Article by Alan Collins – Specialist Abuse Solicitor

Posted on June 28th, 2012

US child sex abuse conviction for ‘cover up’ is a wake-up call

Monsignor William Lynn who oversaw hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese was found guilty on Friday 22 June 2012 of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, making him the first senior US Roman Catholic Church official to be convicted for covering up child sex abuse.

What does the case mean for child abuse victims?

I think it put pays to the argument that the Catholic Church is not responsible for its priests.

Lynn’s job was to supervise priests, including investigating sex abuse claims. Instead of considering the risk to children, the prosecution said, he chose to protect the Catholic Church from scandal and potential loss of financial support.

The case against Lynn was that he covered up child sex abuse allegations, often by transferring priests to unsuspecting parishes.

This has been a common practice both in the UK and elsewhere. Instead of reporting priests who were abusing children to the police the Catholic Church has dealt with matters “in-house”. The practice has been to move a priest to another parish, but that has meant that the danger of continuing abuse was exported to another community.

An example is the case of Father David Crowley who was allowed by his bishop in the face of warnings that he was a risk to boys to move to another part of England where he went on to sexually abuse more children. He was finally convicted in 1998 and sent to prison for eleven years.

The argument – ‘priests are employed by god’.

The trial raised questions about personal responsibility and institutional constraints within the Catholic church hierarchy. In essence there has been the argument that priests are “employed by god” and so no one is responsible for what they do. That argument has been whittled away over recent years, and the Lynn case may well be its last gasp.

Lynn said that he tried to address cases of paedophile priests, by compiling a list of accused predators and writing memos to suggest treatment and suspensions. He was hampered because he could merely make recommendations to his superior, Cardinal Bevilacqua.

The prosecution used the list to show the Catholic Church was aware of priests who were sexually abusing and covered up their existence. Testimony also showed Bevilacqua ordered the list of accused priests be destroyed, although a lone copy was found in an archdiocese safe.

What Monsignor William Lynn should have done to protect potential victims.

What Lynn should have done is to protect potential victims by reporting the priests concerned to the police. He must have known that the priests posed a potential danger to children, and clearly the jury reached that conclusion by convicting him of endangering a child.

Is there a legal obligation on a church official in England to report child abuse?

There may be compelling moral obligations to do so, but is it a crime not to report an abuser or a suspected one?

In Philadelphia the prosecution case is that it is a crime not to do so, but in England what is the position?

I would argue that a church official who knew or suspected that a priest had abused a child and moved him on to another parish out of harm’s way, and not having reported matters to the police, could be guilty of perverting the course of justice.

The gist of the offence is conduct which may lead and is intended to lead to a miscarriage of justice whether or not a miscarriage actually occurs. By moving the priest on as opposed to confronting the issue and reporting the alleged offending to the police the ability to investigate is diminished to the detriment of the victim and society. The course of justice has been perverted.

It is no different to disposing of a gun following an accidental shooting which might have resulted in a prosecution following an investigation.

Claims for child abuse compensation.

Following on the effect in my opinion goes wider and could assist victims in their claims for damages.

I would argue that the Lynn case highlights the Catholic Church’s broader responsibility for its priests and the children in its parishes, schools, and institutions. It demonstrates clearly the duty of care that is owed by it and its officials. The key points are:

  • it has to supervise priests
  • it has to report sexual abuse allegations to the priests
  • it cannot expose potential victims to the risk of sexual abuse
  • it does owe a duty of care to the children

Clearly each case is unique and has to be considered on the facts, but the Lynn case helps to focus attention on the Catholic Church’s responsibilities and liability for priests who abuse.

Are you a victim of sexual abuse?

If so remember you are not alone and many victims have successfully obtained justice.

Justice may not always, perhaps, be perfect, but many victims tell me that it is better than none and by securing it they achieved something positive.

I have together with my colleagues at Pannone Solicitors successfully represented victims of child sexual abuse.  This is a highly specialised area of law requiring sensitivity, and we are in a position to help and advise victims.

I have found time and time again that victims have kept the abuse secret for many years, and they tell me what a relief it has been to relieve themselves of that burden by telling me.

