Most people who were sexually abused in childhood are too late to sue, say top lawyers
By Tim Wood | 4 September 2014
“Victims often never receive a civil remedy, and they feel that this is another blow and betrayal” – Tracey Storey, co-ordinator, APIL’s specialist group on child abuse
Only one in 20 people who suffered child sex abuse will succeed in any attempt for compensation, according to leading lawyers in the field.
Jonathan Wheeler, vice-president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), told Exaro that the vast majority of cases would fail because a claim must be lodged within just three years of a victim’s 18th birthday.
He said: “Councils and other defendants do use delay as a full defence to compensation claims. The law recognises this as a legitimate defence.”
Wheeler, also a partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp – where he heads the team that seeks compensation for victims of child abuse – continued: “For a lot of people, limitation arguments are the biggest hurdle to overcome.
“In my experience, and those of colleagues in similar firms, only about one in 20 cases is likely to overcome this hurdle and result in a compensation award.”
Tracey Storey, co-ordinator of APIL’s specialist group on child abuse, agreed that one in 20 cases brought to lawyers would succeed in winning compensation.
Peter, whose identity Exaro is protecting, said that Rochdale council took him into care and placed him at Pentre Saeson Hall, a children’s home near Wrexham in north Wales that was run by Bryn Alyn Community, a private company.
He alleges that Kenneth Taylor, officer-in-charge of Pentre Saeson Hall, sexually abused him repeatedly between 1988 and 1992, from when Peter was 12.
Taylor was named as an alleged perpetrator during a public inquiry into abuse of children in care in north Wales.
But the inquiry reached no conclusion on Taylor because he was then subject to police investigation. According to the inquiry report, Taylor died suddenly of a heart attack in 1998 when he was expected to be charged.
Peter claims that Rochdale owes him a duty of care.
But the council rejects his compensation claim as “statute barred”.
APIL’s Wheeler said: “Many genuine claims brought by survivors of abuse will fail because of these time limits. If the defendant can show that they are prejudiced or disadvantaged in defending a claim because of the delay, the courts can rule cases to be ‘out of time’, and no compensation is awarded.
“This might happen where relevant documents have been destroyed, or relevant witnesses have died.
“This is particularly problematic for abuse victims who often have very good reasons for delaying litigation.
“They may well have been threatened to keep quiet by their abuser.” Their mental health may have suffered or they are left with “feelings of humiliation and distrust of those in authority”, he said.
A court has the discretion to extend the time to allow a case to proceed, but Wheeler says that it is rarely granted.
Storey said: “Often, victims of child abuse have very good reasons why they did not come forward until later in life.”
Besides her APIL role, she is a partner at Irwin Mitchell, where she heads the team that acts for such victims. She continued: “But then the focus shifts onto them to show that a fair trial is possible. Often key witnesses are dead, the alleged abuser has not been convicted, and documents have gone missing.”
“Defendants can say that they are prejudiced in defending their cases. The type of case that does have a good chance of success is when a recent conviction has been secured, and this can be used to show that a fair trial is possible.” But this is rare, she said.
“Victims often never receive a civil remedy, and they feel that this is another blow and betrayal. Also, the size of compensation on offer is not life-changing, and will not make up for a lost childhood.”
Peter told Exaro: “I intend to fight on until I receive justice. It is shocking that my case was timed out. It is a legal loophole that should be erased from the statute books.”
Meanwhile, Exaro revealed earlier this week how police have delayed nearly 200 charges under their investigation into a paedophile network linked to politicians.
Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread