inquiry, but he voiced some scepticism about whether there was, or had been, a paedophile ring operating through parliament. Where was the evidence? Hilary said he’d only followed the mainstream news reports on the Inquiry and related events, so I showed him some of the recent evidence reported via Exaro provided by new witnesses coming forward, and summarised some of the things said in the White Flowers meeting, in particular by the whistle-blowers and by his peers Simon Danczuk and John Mann, the latter having recently handed further evidence to the police (and said it was inconceivable that police would not now arrest and interview some of the politicians he has named). We discussed Simon Danczuk’s co-authored book which showed how, time and time again, the police knew what Cyril Smith was doing but were prevented from acting – things were never allowed to go through the proper CPS process – I’m not sure if Hilary had entirely appreciated this. Politicians – Hilary’s peers – knew what was happening but put party success before justice and children’s well-being, as in the case of David Steel. To countenance the idea that members of the establishment are above the law, Hilary Benn cited the example of the expenses scandal which led to MPs being jailed (Hilary was one of the tiny minority who emerged with a perfect record on expenses). My view was that this was only a handful, with relatively small sentences, and then only after huge and sustained public and media pressure. When it comes to the sexual exploitation and rape of children we only see entertainment figures being convicted, or revelations properly emerging after the criminal has died.

I would have liked to have seen Hilary Benn at the White Flowers meeting so he could hear the speakers himself, but he did meet me and genuinely debate the topic; some attendees MPs wouldn’t meet them, and a lot of MPs refused to sign the call for the Inquiry. The CSA Inquiry will need to make some serious progress before Hilary Benn and other’s faith in Government and the criminal justice system is shaken. Hopefully the White Flower’s Campaign will be a catalyst for that progress and, in the long-term, we’ll have a better society as a result.

The imbalance of power between sexual abuse victim and perpetrator

Prince AndrewThe imbalance of power between sexual abuse victim and perpetrator has been starkly highlighted again in the last few days following Jane Doe 3’s legal move which named Prince Andrew as one of the people she was “forced to have sexual relations with when she was a minor”. Prince Andrew (who presumably would be referred to as Andrew Albert Christian Edward in court – a theoretical point) was quickly able to utilise Buckingham Palace’s and his US business contacts media power to outnumber Jane Doe 3 in the press. The co-accused Harvard law professor and criminal defence attorney who advised convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein on how to respond to the FBI’s investigation, Alan Dershowitz, tells the public via the mainstream media that accusations against himself were “totally false and made up…this person has made this up out of cloth, maliciously and knowingly in order to extort money from Mr Epstein” and in reference to Prince Andrew “if she’s lied about me, which I know to an absolute certainty she has, she should not be believed about anyone else.” Dershowitz even threatened the lawyers who filed Jane Doe 3’s “carefully investigated” lawsuit with legal action to disbar them. Jane Doe 3’s response: “These types of aggressive attacks on me are exactly the reason why sexual abuse victims typically remain silent and the reason why I did for a long time. That trend should change. I’m not going to be bullied back into silence.”

Abusers have a number of advantages over their victims. An abuser in a position of power will have more as a result of their wealth, access to the media and the fact people tend to see them as part of the fabric of society. The general public will find it very difficult to believe that criminality might have occurred when the accused is the son of the woman they’ve watched deliver an annual message to her subjects at 3pm every Christmas Day since 1952. You could cut the cognitive dissonance with a knife.

A list of some of the perpetrator’s powers is set out below, but also some of the positive changes which I think/hope are happening now to gradually shift the balance of power from perpetrator to victim. Some of the powers are applicable to abusers in general, some more so to abusers in positions of power.