Alan Collins

0800 0384 384

Specialist Abuse Solicitor

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Euro 2012 and its impact on the family

Posted on June 28th, 2012

The Euro 2012 competition offers a display of some of the best footballers in the world plying their trade for all the nations to watch.  However, off the pitch and at home there is an increase in behaviours that are not so glamorous.  BBC News found that during major football tournaments, there is an increase in domestic violence occurrences.  For example in the 2010 world cup when England was defeated by Germany there was a 29% increase in reported violence at home.  At Avocet, the Independent Social Workers work with parents involved in domestic violence in both public and private disputes.

Surrey police have released guidance for people to report any instances of domestic violence and give an assurance that it will be taken seriously regardless of whether it was seen as a resultant of the football being on.  The beautiful game has an extraordinary influence on people, it arises passions that not many other sports have the ability to do.  Unfortunately, the downside of this is what happens when your team loses?  The research conducted by the BBC suggests that football can be a catalyst for abuse to occur.  Along with football often comes alcohol and an increase in football is likely to lead to an increase in alcohol consumption which could also facilitate abuse.

For Avocet Independent Social Workers, instances of domestic violence are taken on a case to case basis and are used to determine whether a particular parent may be a danger to themselves or others including their own children. What is problematic however, is using the excuse ‘England lost the game and I lost my temper’. There are plenty of fans who do not commit acts of violence and purely come to watch the football. Paula Hall, with Relate, said: ‘Football doesn’t cause domestic abuse, but it’s an issue which in some relationships can compound it.’ This may be the case but still the problems of domestic violence emerge and must still be dealt with.

Perhaps this may not be the case with the Euros this year, but by revealing such research as the BBC have during a major tournament, it has helped to alert police services and thusly the public that there is a major issue of domestic violence that can potentially be heightened during these tournaments.  At Avocet, the independent social workers try to determine the risk involved with individuals and the potential threat they may pose to their children or partner.  If the trend continues how the BBC have suggested, that there are increases in domestic violence during football tournaments, it may not be too extreme to see children removed from potentially dangerous parents because of this.

It may well be the beautiful game but the consequences of it can be ugly.  Most people are aware of violence that surrounds football because of problems at major tournaments like the riot in 1996 or the potential for violence that was highlighted in Poland and Ukraine in 2012. It seems that football has the potential to be a major negative impact closer to home than is visible.

Guest blogger: Connor – Sociology Student

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Labelling

Posted on June 28th, 2012

Labelling has been primarily seen as a negative aspect of clinical diagnoses.  It is argued that labelling an individual with a mental illness leads to stigmatisation and discrimination from others within society.  In relation to personality disorders, using a categorical method of assessment and diagnosis allows us to categorise individuals as either having or not having a particular personality disorder, such as Borderline Personality Disorder and there are in fact benefits in being able to categorically define.

The benefits of labelling are that within a multidisciplinary team, in which there are members of all professions communicating about one particular individual, a label allows an ease in communication. One word or term can convey a great deal of information about the individual’s tendencies, behaviours and also their abilities.  It also assists in deciding where to go from there, as therapy decisions or procedures are generally categorical in nature also.

Alternatively, some argue that the dimensional method of diagnosis for personality disorders is preferable.  Personality itself is believed to consist of traits, each are different dimensions upon which any individual could be at a different point; for example not everyone has the same level of extraversion.  A dimensional method of diagnosis is in fact being introduced for personality disorders in pending versions of diagnostic manuals such as the Diagnostic Statistical Manual –V (DSM-V); it brings personality disorders closer to personality theory, and also allows an individual to have a diagnosis of mild, moderate or severe Borderline Personality Disorder, it also reduces the variability between individuals with the same diagnosis.

When considering this in terms of Independent Social Work assessments, it is possible to get two conflicting diagnoses from psychology professionals, using two alternative methods of assessment.  In trying to eliminate the negative implications of labelling and improving the reliability of assessment it may produce more confusion, leaving us unaware of how to respond.

This week’s guest blogger: Alice – Psychology Student

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Is the LSC Above the Law?

