Examination of Witness (Questions 268-279)
MR HOWARD WEBBER
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
268. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is the third session of the Committee's inquiry into past cases of alleged abuse in children's homes. Can I just remind witnesses that we want, as far as possible, to avoid mentioning individual cases and certainly any which are still before the courts, although one can refer anonymously to cases to illustrate a wider proposition, but we have got to be very careful as regards matters which are sub judice. Can I welcome Mr Webber. Is it your first appearance before us?
(Mr Webber) Yes.
269. How long have you been in post?
(Mr Webber) Getting on for three years.
270. Good morning, Mr Webber. I wonder if you could tell us how many applications you have received since February of this year, February 2002, which relate to past cases of abuse in children's homes?
(Mr Webber) Thirty-two, and that compares with 1,509 overall applications received relating to child abuse in that period. I had the figures checked yesterday. So it is just over 2 per cent of the applications which we receive for child abuse in general which relate to institutional child abuse. I can only give the figures back to the beginning of February because we did not collect them in that way until then when we obviously thought it was worth collecting them in that way.
271. Now, you have got discretion, have you not, to reduce or withhold compensation where there is a late report or a failure to report at the earliest opportunity? Do you generally exercise that discretion in favour of an applicant who claims to have been sexually abused as a child but fails perhaps to report it until they are an adult?
(Mr Webber) In general, we would exercise that discretion. It is obviously unreasonable to expect a child to have reported such abuse contemporaneously, but it depends on how late it is reported how far we will take that into account.
272. Yes, but perhaps there is a reason not to report it sometimes quite a lot earlier than it is reported?
(Mr Webber) Indeed, we often do turn applications down because they were not reported until many, many years after the child reached adulthood.
273. So you would require an applicant to justify a failure to report abuse?
(Mr Webber) Yes.
274. How do you expect them to do that? How tough are you on that?
(Mr Webber) We would expect there to be in general psychological evidence as to why it took so long for, for instance, the applicant to come to terms with what had happened to him or her and then to make the application. Simply making a very late application without a good reason would result in a refusal almost certainly.
275. It would?
(Mr Webber) Yes.
276. So unless someone came up with a seriously good reason backed up by some independent medical evidence, you would say, "Sorry, no good"?
(Mr Webber) Yes. There is also, I should say, another strong reason why we might refuse to look at an application very late, which is simply that there is no corroborating evidence. There is no point going through the process of accepting a late application and then having to turn it down and refuse an award because there was no corroborating evidence.
277. I think your statistics would suggest that quite a high proportion of applicants in child abuse cases have got some criminal conviction or a criminal record. If that is the case, in what circumstances would you reduce their award on the basis of past record and how much would you reduce it by?
(Mr Webber) We have, and I can provide a copy for the Committee, in the guide to our Scheme, a slightly complicated, but, I hope, fairly objective points system where the reduction or refusal of an award depends on the severity of the sentence which was given for whatever conviction that the applicant has and how long ago that sentence was given. For instance, a very recent sentence of imprisonment of 30 months or more would probably result in a refusal, in most cases would result in a refusal. If that sentence had been ten years earlier, that might result in a 50 per cent reduction. It is pretty complicated and so probably not appropriate to go through in detail now, but it is based on the severity of the sentence and how long ago the sentence was given.
278. Does it also have the ability to relate to the type of previous crime, let us say a dishonest type of offence, a non-dishonest type, et cetera, et cetera?
(Mr Webber) We have discretion in all cases, but we try to be relatively objective. We will assume that the court will have taken into account the seriousness of the offence when giving sentence, so in general we will not look in great detail at the nature of the offence, but only at the severity of the penalty.
279. So it would be reduced by a small percentage down to whatzero?
(Mr Webber) Yes, down to whatever percentage that we choose, but we obviously need to justify that and, as I say, we do have discretion in every case. The points system in our guide is no more than a guideline that we start from, but we do have discretion.