The perpetrator’s power

  • An abuser in a position of power will have huge financial and legal power (far outweighing those of the victim) to:
    • Explore all possible legal routes to avoid or minimise justice, e.g. plea bargaining.
    • Pay for the ‘best’ lawyers who are prepared to aggressively cross-question the accuser and exploit all weaknesses of the court system to the benefit of the perpetrator. E.g., because the brain processes trauma in a disjointed way, abuse survivors can display behaviour which might appear erratic to people who have not experienced abuse (or received coaching to understand these factors) – this can result in juries misinterpreting statements, evidence and answers as being untruthful, especially after direction from a ruthless lawyer. Victims often need to be prepared for trial to minimise the secondary trauma of giving evidence – this can lead to a ‘rehearsed’ feel to statements and answers which again can be exploited by the perpetrators defence.
    • Move financial resources out of reach of the prosecuting authority should a conviction be achieved. This doesn’t prevent conviction but does ensure no long term damage once a jail sentence is completed and it may prevent adequate compensation being paid to the victims, or at least the need for further litigation to secure compensation.
    • Pay for private investigators to dig up ‘dirt’ on the victims to discredit them in court.
    • Pay for PR companies to boost their public image and encourage the public (and jury members) to think that the accusations couldn’t be true.
  • An abuser in a position of power may have cultural power, g. people will finder it harder to believe that criminality might have occurred when the accused is the son of the woman they’ve watched deliver an annual message to her subjects at 3pm every Christmas Day since 1952.
  • The well-connected perpetrator is likely to have media power, e.g. they can get messages out quickly to a wide audience, sometimes through an organisation, such as Buckingham Palace, to add extra weight to their denials. The accused and their organisation may historically have something the mainstream media want, such as photographs of Royal trips, which the media outlets are content to surrender objectivity in exchange for.
  • An abuse ring involving Establishment-level abusers is likely to be able to stop police and journalist investigations at an early stage. This protects all members of the ring. The Establishment ring has the power to silence victims and potential whistle-blowers if necessary. (While particular individuals and organisations may hold evidence of the abuse for blackmail purposes, this does not help the victim).
  • In general, the victim will often be from a group susceptible to othering – perpetrators often choose victims on this basis. These biases affect the general public’s view and therefore potentially the jury’s view should the case reach court. Juries are often unreliable as they reflect the biases and prejudices inherent within society. These biases and prejudices have a disproportionately negative affect on women, economically disadvantaged people, children etc.
  • Our cultural values mean we tend not to believe children because they (apparently) make things up. We take the adults side by default.
  • The criminal justice system has a poor track record of bringing sexual offences cases to court and, ultimately, achieving convictions.
  • Despite occurrences of false reporting being extremely low there is a public perception that they are prevalent, in part due to these cases being relatively over-reported by the media. This fact can be exploited to the abuser’s advantage.
  • Children (although not exclusively children) don’t always have the necessary vocabulary to articulate what has happened to them (e.g. they are less likely to know words to describe genitalia) or understand that boundaries have been crossed and that they have actually been abused as defined in law. Many individuals and organisations are against the sex and relationship education in schools which would mitigate this under the mistaken belief that it sexualises children.
  • Family loyalty can often override the desire to report abuse because children don’t want parents/guardians (either those carrying out the abuse or those related to the abuser/s) to get into trouble or for family units to be broken up. ‘Family’ doesn’t have to be biological.

Some positive changes happening now which are hopefully starting to shift the balance of power towards the victim

  • Increased public awareness of the level of child sexual abuse and exploitation within our society.
  • Increased public awareness of the level of corruption within the Establishment and the failings that can occur as a result of individual biases and prejudices, e.g. within police forces.
  • Increasing pressure from the public on the political arm of the Establishment to uncover Establishment-level sexual abusers of children and bring them to justice. Some members of the political establishment have led the call for a national inquiry (not without strong resistance from some, and minimal action from most).
  • Some high profile prosecutions (although only from the media/entertainment world to date).
  • Partly due to social media, information is shared more quickly and widely now than with traditional media channels in the past. Survivors, campaigners and concerned members of the public are able to connect on their own terms and organise.
  • Emergence of new media outlets not constrained by traditional commercial media models, e.g. Exaro.
  • Better support for victims (although still nowhere near enough).
  • Wider availability of specialist legal support.

Shifting beliefs: The need to listen to child protection experts

Liz Davies, Matthew Parris

Liz Davies, Matthew Parris

A fascinating discussion between Matthew Parris (columnist and former Conservative politician) and Liz Davies (front-line child protection social worker from London Metropolitan University) about the forthcoming national inquiry into child sexual abuse was broadcast yesterday on the Spectator blog (transcript below). It was fascinating partly because of Liz Davies’ recounting of how her investigations into child abuse and murders of children were stopped by unknown senior people, and partly because of Matthew Parris’ refusal to accept that what Liz Davies was saying might be true. Although as Matthew Parris had just published a Spectator article called ‘What kind of idiot tries to stand in the way of a national child abuse panic? I do’ and subtitled ‘I know the rumours. I think they’re mostly nonsense. I don’t expect a fair hearing’ (pay-walled) he perhaps found it impossible to allow himself to be convinced by the evidence Liz Davies was setting out.

Putting Matthew Parris’s individual views aside, what I generally took from the discussion was a reminder that many people don’t yet accept that the organised sexual abuse of children has happened and is still happening, and that when the abuse is carried out by powerful and influential people it tends to get covered up, even after the abusers are dead.

We can’t expect the new CSA inquiry to solve this alone, but if it delivers what it is being set up to achieve then it should help push forward the further cultural change we need. We need to acknowledge the issue of organised CSA and find better ways to prevent it and tackle it when it does happen. Victims and survivors shouldn’t have to wait 20 years for a national inquiry – a National Police Investigation Team should be dealing swiftly with these cases and securing prosecutions. We really need to start listening to child protection experts like Liz Davies and Peter McKelvie.

