Examination of Witnesses (Questions 920-939)
MR PHIL FRAMPTON, MR MATTHEW BYRNE, TERESA REYNOLDS AND KATHRYN STONE
TUESDAY 25 JUNE 2002
920. If we can just take up that particular point, how many cases are known to you, Mr Frampton, where the person concerned has said, "I want no money whatsoever"?
(Mr Frampton) A handful in the sense that obviously they are prepared to accept having the compensation because they know what they are going to have to go through, but no one has said, "Well, all right, I will put that in a charity box or something"no. But their determination has been, "Well, that is a secondary issue", because they do not know what that is going to be, whatever any solicitor says.
921. But you would not wish to deny, or perhaps you do, that some have been motivated by money? Or are you telling us absolutely no?
(Mr Frampton) In any litigation cases some people might be motivated by moneyI think you would have to concede thatbut, as far as I have any experience of it, I would say absolutely not. Money was not the issue, because they do not know whether they are even going to win the case.
922. Some cases are dealt with out of court, of course?
(Mr Frampton) Yes.
(Mr Byrne) Have your expert witnesses identified how long it takes for civil action to be resolved, on average?
923. Mr Garsden told us it would take up to seven or eight years.
(Mr Byrne) And the rewards are an average ofwhat? Did he give an average amount that was awarded?
Mr Singh: Eleven to twelve in the civil courts.
924. I cannot tell you except that it is considerably in excess of what you would get from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
(Mr Byrne) You are looking at a process of seven years to take a civil action. Fire in Ice plays no part in anybody's civil claim. We do not do anything to support or to discuss it; we are not that qualified. What we do hold very true, however, is that the individual survivor of child abuse has a right to punish their abuser in a criminal court and a system that allowed that abuse to continue unchecked in a civil court. Until this country provides an alternative way of punishing those care homes, those authorities that did not properly supervise, properly recruit individuals who then were allowed to go abusing children unchecked, then we will endorse that, but at the moment all we can do is say that the best course of action is to punish them in a civil court, and that is their right.
925. I doubt if anyone would really question that justice should be done. I do not think the argument arises that sexual abuse of children, which I have already said is recognised by every civilised person as a monstrous crime, should go unpunished. That is not in dispute. Do you feel that there are solicitors in certain areas of the country who go out of their way to encourage allegations being made? You have heard of one particular firm of solicitors who have been much involved in such cases.
(Mr Byrne) I think if solicitors are fabricating evidence, then that needs to be investigated. If there is proof of that, that is terrible.
926. I do not think anybody has alleged that.
(Mr Byrne) As I said, from the experience I have in my work with the men from Fire in Ice, there is no publication: there is no motivation for money. The motivation is about saying, "Let's us right this wrong".
927. One firm of solicitors has given evidence to us and has acted totally within the law, no one has suggested otherwise, and has handled a very large number of these cases. It is their main form of business.
(Mr Frampton) In the Care Leavers Association what we have pushed for, along with other organisations like Mr Garsden's company, is for the issue of compensation to be separated out from taking these issues to court. One of the reasons why we pressed for a national inquiry where people can go and put their allegations to a body of the government is so we can separate out this issue, so we will not have all the lawyers preying on the possibility of having income from this. I am not opposing those lawyers doing what they have doneI think Mr Garsden has done a very good jobbut we need to try and take some of the financial issues out and concentrate on what has really gone on in the past and let the government have a Redress Bill like in Ireland: let them separate out compensation and the question of catching the criminals. Compensation is only about a way of meaningful apology. If Tony Blair gave a public apology and that was broadcast around the nation it would have an enormous effect on a lot of care leavers drawing them back into the fact that they were respected within the system. If, in addition, it was said, "We will arrange compensation; we know it cannot sort all your life out but we recognise that the government and local authorities were at fault over these issues", then you would get more co-operation in catching the paedophiles and the child abusers who are around. It is as simple as that.
(Ms Stone) The families that we work with would be absolutely appalled if anyone believed that their prime motivation was compensation. As I said previously, our families want an apology; they want somebody to say sorry to them for what has happened to their children and their relatives; and they want to make sure that that does not happen again to anybody else's relatives. However, we would add that the fact that there is a Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is, in our view, a state recognition that people should be financially compensated when crimes have been committed against them, and why should they not be. If we were to fall over in the street this afternoon and it was proven that Westminster City Council were negligentalthough I am going to be very careful on the way out of here!we would be seeking compensation from the council for failing to provide adequate services. I think that solicitors' firms develop expertise in different areas. We have firms who are expert in Anglo Italian company law and Anglo Chinese relations: there are firms of solicitors who develop expertise and very useful knowledge, skills and experience engaging with people who have survived child abuse and vulnerable adults who have been abused in residential settings and other settings. Just to reiterate, our families are not motivated by money; they are motivated by justice and they want to see that justice is done.
