5.5.09

Claimant allowed to pursue claim for abuse decades after the relevant events; in the circumstances it was equitable to allow the claim to proceed.  

Mr Raggett, who at the time of the hearing was aged 50, claimed damages consequent upon sexual abuse and assaults allegedly committed on him by a teacher, Father Spencer at Preston Catholic College where he was a pupil from 1969 until 1976. Mr Raggett and his witnesses gave detailed evidence of the alleged abuse. Mr Raggett claimed that it was only in April 2005 when he got very drunk and revealed details of the abuse to a priest with whom he was drinking that he realised that various problems in his life had occurred as a result. The issues to be determined at the hearing were whether abuse had occurred, if so its nature and extent, and limitation issues.  

Held: The Judge was satisfied that the evidence showed Mr Raggett was the victim of a sustained course of sexual abuse and assaults by Father Spencer. In relation to limitation, in accordance with the provisions of the Limitation Act 1980 the claim could not be brought more than three years after Mr Raggett’s date of knowledge that he had suffered a significant injury. The Judge considered the decision of the House of Lords in A v Hoare and others [2008] where it was held that, when determining the date of knowledge, the test to be applied was an objective (as opposed to subjective) one. He held that Mr Raggett must have known from the time the acts of sexual abuse were committed, the nature and extent of these. Accordingly, the claim became statute barred in June 1979. However, taking all the circumstances of the case into account it was equitable to allow the claim to proceed under s.33 of the Limitation Act.  

Comment: The House of Lords held in A v Hoare that s.11 of the Limitation Act (as opposed to s.2) applied to cases of deliberate assault, meaning that claimants could ask the courts to exercise their discretion to extend the limitation period under s.33. Following this decision, the concern was that victims of abuse could potentially bring claims for compensation many years after the events occurred. This was however subject to their being able to show that a fair trial was still possible.  

Whilst this case illustrates that it will be possible for claims to be brought at a late stage, this will not always be the case. In the January edition of Liability Brief we reported on the case of TCD v Harrow Council and others [2008]. In TCD the Claimant sought damages from three local authorities in respect of historic child abuse and it was held that, given evidential difficulties, it would not be equitable for her claim to proceed. Each case will be decided on its own merits and defendants should in appropriate cases continue to contest attempts to bring claims for deliberate assault at a late stage. The decision to contest should have regard to the circumstances surrounding the delay from the date of knowledge and the defendant’s access to evidence, including whether witnesses are alive and records exist.