Discussion on 10 July 2014:

Matthew Parris: It seems to me to very likely be an overheated conspiracy theory. There’s certainly a rush to judgement. It may or may not concern senior politicians 30 years ago. All we know is that Geoffrey Dickens, who was a delightful man – we all liked Geoffrey very much – but he was pretty nuts. He had lots of conspiracy theories. And he did believe Britain was in the grip of a huge paedophile ring involving very senior people in government. I think it highly unlikely that the Home Office would have willfully destroyed the documents that he gave to the Home Secretary. I don’t say we shouldn’t look into it. I just think everybody needs to calm down a little.

Presenter: Other inquiries, like Hillsborough have ended up being totally vindicated.

Matthew Parris: But the Hillsborough Inquiry was an inquiry by the police into themselves [sic]. If this new Home Office inquiry, which is an inquiry into two separate early inquiries, fails to find a conspiracy then I don’t think the people who think these conspiracies exist will be satisfied. They’ll then want another inquiry. But you can’t win discussions like this – with respect to Liz – anyone who says ‘calm down we don’t need another inquiry’ is always going to lose the discussion. And anyone who says ‘let’s at least try to get the truth of the matter and lay this to rest’ is always going to win the argument, and so you’ll get inquiry upon inquiry upon inquiry.

Presenter: I suppose Matthew is saying ‘let’s pause, reflect, and come back to this once the media storm has died down and see if we really need an overarching inquiry’?

Liz Davies: It doesn’t feel like a rush to me. I’ve waited 20 years since I became aware of major cover-ups and people interfering with my investigations when I was trying to protect children. And where instructions came from for those interferences I don’t know – I want some answers.

Presenter: You knew about these particular allegations?

Liz Davies: I was investigating many, many allegations of sexual assaults of children and murders of children. I was working with the police and then suddenly the police were taken off the investigations into the most serious crimes you can imagine against multiple numbers of children. I had to then go to the civil courts to try and protect them as best I could, but there were no prosecutions against the perpetrators. Thanks to social media I’ve recently been able to contact those police officers who were removed from the investigations and they’ve told me their instructions came from very senior police officers. Who’s going to investigate that? I’ve no means to do it. Why did senior police shut down my investigations into the abuse and murders of children? I want to know that – I’ve waited 20 years. I’m not going to stop – these are incredibly serious matters.

Presenter: Why do you think it is we have to wait 30 years before we have an inquiry into these things?

Liz Davies: More information’s come to light now. Partly through social media a lot more victims and survivors have come forward. My inbox is full every day of people contacting me with stories to tell. But our biggest problem now is having enough police to investigate reports. Operation Fernbridge has only got 7 officers.

Presenter: So what you’d like is a truly overarching inquiry looking not just into politicians but every single child abuse case where justice has not been achieved.

Liz Davies: People like me who’ve had investigations shut down want answers to those cases. I’ve tried for 20 years; I’ve raised the issues through the media. I’ve tried everything and got nowhere. I want to know who’s behind it all. It’s not all about politicians – it’s about abuse of power at the highest level and I want to know who those people are.

Matthew Parris: Well, the highest level is Ministers and you seem to be suggesting they are involved. I personally doubt it but these things have happened. But when you say these investigations were shut down that’s not a very neutral phrase – investigations are ‘not proceeded with’ by the police every day. You say they were shut down at the highest level but the senior police officer responsible will have taken a decision not to proceed. There may be a sinister explanation but it may just be that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to proceed.

Liz Davies: I’d been working on cases for months. I’m a very experienced investigator, and I’ve worked with the police for many years – I know when my investigation into very serious crimes has been closed down; when I go to work one day and I’m told by my senior manager “you will no longer have any police with you on these investigations from this day on”.

Presenter: Could that be because of a lack of evidence?

Liz Davies: Absolutely not. We were in the middle of collating a mass of evidence. I had to get some children right out of London to secret venues to protect them. The level of investigation was very high and complex and I knew exactly what I was dealing with. Children were being taken all over the country to be abused in different locations by different people.

Presenter: Do you have any confidence that the new inquiry will put these matters to rest?

Liz Davies: No, but I might be able to ask some questions – there’s nowhere else for me to go. In Islington, 2 or 3 years before I was working there and raising serious issues, Geoffrey Dickens was also raising serious issues – that’s another dossier which no one is currently looking for. That one went to Douglas Hurd who was Home Secretary at that time.

Matthew Parris: All these children who have, as you say, been taken to different locations to be abused by senior people, you’ll presumably be able to find some of them to testify?

Liz Davies: Yes, they will of course come and testify, but we need to have a lot of things in place – support systems, witness protection. An inquiry won’t solve this – it’ll get us a bit further. What I’ve argued for 20 years is that we need a National Police Investigation Team because we need somewhere that people can go where the connections are made across the country. When I went to Scotland Yard with my evidence for Islington I was used by Scotland Yard to go all over the country to liaise with other investigations like North Wales and so on – nobody in the police was connecting it all up. I was hearing many names – I won’t say any of the names here, but many names – I was hearing them in the different places I was visiting. Nobody has ever joined those dots up.

Matthew Parris: I won’t ask you for names but I will ask you – you do have names, and these are very senior people in the world of politics and you are reasonably confident that they have been involved in some of these activities?

