Are we kicking the horrors of child sexual abuse into the long grass?

by georgehep

Don’t worry about Sam Allerdyce. He will be up on his feet soon enough. It would not surprise me to see him back at Stadium of Light by the end of the season trying to save Sunderland from relegation again.

Do worry about the implications of the resignations last week  of Ben Emmerson and Elizabeth Prochaska, the two top lawyers running the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Worry especially for the former in mates of Medomsley Detention Centre and Stanhope Castle Approved School who were horribly abused. Emmerson was about the only person trusted by the victims groups to deal with their grievances.

The Inquiry was set up by Theresa May, then Home Secretary, in 2014 in the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal to investigate the cover up of child sexual abuse over the last sixty years. The first two chairs were compromised by their contacts with members of the establishment. One had supper with her neighbour Leon Brittain, who was under suspicion at the time.

Theresa May had the bright idea of bringing in a complete outsider from New Zealand to head the Inquiry but Dame Lowell Goddard resigned unexpectedly in August. She appears not to have been up to the job. Her replacement, Prof Alexis Jay, lauded for her handling of the Rotherham Child Abuse inquiry, is persona non grate with some of the victims groups because she is a social worker. Social workers are themselves are under suspicion for their negligence.

After two years, the Inquiry has yet to interview the first witness. It is shambling along  without any seeming regard for the urgent need for victims to be heard. Spare a thought for the nine men who claim to have been abused when boys in care at the former Stanhope Castle Approved School. They travelled to London to make a case before Dame Lowell to be core participants in the Inquiry.  Dame Lowell apparently struggled with the detail of British law and had not come to a decision before she packed her bags for New Zealand. The Stanhope nine will now have to make their submission all over again.

Consider what it must feel like to be one of the 1350 men claiming ill treatment at Medomsley  who have been interviewed by Durham Police as part of Operation Seabrook. There may yet be prosecutions against 31 surviving suspects involved in what now appears to be a widespread paedophile ring operating 30 years ago.  There has never been a public inquiry into the events at Medomsley. The Home Office fought a long campaign against paying compensation. The Inquiry has already ruled that the evidence from most of the Medomsley vicitms will be disallowed because they had reached their eighteenth birthday at the time of the offences. Can these long suffering men have any hope left of justice?

One of them, Kevin Young, has told how he went straight to Consett police station on his release  to report how he was repeatedly raped, tied up and ligatured at Medomsley. The police told him that if repeated such stories, he would be locked up again. Too many people knew what was going on and turned a blind eye. The problem goes far beyond the ‘bad apple’.

Others, myself included, had no idea that such practices took place. I dealt regularly with childrens homes and approved schools  as a trainee social worker without a clue of the potential dangers my clients faced. Sexual abuse was not on the syllabus and we were desperately naïve. We now know that one in five children experience some form of abuse and that nine out of ten abused children subsequently suffer from psychiatric problems.

In her resignation statement, Lowell Goddard urged the government to scale down the gargantuan Inquiry to more realistic proportions.  It was originally expected to last five years but may well take twenty, by which time most of those involved will be dead. The Police are overwhelmed by 100 new cases a month referred by the Inquiry team for investigation. Some say it is a waste of money raking over the traces of historic events. Others claim it is a deliberate way of kicking an unpalatable problem into the long grass.

Medomsley and Stanhope Castle are far from isolated examples but they are in our backyard. We should hang our heads in shame for having ignored the atrocities for so long and make sure there is a quicker way of giving the victims their say and considering their grievances.

Some improvements have been made such as the vetting of staff working with children and vulnerable adults but we cannot wait another twenty years to learn the lessons. And finally, the greatest challenge of all is to understand why child sexual abuse is such a pervasive and  degrading factor in our society.

Theresa May said last week that “we need to learn the lessons of the past and if we don’t do that we can’t guarantee we are going to be able to stop such abuse from happening again in the future.” Are these just more fine words from the steps of Downing Street?

Published in Newcastle Journal on 4th October 16