(Ms Reynolds) I just wanted to support what fellow colleagues here have said in the sense that the primary motivation usually is very far from being compensation and it takes a lot for people to come forward and talk about this, but I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that compensation in relation to these cases is often talked about in quite pejorative terms: "Is the motivation for compensation?". If these people are genuine victims they are entitled to compensation and the government provides money for them to claim that money, so I think it is important to acknowledge that: that genuine victims are entitled to compensation. I just wanted to pick up on something which Mr Frampton said: The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is not an easy system to get money from. It may be easier than the civil courts but Victim Support helps people in about 20,000 casesnot child abuse but across the board in violent crimeand in our experience there are lots of hurdles to go through, and in these sorts of cases where there may not be wounds or scars to demonstrate injuries very often the person will have to fill in an application form and may be turned down at that stage; they may be required to go through a review process and to review more paperwork and may get turned down in that process, and they may have to attend an oral hearing and may have go through all their experience again in front of a panel and at that point they may still get turned down. Mr Webber when he came here also said that it is very rare for someone to get compensation if there has been no conviction, so this person could go right through the trial process we were talking about earlier and then this one and may still not get any compensation at the end, and those people may be victims but there may not be enough evidence to prove it.
928. But it has been said that those who have claimed that they have been victims of sexual abuse should not make a claim for compensation until the case has been accepted in court, and a conviction has occurred, because therefore the compensation will be that much higher. Do you consider that appropriate?
(Ms Reynolds) We have in Victim Support experience of people who encounter this, and in a way they are in a no-win situation. I think it is important to concentrate on the genuine victims because most of the people who apply for criminal injuries compensation are bona fide victims; they may get turned down for all sorts of reasonsthat they are outside the scope of the scheme, the time limits and so onbut they may be genuine victims. Now, they have a two-year time limit within which to apply in normal circumstances and usually the authority is lenient in terms of past child abuse, but nevertheless there are some limitations. If someone applies for compensation as soon as it is brought to their attention or as soon as they are aware of it, it could be put to them when they give evidence that they are only bringing this case because the outcome is known to be very relevant to their application for compensation and, if they leave it till afterwards, then they are accused of only wanting to secure the conviction in order to have a better chance of getting their compensation, so they are really in a no-win situation.
929. So you would not be sympathetic to the view that, if you removed any financial compensation at all but gave the victims non financial help like counselling, therapy and other matters which you have already discussed, it would remove the incentives for false allegations?
(Ms Reynolds) Victims of other types of incidents or other types of crime are entitled to financial compensation, and many of these people's lives are blighted as a result of child abuse. They may not be able to get employment and so on, and that money may give them something which means they can do something with their lives, and why should restrictions be put on these people? If they are genuine victims, why should there be restrictions placed on them again? Their autonomy is, once again, being taken from them and it absolutely is not right. I would contend that one can never stop people fraudulently applying for compensation in this arena or any other walk of life. Sadly this happens; sadly there will always be a minority of people who want to defraud any system, but what would be wrong would be to take away what little there is for the genuine victims in order to stop people who are fraudulently applying being able to do so.
(Mr Frampton) We have to remember as well the effect that sexual abuse and physical abuse can have on people's lives. It is not simply about going to court and trauma; it is about lost learning opportunities, lost employment opportunities. It can have an absolutely devastating effect which can isolate that individual. It takes a lot more than a bit of counselling to get them back on to the road when they have been forced to be homeless for five years. I cannot see where counselling is really going to sort out those particular issues.
(Mr Byrne) Individuals whom Fire in Ice have supported have been terrified of receiving the money because essentially, if they are still in a process where they are coming to terms with a drug addiction or by using alcohol, a cheque for £20,000 is effectively a death warrant; if there are no support networks around to say, "Well, let's talk about how you can use that money positively to empower and enrich the lives of you and your loved ones". Let us look at that and not take it away from them and give them reward points or bonus cards. Let us give them a choice about which counselling, which therapist, which support to use and how that money is invested and make a system that actively supports it. Compensation is a good tool for that, and the majority of people who have experienced child abuse and who are going through or have been through the civil process would welcome the changes, and also welcome the system not being run by insurance companies but being run by people who they can engage with who care about children and who want to make the childcare system a better place. It is not about, "Denial, denial; okay, we are in court now, we are forced to do that, here is some money. Now sign that away"; it is about "Sorry, let us work together, let us do something about it", and the money is ancillary to that and extra. That is not the point of discussion. Child abuse and compensation are too interlinked in these discussions and they need to be separated.
David Winnick: You put the point very well. Thank you very much.
930. The sincerity of the case you put is obvious. Would you accept that there is a possibility that some of these who are currently in prison may well be innocent? Has that thought ever crossed your mind?