Liz Davies: Yes. Some of the names that have come out recently, like Cyril Smith, were no surprise to me. When he died I wondered if anything would come out then. I heard his name for many, many years.

Matthew Parris: So had I. Although I hadn’t entirely believed – I’d thought perhaps whatever he had done hadn’t been that serious or had been exaggerated. So you are right – it is possible to be wrong about people, but that doesn’t mean there is great national conspiracy involving top people all over the country transporting children to secret locations. I would need a lot of convincing.

Liz Davies: What we need is a proper police investigation into the allegations we know about that haven’t been properly investigated or have been shut down over the years. My experience was you could so much, get to a certain level and it all got shut down, and I’ve had that time and again. We need more police resources, more social workers. And can I just say that what we’re talking about is organised abuse of children – and last year this government got rid of all the statutory guidance on this. They got rid of the definition of ‘organised child abuse’ and the means of investigating it. We’re losing our tools for dealing with this.

Matthew Parris: I’m not here to defend Ministers but I don’t think it’s fair to say we got rid of all the means of investigating organised abuse.

Liz Davies: They’ve got rid of the policy that stated how police and other agencies should investigate organised child abuse.

Matthew Parris: Who are these senior police who you say are consistently shutting down every investigation the moment you get somewhere? It seems unfeasible in this day and age that a chief constable in a case where there is evidence of appalling abuse to young children would stop the investigations because they were under pressure from some national network.

Liz Davies: Well, you’d have to ask them wouldn’t you? I wasn’t operating at that level. I don’t know who these people are. All I can tell you is what I know absolutely happened in my role, being paid to protect children, and not being able to protect them in the way I was expected to.

The devil is in the detail.

Theresa May announcing the child abuse inquiryA national inquiry into the failings of state and non-state bodies to protect children from abuse was announced by the Home Secretary this afternoon. Over 140 MPs demanded the inquiry (following on from Yvette Cooper MP’s initial call 18 months ago) and an online petition reached over 70,000 signatures in its first couple of days. The inquiry was called for because institutions have consistently put their own reputations and survival before the protection of children, particularly children within the care system who are the most vulnerable to organised child abuse and trafficking. While there have been a growing number of investigations of late, such as the NHS reports into Jimmy Savile, these are all narrow in scope and do not look at why there were persistent failures to intervene, stop the abuse and prosecute the offenders.

Home Secretary Theresa May set out three principles for the review: that it should not get in the way of making successful prosecutions; that there should be maximum transparency; and that wherever there were failures they should be exposed and lessons learned. The Home Secretary said the latter should include looking widely at child protection issues including the proposal of legally mandated reporting of suspected abuse.

In addition to the main inquiry, Peter Wanless from the NSPCC and a senior legal figure will look again at the handling of the dossier of evidence and allegations handed to then Home Secretary Sir Leon Brittan by Geoffrey Dickens MP – a dossier which Dickens told friends would “blow the lid off” the lives of powerful and famous child abusers. It came as a surprise to many MPs and observers that the disappearance of 114 Home Office files – something which appeared to be a very recent revelation – had actually been made ‘public’ in a previous Parliamentary Question. Wanless will also look again at the allegations that the Home Office funded activity by the Paedophile Information Exchange.

The main inquiry will look at failures by state and non-state bodies to deliver their duty of care of protecting children and will begin as soon as possible. Although it cannot feasibly conclude before the 2015 general election it will provide an update to Parliament before May 2015.

However, while the announcement of an inquiry is momentous, there is no guarantee that it will fully address the questions the MPs and the public want answered. The Hillsborough-style inquiry will have far more scope than all the individual investigations that have taken place to date, but the scope is not limitless. And it is these limits which will ultimately determine the success or failure of the inquiry.

The Hillsborough Inquiry’s terms of reference allowed it to look at:

…all documentation held by central government, local government and other public agencies (the police, ambulance service, fire service, coroner and Sheffield City Council) that relates directly to events surrounding the Hillsborough tragedy up to and including the Taylor report, the Lord Stuart-Smith review of Hillsborough papers in 1998-99 and the private prosecution in 2000.

The timeframe is one of the key constraints that may hamper the new inquiry. Will the review only look at the 1970’s and 80’s? If so, this would exclude criminal activity right up until the current day. But the constraint on what information can be released to the panel will surely be the most telling.

