Examination of Witness (Questions 300-319)
MR HOWARD WEBBER
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
300. Yes, so lots of these cases are settled, often some considerably in excess of what they could expect from your organisation, without any scrutiny of the facts.
(Mr Webber) I certainly would not want to go that far and, as I say, it is not an issue that I need to have expertise in because we do not work in that way.
301. It stands to reason to me that if you are dealing with a block of 30 or 40 cases at a time, perhaps more, it is not quite the same level of scrutiny, and perhaps there is no level of scrutiny because it is an argument about limiting the amount of damages, is it not, by insurance companies rather than whether the events complained of actually happened or not?
(Mr Webber) That is a plausible hypothesis.
Chairman: Thank you. I rest my case.
302. You said in response to Mr Malins that you do require some justification if people come late. How often would you waive the two-year limit?
(Mr Webber) More often than not in these cases because it would be very unusual and surprising for an application to be made within two years because we are talking about children obviously and two years afterwards they may still be children. So more often than not, and a great deal more often than in any other type of case.
303. Can you give us a figure?
(Mr Webber) Actually I cannot and I should have been able to do so. I will seek to check that out and I shall write to the Committee after this hearing.
304. You also said earlier that you thought that many of the applications precede trial. Are you sympathetic to the fact that some of the kids will be advised either by the police or by the lawyers not to apply until after the criminal trial has taken place?
(Mr Webber) I am aware from the evidence given to this Committee that that is so. We have no influence and no great interest in whether the application is made before or after trial, except that we expect it to be made pretty quickly. Now, we would not settle any application before a trial, but we would expect there to be some reason why there had been a significant delay in making an application.
305. One of the reasons that they are advised to wait until after the trial is because it may affect their standing as a prosecution witness. Are you aware of that?
(Mr Webber) So I have heard. We have taken the point of view of the genuine victim, and they are in a no-win situation really. If they apply before the trial, that can be used to question their integrity. If they apply after the trial, that can be used to argue that they are being sly and trying to conceal that fact from the defence.
306. You talked about the corroborating evidence. What corroborating evidence would you need to sustain a case?
(Mr Webber) Because we look at things case by case it is difficult to generalise, but the sort of corroborating evidence which would be very helpful indeed, well, obviously there is conviction and a conviction is for us corroborating evidence. But, apart from that, we generally find that the police have not kept their notes from many years earlier, but that GP notes, for instance, are available and there may have been visits by a victim or an applicant to their GP many years earlier at the time that they were complaining of abuse and, with hindsight, the sorts of things they were complaining about, the sorts of physical symptoms they were complaining about then, were consistent with abuse. Social service departments quite often keep notes for much longer than the police do and again there are matters which at the time were possibly not taken very seriously, but which are entirely consistent with the application made 15 years later, which could suggest that that sort of event did take place. Police reports may indicate that other alleged victims have named a particular person having been a victim. Now, obviously there is the danger of collusion which you will be discussing no doubt with the police when they come before you next week, but provided that collusion, conspiracy and so on are ruled out, the fact that someone has been named as a victim by someone else would be corroborating evidence to us.
307. So you would use similar allegations against an assailant as corroborating evidence?
(Mr Webber) No, I did not say that.
308. Could you clarify it for me again? If person A comes to you, are you saying that the corroborating evidence is the fact that person B has named person A as a victim?
(Mr Webber) That would be corroborating evidence, but obviously one needs to check out the bona fides of person B and person A in that case, but yes.
309. How long does it take once an application is made before the person actually receives their compensation?
(Mr Webber) The average time for settling a claim is around eight months and about 80 per cent are settled within a year. These cases will obviously take longer if there is a criminal trial, and if an application is made well before a criminal trial, then obviously we will not settle until the trial. So how long it takes is partly dependent on how long it takes for the trial to be sorted. In general, for all our applications the average is eight months and 80 per cent are settled within a year.
310. As a part of that, getting these reports, say, from social services, is it easy to get reports from them?
(Mr Webber) No, it is a slow business. We are not the top of anyone else's agenda really, so we have to send reminders. We send reminders to the police, for instance, after three months if we have not received a report from them three months after asking for the initial report. We have to do that in about 50 per cent of cases, which gives you some indication of how long these things take. Social services likewise, although it is less common for us to have to go to social services. We go to the police in every case and we go to social services where it is relevant. We need medical reports as well and they can take quite a long time. The main cause of delay in all our cases really is getting the relevant information from the relevant people.
311. Finally, if a solicitor, who is defending a person accused of child abuse, asks you if the prosecution witness has made a claim, would you reveal that information to them?
(Mr Webber) No. If the defendant goes to the court and seeks a court order and receives a court order, then obviously we would, but in general, otherwise, we would not.
312. And that is policy?
(Mr Webber) Yes. Applications are confidential and there seems no good reason to make an exception in these cases.
313. Do you believe that the prospect of compensation is a factor in these allegations?
(Mr Webber) It can be obviously. Commonsense suggests that in many cases it is, but I quoted earlier the fact that only 20 per cent of complainants in most of these operations have made applications, which suggests that it is not a major factor for many of them and obviously for 80 per cent it is no factor at all. If it is a factor in making false allegations, it can also be a factor in bringing forth true allegations. I am not saying it is a pure motive, but it can be a motive for bringing forward something which can lead to the conviction of guilty people as well.
314. Yes. I think we are agreed that if someone did not apply, it would not mean that they were not motivated by compensation, but it is just that they might be following another route.
(Mr Webber) That too, but it does suggest that quite a large number of them have not been motivated by the prospect of compensation from us anyway. I cannot comment about civil actions.
315. Given that there has been a general shift towards a compensation culture, do you think there is an argument for revising the Scheme so that compensation would only be provided in cases where the assailant has been convicted of a criminal offence in connection with that injury?
(Mr Webber) Would that be a general point you are making?
316. Specifically in relation to child abuse cases.
(Mr Webber) I am not sure why or how one would distinguish. As I mentioned, only around 2 per cent, and maybe we have had an unrepresentatively low number of these applications, but for the last four months only 2 per cent of our applications arising from child abuse have arisen from an institutional setting. Would you say all child abuse cases or only institutional ones?
317. Maybe you would give a different answer for the different categories.
(Mr Webber) As I say, I find it difficult to distinguish between them and I cannot see any good grounds for distinguishing between institutional and other, between child abuse cases and adult sexual offences and indeed between adult sexual offences and all others. There seems to be no reason to make that distinction.
318. Are there any other changes to the Scheme that you would like to see in order to minimise the influence of compensation in criminal investigations such as these?
(Mr Webber) Rather oddly, and I do not know why this is, and we have been doing research and we are doing more research and also improving and increasing the amount of publicity, the number of applications we have received has stayed pretty steady every year since the new Tariff Scheme came in, which was in 1996. It has been between 76,000 and 79,000 applications every year since 1996, so the compensation culture does not seem to have had an effect on increasing the number of applications we have received.
319. In your particular authority.
(Mr Webber) Yes, but we are the only general public payers of compensation for criminal injuries.
1 Note by witness: A high proportion of 2001-02 applications are yet to be resolved, so figures for 2000-01 are more illuminating. We received 5,499 applications beyond the two year limit in that year, 3,136 (57 per cent) of which related to alleged child abuse. We agreed to consider the application (ie we waived the time limit) in 2,822 (92 per cent) of the child abuse applications, and 1,599 (68 per cent) of the others. By no means all of these "considered" cases will have resulted in an award-they are simply those cases in which we concluded that the applicant had given sufficient reasons for applying late. Back