(Mr Frampton) The possibility that 40 per cent would be innocent? No. But it is possible, as Chris Mullin would know from the Birmingham Six, that some people can be gaoled wrongly but what I would also say is there are thousands more out there who should be in prison. The fact of the matter is it seems to me the police have been quite rigorous: rape convictions at the moment are running at only 2 per cent, operation care was 9 per cent. That indicates a high level of rigorousness as far as the courts are concerned about what happened. I do support the jury system and think that that system should be upheld, and I expect the majority of MPs here do as well. My question is why more have not been convicted? Because of a lack of ability to get all the necessary information together.
(Mr Byrne) Very, very clearly, if I, as part of my working life with Fire in Ice or in parts of my other life, found that somebody had made up anything to get somebody else put in prison, I would go straight to the relevant authorities and report it, without any question. I cannot have 100 per cent faith in the system that has convicted child abusers, and I cannot possibly say that every single person who has been convicted has abused children, in the same way that we cannot say that every person who has been acquitted did not abuse children.
931. Is there a possibility that some of the people who come to you are hitting back, if you like, at the system, at the state authority; that they see the people in care homes, along with the teachers and the care workers, as symbolic of the authority, and it is their way of getting back?
(Mr Frampton) To parade yourself in court as to what has happened to your body and your mind, in the depths of what has happened to you, and to have to face the adversarial lawyers, is not a very good way of getting back, is it? You are having to relive everything. We appreciate, and the Committee seems to appreciate, the position of some people who may have been wrongly convicted, but when it comes to the position of people who have been victims and abused, it is almost as though it is separated off, that they must have another motivation and they must have another driving motivation. Some people do want revenge against those individuals because of what was done to them. That is what they want. They want some revenge. They want them in court. They want them dealt with. But the cost to themselves, as Matthew graphically outlined, can be absolutely devastating. So it is something which they have to weigh up very, very carefully as to how far they go down that line. I myself think that these people are all heroines and heroes who have been prepared to testify, because there are tens of thousands out there who are not prepared to go through all that process, who are not prepared to co-operate with society.
Chairman: We have really travelled over this several times during the course of the morning, and my worry is that we are not actually going to have time to get to the changes which need to be made, so would you mind if we move on from that, Mr Russell?
Bob Russell: Not at all.
932. I want to move backwards actually. I am not a barrister, Mr Byrne, and I think a lot of people would have nodded their heads to your comment about barristers around in court. I suppose your basic principle is that the truth of the matter is that there is the person who has been abused and the person who is guilty of a crime, and that barristers should not be playing games?
(Mr Byrne) It would not prejudice the trial. Are you suggesting that I think that everybody who has been accused is guilty?
933. I am just asking you.
(Mr Byrne) There needs to be a fair trial, definitely.
934. Do you not think, taking Mr Cameron's point, that it is relevant to a witness's credibility if that person has had subsequently perhaps a conviction or series of convictions for dishonest conduct?
(Mr Byrne) Does that affect the fact that he or she is talking about child experience?
935. No, affecting his or her credibility.
(Mr Byrne) Credibility? Undoubtedly. But if they were abused as a child, then that does not matter. You can prove it.
936. But it may affect their credibility?
(Mr Byrne) That is the system we are playing at the moment.
937. Not playing. That is the system. You are not happy about that?
(Mr Byrne) I am not happy about the system. The system plays games with people's lives, and therefore when it investigates the truth I think it plays games.
938. I would like in a moment to ask some questions about what we may be able to do in the future, but there is one question I want to ask before I get into that. It is not a trick question or anything like that, it is just maybe my naivety. Why are we using the word "survivors" of child abuse and not "victims"? I do not understand the shift. Is it something ideological underpinning that, or what?
(Mr Byrne) We very clearly, when Fire in Ice was established, looked for a way of defining an individual who has experienced child abuse. Some would call themselves a victim of child abuse, others would call themselves a survivor, having survived for 20 years, despite what has happened to them, so that is a good way of defining it. We tried to define it. It is useful in this context to call people who have experienced child abuse "survivors of child abuse". It is purely a term that is used. We try to reflect individuals. If I could, I would sit here and talk about the 300 or so people that we work with, because every one of those is an individual, and their experiences of child abuse are unique to that individual, and how they have dealt with that in their adult lives and how they have worked with that. Why they are now in contact with our organisation is a uniquely individual thing. For the purposes of me sitting here and relaying 300 names, let us call them "survivors", because surviving is what has happened.
939. That is fine, but in every other area of crime they use "victim", "victim support", do they not?
(Mr Byrne) Yes.
(Ms Reynolds) We do, although some people are not happy with being called victims. The organisation I work for is called Victim Support. I tend to use both words, but it is clearly not intended to be offensive to anybody. Some people do not like it. Some people do not mind being called victims, someone else might prefer to be called a survivor, so I tend to call them both.
1 Note by witness: The criminal injuries compensation process. Back