In relation to pre-1997 government information, the Hillsborough Inquiry Panel was not allowed to see information which indicated the views of ministers (such as Cabinet material or policy advice to ministers) without first consulting representatives of that administration. Tom Watson, Yvette Cooper and other MPs pressed the Home Secretary today on whether the inquiry would have access to all information, including police and secret service papers, and information covered by the Official Secrets Act. The Home Secretary said she wanted the “fullest possible access” but could not guarantee this at the present moment – the legality would have to be established. With MI5 heavily involved in the cover-up of Cyril Smith MP’s abuse for example, access to all evidence is fundamental to uncovering the truth. Will the customs officer who intercepted a video tape containing footage of child sexual abuse found on a senior Tory MP be allowed to give evidence even though he was made to sign the Official Secrets Act? If parties have a right to be consulted on pre-1997 government information then what chances are there of them disclosing anything that may implicate themselves or their colleagues? Remember the huge fight David Steel put up to prevent it being known that he was the person who nominated Cyril Smith for a knighthood even though he had been told of the MP’s abuse of children? David Steels actions were clearly very embarrassing for him – and indeed he should be deeply ashamed – but it was not a criminal act. If it was he would surely have fought even harder.

We will have to wait for the Inquiry’s terms of reference which will be drafted once the panel lead is in place to see if the devil is in the detail (or whether the detail allows the devil to escape). The endless delays of the Chilcot Inquiry may be a better indicator of what the new child sexual abuse inquiry will be like than the Hillsborough Inquiry which focused on the police and never threatened the establishment.

Hilary Benn MP announces his support for a national inquiry into child abuse

On Friday evening, Hilary Benn MP added his name to the growing list of MPs from across the political spectrum who want a national inquiry into historical cases of children sexual abuse.

The call for a national inquiry was first made by Yvette Cooper MP in November 2012 following Home Secretary, Theresa May’s reopening of the investigation into child sexual abuse at North Wales children’s homes. But it was a recent cross-party letter to the Home Secretary signed by 7 MPs (Tim Loughton, Zac Goldsmith, Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk, John Hemming, Tess Munt, and Caroline Lucas) which kick-started the current campaign which has so far led to well over 100 MPs stepping forward in support of the inquiry. Although it is for Members of Parliament to make the decision, members of the Lords have also come forward in support, and the British Association of Social Workers has asked its 15,000 members to lobby their MPs to support the inquiry.

The pressure continues to build on the Government to agree to the inquiry as members of the shadow cabinet, including Andy Burnham and now also Hilary Benn, join the call. Following Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s apology on Thursday to victims for government and NHS failures highlighted in the Savile reports, Andy Burnham challenged Jeremy Hunt that the reports were “effectively the hospitals investigating themselves”. Burnham called for an independent review, akin to the Hillsborough inquiry, into why there was “such large-scale, institutional failure to stop these abhorrent crimes.”

The NHS Leeds report into Jimmy Savile’s crimes is a valuable piece of the jigsaw but the scope of all of these individual reports cannot answer the critical question of why it was that time and time again the police and other authorities had evidence of organised sexual abuse of children but failed to stop the abuse and bring the perpetrators to justice.

In MP Simon Danczuk’s book, Smile for the Camera, he provides damning evidence of how the Westminster elite were able to work with the police and MI5 to ensure Cyril Smith MP was never brought to justice – “There was a network at the highest level that was out to protect him at every turn”. And there are many other cases, such as the disappearance of a dossier of evidence about powerful and politically connected paedophiles shared with a previous Home Secretary by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP, and the failure to properly investigate and bring abusers to justice in the Elm Guest House and Grafton Close Children’s Home cases.

Please write to your MP if they are yet to state their position on the call for a national inquiry into historical child abuse.

The policing of prostitution in West Yorkshire – the view from the street (Part Three: the BLAST Project)

The BLAST Project logoThis interview is with Phil Mitchell from the Leeds-based BLAST Project. The BLAST Project provides a range of support services to boys and young men across Leeds and Bradford who are or have been sexually exploited, or are at risk of being sexually exploited, including those who are involved in selling/exchanging sex. This interview is part of a series with agencies in West Yorkshire who support sex workers and liaise to some degree with West Yorkshire Police. The first interview was with the Joanna Project, the second with the STAR Project. All previous articles on this topic can be found here.

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Q: How much work does the BLAST Project do with sex workers?

We’re currently working with two young men in the Bradford area, but we’re finding male sex workers difficult to identify and engage with at the moment. We have outreach workers who go out late at night and they work with a number of young men who appear to be begging or homeless. We know a number of them have offered sexual stuff in exchange for cash or drugs, but a lot of them won’t disclose it to us, so we’ve got to get to know them better and build more trust. We have worked with more sex workers in the past, although they tend to only talk to us once or twice and then don’t want to see us again. Quite often they are looking after themselves and their sexual health and don’t need support; they have friends and they say they don’t want to speak to anyone else. So we just let them know we’re here if they ever need us for anything. There’s not really any 1:1 work with sex workers at present, the bulk of that type of support is with boys under 18 who are being abused or are at risk of being abused.

Q: Do you have much interaction with West Yorkshire Police?

If someone from the ‘Vice Squad’ knows of a young man out selling sex they always refer them to us. But this rarely happens because either the boys aren’t out on the streets or some of the police don’t identify them as selling sex – they see them more as causing trouble, wanting to mug someone, or begging, and they move them along – some officers don’t understand that they could be selling sex. The police tend to make assumptions based on gender which isn’t helpful.