Posted on June 22nd, 2012

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) appears to be beyond the control of the Courts.   The LSC is a government department that has made it policy not to attend Court to answer to its decision making.  The LSC currently simply refuses to justify and explain their decisions on capping the hour rate as well as the number of hours available to an Independent Social Worker to complete a complex assessment for the Courts.  Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division recently stated that he had no control over the actions of the LSC.

Avocet has raised this matter with Mr Greg Clarke, MP as the LSC’s behaviour is becoming a law unto itself.  This government department is making policy that overrules the decisions of the Courts.  We asked Mr Clarke to consider how the LSC behaviour is impacting on the ability of the Courts to process children’s cases highlighting that there is evidence that it is creating months of delay.  The LSC is penny pinching, without realising the consequences to children, families and the general economy.

From a budgeting view the LSC is not able to display how much money they are saving by capping the hours and fees of Independent Social Workers, which is a key factor in managing financial resources.  We are aware that the LSC refusal to attend Court has meant an Independent Social Worker is not instructed so the matter is dealt with by a psychologist or psychiatrist at double the fee.

The more concerning factor is the LSC’s refusal to co-operate with the Courts means parents are not offered the opportunity for assessment, making a child’s return to his or her family unlikely or the move to an adoptive family delayed.  The LSC’s actions are harmful for children’s welfare and are creating a ticking time bomb.  At some point a child or a parent will seek compensation for the decision of the LCS negatively impacting on their lives.  The answer is the LSC needs to step back into line and let the Courts make the decisions about the future of children’s lives as opposed to a government department focusing on cash.

We are hoping that Mr Clarke will support Avocet to raise the issue of the Legal Services Commission operating above the law.

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Queens Jubilee pageant leaves unemployed in the cold

Posted on June 8th, 2012

Many people enjoyed the Jubilee with time off work and celebrations, including corporate functions and a televised banquet to mark the royal occasion.  However, not all people experienced the celebrations in the same manner as those involved in the events.  The treatment of some volunteers involved in the London celebrations from Bath and Bristol was described by Liberal and Labour MPs as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘shabby’.  The volunteers were provided as part of the government’s back to work programme with the government playing down their situation as a ‘one off’ incident.

The former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott accused the government of “exploiting cheap labour” after some of the jobseekers said they were forced to sleep under London Bridge, had to change into security gear in public and could not access a toilet for 24 hours.  After a 14-hour shift in the rain on Sunday they said they were taken to a ‘swamp- like’ campsite outside London.  The company Close Protection UK who were responsible for the volunteers during the event stated that the circumstances were exaggerated.

The volunteers were provided by Tomorrow’s People, a charity paid by the government under the work programme designed to help unemployed people back into work.  Tomorrow’s People said the way the group had been treated was “totally unacceptable”.  Labour MP Ms Kerry McCarthy said she had spoken to a young woman from Bristol who had been told she would be paid £450 and get the chance of well-paid stewarding at the Olympics.  The MP said: “She ended up calling home in tears and being rescued by a relative, after 36 hours without sleep, soaking wet and without being paid a penny for it”.

Ms McCarthy demanded a full investigation, including an explanation as to why jobseekers were driven all the way from Bristol to London, rather than local workers being used.

We support unemployed people, particularly young people or parents being given the opportunity to participate in back to work programmes. We included issues related to employment during our parenting assessments as a way of increasing parents’ resilience, self-esteem and financial resources.  However, reported claims of mistreatment of volunteers at such a major event can casts doubts over the treatment of volunteers seeking a way into the employment market.  The quality of the experience will mark the way people; particularly young adults view unpaid back to work schemes.  Whether it is a one off incident, these people will be affected by the alleged situation that they found themselves in and not want to be involved.  This then could be a potential opportunity missed by parents trying to increase their capacity parent and be included in society.  A good experience for a volunteer could possibly be a positive outcome for a child, as an engaging parent’s confidence could be raised.

At  Avocet  we try to engage parents in proactive parenting assessments that focus on practical issues such as budgeting, housing and meeting the needs of children through providing for them financially and demonstrating positive role modelling by contributing to society.

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