Preliminary Hearings take place at Royal Courts of Justice

Over the last month the first preliminary hearings of Lady Goddard’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse have taken place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

To date the Inquiry has held preliminary hearings into four of its core areas for investigation:

  • Lord Greville Janner
  • The Anglican Church
  • Sexual abuse in Rochdale
  • Lambeth Council

The head of our Child Abuse team, Jonathan Wheeler previously wrote about the ways in which Bolt Burdon Kemp is working with the Inquiry to help them understand the role claims for compensation play in obtaining justice for survivors of child sexual abuse and helping them to rebuild their lives. We are also making the Inquiry aware of our suggestions for positive reforms in this area of law in order to make this a fairer process for everyone.

Greville Janner

On 9 March a preliminary hearing was held in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse perpetrated by Lord Greville Janner and how those allegations were dealt with in the past. The Inquiry was told that Lord Janner sexually abused children over a 33 year period dating back to 1955. Lord Janner is alleged to have arranged for children that he had a sexual interest in to be brought to the Houses of Parliament where he worked as an MP between 1970 and 1997. He is also alleged to have sexually abused a number of children in children’s homes and hotels.

Counsel to the Inquiry Ben Emmerson QC told the Inquiry:

“The allegations in summary are that Greville Janner exploited children and perpetrated a full range of sexual offfences against them, including what would now be termed in English law as rape.” 

17 complainants in the Janner case have been granted core participant status which means that they will have the right to make statements and seek permission to ask questions. Counsel to the inquiry has stated that whilst the Inquiry will not make findings of criminal or civil liability, where necessary it will make findings of fact.

Lord Janner died in December 2015 shortly after he was found unfit to stand trial in relation to allegations of child abuse due to dementia.

Anglican Church and Rochdale

On 16 March preliminary hearings were held in relation to sexual abuse within the Church of England and in Rochdale.

The Inquiry will hear allegations that the Church of England has previously interfered in allegations of clerical abuse and failed to pass complaints to police. The preliminary hearing was told that former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey received complaints of child sexual abuse perpetrated by the former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball as far back as 1993 but these were not passed on to police preventing Ball from being brought to justice and putting others at risk. Ball pleaded guilty to sexual offences against 18 young men in October 2015.

The Inquiry also heard that previous reviews into sexual abuse within the Anglican Church had been “less than comprehensive” and that the authors of reports had been misled by senior figures within the Church.

Lambeth Council

The most recent preliminary hearing took place on 24 March to consider allegations of widespread child sexual abuse within children’s homes run by Lambeth Council. The Inquiry heard that that physical and sexual abuse “on an industrial scale” went unchecked for decades in various children’s homes throughout the borough of Lambeth.

The Inquiry will consider a written report which sets out allegations that 600 individuals experienced incidents of child sexual abuse connected to Lambeth Council. The Inquiry also granted core participant status to the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association meaning that the group which represents a large number of survivors of abuse in Lambeth will be entitled to provide statements to the Inquiry setting out further details of incidents of abuse in Lambeth.

A number of individuals who were employed by Lambeth Council in children’s services have now been convicted of sexual offences against children including John Caroll who ran the Angell Road children’s home in Lambeth and Leslie Paul who worked as a carer for social services. It was reported in December 2015 that the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association has received reports of acts of abuse committed by as many 32 peadophiles.

Conclusion

These preliminary hearings mark the start of what is inevitably a massive and long term task.

The hope is that in the coming months and years the Inquiry will hear the testimony of survivors of child sexual abuse and examine institutional responses to allegations of abuse and the failings which allowed incidents of abuse to occur in the first place.

There are lessons to be learnt and plenty of scope for reform to obtain justice for individuals who have experienced abuse in the past and to protect children in the future.