While we do work closely with WYP in some instances, we are very careful about how we associate with them. A lot of the boys and men we work with don’t like the police, so if we say we work closely with the police they won’t engage with us. If we become aware of something which is worrying and potentially a crime we’ll send the information to the police. But if the young person doesn’t want to speak to the police then that’s up to them.

Q: What are the interactions like between West Yorkshire Police, the BLAST Project and the people the Project is trying to support?

There are negative and positive aspects. There are some officers and individuals who are amazing, but there are others that tend to say one thing but do another. They deal with allegations and say to the victims they’ll keep in touch and let them know what’s happening, but 9 times out of 10 that never actually happens. A person can make a complaint and give a statement and it can be a year later before they find out what’s happened. In that year no-one has kept in touch, no-one has said what’s happening – has it gone to the CPS etc. – we have to phone and chase.

The Police have a tendency to criminalise boys and young men. All of the safeguarding guidance says you cannot label someone under 18 as a prostitute, but there have been instances where this has not been followed. Only this week we found out there was a 14 year old boy who’d been offered drugs for sex. We approached WYP about this and they said, “This is male prostitution…” – we had to challenge them – he’s a 14 year old boy, you cannot classify him in that way. The focus tends to be on prosecution, but there has to be more to it than that.

We’ve had reports from children and young people like “I’ve been online, I’ve chatted to what I thought was a girl and she’s got me to perform a sex act on a webcam but it turned out to be a middle aged man who’d recorded it. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to the police but they said ‘there’s nothing we can do’…” So I’ve phoned the police and said “You’ve got a child reporting a child sexual offence to you, you can’t say ‘there’s nothing you can do’?” – then they try to bat it back to the voluntary sector saying, “Well, you do this and then if they want to speak to us phone us back.”, and we’re like, “They did want to speak to you – they spoke to you and you told them to go away.”

There was one young lad who came out as gay and went online looking for a boyfriend. All these older men said to him “Let’s have sex, it’ll show me that you love me” – he was groomed by lots of different men. Some of them had previously been in prison for sexual offences. He tried reporting this but the police told him he was wasting their time, that he was costing too much money – they told him they’d lock him up in a secure unit – again we had to challenge the police. Fortunately we managed to stop that happening on that occasion.

Some WYP officers don’t understand that boys and young men don’t go to the red light areas like the women do. The red light areas are used by male, heterosexual kerb-crawlers. The boys will hang around all the gay bars and gay venues and approach the gay guys. “I can let him watch me masturbate and get £20”, or “I’ll let him think I’m gonna suck him off but then I’ll mug him and run off.” But then sometimes they end up being raped. But because they’re often under 18 we wouldn’t call them sex workers – they’re sexually exploited young people. Unfortunately the police don’t always get that.

There are some officers on Vice that have been very good. They’ve spoken to victims and built a good relationship with them. But it depends on individual officers and their background. Maybe you could blame the cuts for some of this. Everyone’s got to do more for less. But that excuse can only go so far. It hasn’t helped that West Yorkshire Police have historically been reluctant to say they sometimes get things wrong or could do things better, but I’m hopeful that things may now be changing in this respect.

Q: Have you heard of West Yorkshire Police’s “Operation Topaz”?

I’ve heard of it, but we’re not involved in it. WYP didn’t consult with us about it. They have consulted with us on some things but not on a great deal.

Q: Do you work to change communities and societies views towards sex work?

We do, but the focus is on preventing sexual exploitation of under 18 males rather than on sex work. I spoke at a conference earlier today with the message that it doesn’t just happen to young girls, it happens to young boys too. We do national campaigns like the ‘Think Again’ campaign, and we do challenge – we challenge that you can’t use the term ‘prostitute’ for under 18’s for example.

Q: Have West Yorkshire Police offered to join forces with you in this work?

We are in discussion with WYP about doing an online web chat. WYP have previously worked with Isis (linked to Genesis but dealing with girls who are sexually exploited) and separately PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation who support parents who have children who have been abused) to do web chats, so we’re hoping to do one aimed at parents about boys who are sexually exploited and give people advice about grooming and sexual exploitation.

We’re very careful how we link up with the police as sometimes they say the right thing but they don’t do the right thing. I’ve got more negative experiences than positive experiences, and I think so have the boys and young men we see, therefore we have to be very careful about how we associate with WYP.

A few years ago we did some outreach with some PCSOs in one of Leeds’ main red light districts late at night. We approached the working women and said we’re looking for boys to give information and support to. Many of the women knew of boys but said they won’t be here; they’ll be around all the gay bars. Then the PCSOs, who were lovely, said, “We’re out and about, take care of yourselves, but look, if we see you here again we’re going to have to arrest you or move you on”. And that made us think – even though we got on, our approaches are very different, so we can’t do outreach again together.

Q: Are you aware of the ‘Merseyside Model’ which is recommended in the 2011 Association of Chief Police Officers’ guidance and centres on treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes?

