In January 2015 I successfully negotiated a settlement in Naomi’s case against Cambridgeshire County Council following serious sexual abuse that she suffered at the hands of her music teacher at a school in Cambridgeshire between 1991 and 1995.
Nine months on Naomi has kept in touch and I am delighted to hear how well she is doing. During our most recent telephone conversation Naomi reflected upon her experience of bringing a claim for compensation and I thought that I would share this for those that may be considering whether to embark on such a journey, a journey which can be difficult and lengthy in some cases.
Motivation to bring a claim
In Naomi’s case there were serious failings by the local authority who allowed a suspected paedophile to continue working in its schools despite having faced previous, although unproven, charges for offences against children. The lack of disciplinary or supervisory action allowed the teacher unfettered access to abuse Naomi. This, Naomi explained to me, was part of her motivation in bringing her claim for compensation. She wanted the local authority to be held accountable for their actions which had caused her such devastating consequences. Whilst the local authority did not hold up its hands and accept full responsibility for the failings, it did pay out one of the largest sums of compensation in an abuse case that there has ever been. For Naomi, therefore, this indicated such an assumption of accountability from which she takes some satisfaction.
Having suffered her first breakdown at the age of 23 after reporting the abuse to the police Naomi spent nearly the next twenty years in and out of psychiatric institutions, self harming and attempting suicide. As a result she has never been able to hold down paid employment for more than a few months. A successful athlete in her teenage years, this was not how her life was supposed to be. She had dreams of representing Great Britain in the Olympics and of becoming a nurse spending her career caring for other people. As a result of the abuse and the psychological effects upon her, however, Naomi lost this opportunity. It was this, she told me, that kept her motivated in bringing her claim against the local authority. She wanted to fight for what had been taken from her and should have been hers.
It is our job as lawyers to obtain the maximum amount of compensation that we can for our clients. No amount of compensation, however, will ever make the suffering that an abuse victim has endured in the past disappear, but, with time it can help to improve and shape the future. This was Naomi’s motivation.
As with many of our clients Naomi also expressly wanted an apology from the local authority. In the UK however an apology is not a legal remedy and whilst we strive to obtain them, and have succeeded in a number of cases, we cannot guarantee that a Defendant will provide one. The abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp is spear heading the campaign for an apology to be recognised as a legal remedy in these cases.
When I asked Naomi how she had found the process of bringing her claim she told me that she had known before that it would be ‘a difficult ride.’ Naomi first instructed me in December 2012. From start to finish her claim lasted just over two years. In most cases however it does not have to be this way. The local authority refused to admit responsibility, an option which was open to it from the very beginning.
As the case continued to be fought I had to issue proceedings at court meaning that we were then on the court’s timetable and the local authority had to play ball within certain deadlines. In Naomi’s case this proved to be the ‘nail in the coffin’ as documents began to surface from the local authority revealing the true nature of its failings. Naomi told me that from this point on she became more determined than ever to carry on with the claim. She felt believed. Throughout the entire claim I kept Naomi fully and regularly updated and in this way Naomi told me that she felt involved and that she was in control of her own case.
The end of a journey
Naomi’s case culminated in a settlement meeting at our offices in January. This was a long day starting at 10am during which offers were made and rejected. Finally at around 5pm that day Naomi was offered a settlement figure that I advised was finally capable of acceptance. Afterwards Naomi told me that she could not believe that after two years it was over. More recently she told me that that was the day her life changed and it was time for her to put the past behind her and to try to move on with her life knowing that she was now financially secure and that there were new opportunities for her.
Put simply, Naomi describes her life as ‘a lot easier now.’ She has access to the medical care and treatment that she needs, when she needs it. She no longer feels pressured to work when she is having a bad day, those of which are now becoming much less frequent. Above all she now has hope for her future for the very first time and dreams that can now come true.
Upon reflection, despite some low times throughout the claim, Naomi said that she will never look back and is now able to live her life in the knowledge that, to some extent, justice in her case has been achieved.