I think that anything that helps brings a prosecution is good, but anything that makes these people feel supported, and not judged, is also good. I’m all for anything that does that.

I’m not that familiar with the ACPO guidance, but it is not a big surprise that other forces have not adopted the approach of Merseyside Police. The police often let their morals get in the way. What they need to do is put their morals and views aside and just focus on the fact that you’ve got a victim. Some officers don’t seem to realise that you can sell sex legally in some circumstances – they think it’s all wrong, illegal. What really matters is that there is a victim.

I think there needs to be more general awareness about selling sex and the law – not just within the police, but in wider society. If I wanted to invite people to my house to sell sex then I’m not breaking the law. There are more students now who want to do that because they’ve got more debt – they think it’s quick and easy – obviously there are risks but younger people tend not to give the risks much weight. I never tell any of the young men that they shouldn’t do it – it is their choice. I advise them to be aware of the law – if it’s under 18 it’s a crime, if it’s in a public place it’s a crime, if it involves coercion it’s a crime, but otherwise you can sell sex quite legally, – and to be aware of the risks and make an informed decision, and get support if you need it. But the police are often very judgmental. I don’t think that criminalising prostitution solves anything.

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Footnote:

West Yorkshire Police’s Operation Topaz and the Association of Chief Police Officers 2011 Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation are discussed in this article.

The BLAST Project recently launched their 2 minute My New Friend video to highlight the grooming and sexual exploitation of boys and young men.

The policing of prostitution in West Yorkshire – the view from the street (Part One: the Joanna Project)

Photo of the Joanna Project team meeting MP Hilary Benn.

The Joanna Project team. (Photo from MP Hilary Benn’s website)

The police’s approach to tackling prostitution has come under the national media spotlight of late as part of a wider debate about how society views sex work. In previous articles I looked at how West Yorkshire Police, along with most other forces, has chosen not to adopt elements of the ‘Merseyside Model’ which has been instrumental in helping Merseyside Police achieve a 67% conviction rate for crimes of rape against sex workers compared to a national average conviction rate for rape of just 6.5% (2010 data).

The policies and processes that individual police forces adopt, and the standards and behaviours that police leaders set for their officers are of course critical, but to understand the full picture it’s essential to look at what actually happens on the street on a day-to-day basis. Do the interactions between individual police officers and prostitutes working on the streets of West Yorkshire tend to make the working women safer, or do they put them in more danger? Do the interactions support an exit from the cycle of addiction and prostitution which is prevalent among women working on the streets?

To try and answer these questions, I requested interviews with all the support agencies which West Yorkshire Police told me they liaise with. The first of what I hope will be a short series of interviews is presented below. This interview is with Jackie Hird from the Leeds-based Joanna Project.

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What is your relationship with West Yorkshire Police like?

We’ve established a good working relationship with WYP. We certainly don’t live in their pocket – but they know who we are, and we know who they are. We’ve built a closer relationship in recent times as Inspector Christopher Bowen (Holbeck Neighbourhood Operations Inspector) has taken over. He’s been very proactive in contacting us. We have a planning application in at the moment for a support centre in Holbeck and the police have been very supportive of that.

I’ve been here for 4 years and I’ve seen a definite change in attitude, at least in the senior officers. A couple of years ago I attended a meeting hosted by the police and they were making statements there about needing to see the women as victims and looking at the bigger picture, recognising they have multiple needs and that policing alone will not solve things. This meeting was the beginning of the formation of the strategy called Responding to Prostitution in Leeds: A Partnership Strategy. I know there are working women who will tell stories about encountering officers who are less than helpful, but it can take time for attitudes to filter down. I don’t think you’ll get every officer signing up to that.

We do an evening outreach and sometimes officers will come across who don’t recognise us – by and large, once they find out who we are and what we’re doing, they’re respectful of our activities.

What interactions do you have with the police?

We are part of the Ugly Mugs scheme so we would use that if there are any ‘dodgy punter’ type allegations. The police will contact us too. For example, there was recently an incident of rape, so the police alerted us to that and said if anyone had any information to please let them know. They said to put the word out that they were taking the incident seriously. They do make efforts. There’s been an issue ongoing for a while where a particular person has been a cause for concern. Different agencies, including the police, have met to try and resolve the situation. We wouldn’t give information to the police about a client unless it was for their safety, or if someone was missing, or if they’d given their permission to be discussed at a multi-agency meeting to try and help them in some way, for example with exit strategies. We don’t get involved in the police’s duty to uphold the law.

How good are WYP at encouraging your clients to report crimes and to see them through to convictions?

It’s quite difficult to get our clients to report crime and to take it the distance through to conviction. They see violence as an occupational hazard. The women we work with are street sex workers, which is quite different to many indoor sex workers. All the women we support have huge addiction issues. For them, it’s a cycle of working, using, working, using. They’re out there driven by their habit. So things like ‘reporting crime’ can be very low on their priority list. They might think ‘it’s awful what’s happened to me but I still need to work and score.’ I know sometimes there have been efforts made by the police to get women to follow through on statements, but it’s not always where the women are at. Our experience is more that the problem is when the case gets to court. Juries and magistrates etc. don’t see the women as they should – as credible witnesses. They think ‘well, what were you doing out there anyway’.

The women themselves may not see a more enlightened approach from the police. They might not see the bigger picture – they sometimes just see themselves as ‘being moved on’, ‘being lifted’, ‘being ASBO’d’. They don’t trust the police.

Have you heard of West Yorkshire Police’s “Operation Topaz”?

No, I’ve not heard of that.

What about your work to change the community’s view of prostitution – is that done in conjunction with the police?

It’s a hot topic at the moment because of this planning application.

The reason we didn’t go public about our proposal and have lots of meetings is because we’re aware lots of residents don’t want their area (Holbeck) trumpeted as a red light area and we were trying to respect that. Ironically, the challenge from some (but definitely not all) residents has thrust this in to the spotlight.

Holbeck is trying to rehabilitate its image. But sadly the reality is that it is where women are working. So being respectful of residents we didn’t make a big fuss about our building. And we know it will have absolutely no impact on the residents. It’s a very small building near an industrial estate – it’s not in the residential area. It’s not going to look any different apart from some clean curtains in the building. All anyone might possibly see is an occasional woman knocking on the door and being let in. We need the women to know where we are but we won’t be putting a big sign on the front of the building saying “working girls here” or anything like that! All people will see is the building that is there now. To suggest it will attract women in to the area is a fundamental misunderstanding of what drives women to work as street prostitutes. They don’t come here because we give them a bun and a cup of tea. We’ve actually been working in Holbeck for the last 10 years. This new proposal is just a small extension to our existing work. But somehow it’s become very visible and contentious which is frustrating.

I have invited different representatives of residents groups to meet with me and we have had some productive meetings. But I think when you’re involved in an issue like prostitution you become a kind of lightning conductor for all the anger about that issue, but I cannot solve it myself. I did not cause it. I’m just suggesting we could be a small part of a solution.

The Joanna Project and the police recognise each other’s aims – theirs is to uphold the law, ours is to help women exit prostitution – we both have an important part to play. One of the points I try to make to residents is that, because the women’s addictions are so strong, the police are not a deterrent from what they do. The addiction that drives them is much stronger than the fear of being caught by the police. The need to feed the addiction, which isn’t about pleasure but about stopping the pain, is the driver – that’s their rationale. Fear of getting an ASBO is nothing in comparison. But that can be hard for members of the public to understand.

Where are you in the application process for your outreach centre?

The planning officers have approved our proposal, but a councillor has requested that it go to a panel – this was originally going to be on the 6th March but has been deferred to 3rd April. So we wait for the councillors to decide at the planning meeting. All the objections and support for the scheme are public access.

Have you heard of the ‘Merseyside Model’ in the Association of Chief Police Officers guidance which has led to a big increase in conviction rates for crimes against sex workers?

Not heard of the ACPO guidance specifically but I would think that if Independent Sexual Violence Advisors are seen as being anything to do with the police then our clients won’t trust them. In terms of encouraging people to report crime and assist with that, that is something the voluntary sector would do in Leeds. We get the message across that just because you’re a working woman does not mean you should accept violence. We give that message strongly – it is not “OK”.

I don’t know enough about the hate crimes approach but it sounds like a very sensible idea. I think it’s the sort of thing which needs a council and political will to back it, not just the police will. I don’t know whether the political will is there or not.

Are more fundamental changes in law, politics or society needed to help tackle this issue?

I think society has this idea that these women just wake up one day and think “I’ll go and sell my body”. There isn’t the acknowledgement that it was a long and difficult journey to where these women are today. It very commonly started in the care system, in parental abuse, in neglect. A huge number of women will have been sexually abused as children. Society let these women down way back in their journey. Maybe their own parents were addicts. How do we get society to take responsibility for these people who have been damaged and let down in the past? Very commonly we hear of heroin addictions starting in the early teens. But when we see them later on in street prostitution people say “It’s all their fault” and that they “need to shape up”. Many of them won’t have completed secondary school – they often don’t have basic life skills. It’s OK helping women exit prostitution, but it’s naive to then expect them to be able to get a house and manage money, rent, bills etc when they’ve never done that before. Some have no supportive relationships because the only people they know are sex workers and other addicts. The journey to begin to build a positive life from that starting point is incredibly hard. There is very little acknowledgement of those issues. It’s a much bigger picture than just a woman saying “I’m going to take crack and heroin”.

Have Hilary Benn MP and local councillors come out in support of your outreach project?

Hilary Benn came to visit us a little while ago to learn of our plans. He certainly seemed supportive of them.

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Footnote:

West Yorkshire Police’s Operation Topaz and the Association of Chief Police Officers 2011 Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation are discussed in this article.