Football child sex abuse claims

Tommy Beale, Senior Associate, AO Advocates

Football teams are known for being very male-orientated environments. Players are encouraged to be brave, competitive, and avoid showing any signs of weakness. In this type of environment, it can be very difficult for victims of sexual abuse to disclose what has happened to them. They may worry about how their teammates will react, be fearful of upsetting the team dynamic, or afraid to speak out about abuse by a coach if the coach is particularly well-liked and respected by the team.

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In the news again: sexual abusers in Government

Child sexual abuse is in the news again with reports that police are investigating claims against a senior Labour MP. The claims were passed to the police by a Conservative MP, who heard numerous allegations of abuse from multiple sources over a long period. It is alleged that the Labour MP sexually abused children, including two teenage boys in a mental health facility, for over 10 years.

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The Anglican Church leads by example

A challenge that we regularly face in historic child sex abuse cases is identifying the right defendant.  Decades may have passed since the abuse, and the institutions that employed the abuser may have changed their name, or merged, or closed, or altered their legal form altogether. 

A good example comes from our current work on behalf of four survivors who were abused during the 1950’s and 1960’s while pupils at St Bede’s College, Manchester, a leading Catholic school in the Manchester area.  At the time of the abuse, St Bede’s was run and managed by the Diocese of Salford.  But the Diocese have denied liability and refused to appoint a nominal defendant to stand for our clients to sue.  They say that the Diocese is not, strictly speaking, a legal entity, and that our clients’ only option for bringing a claim for the abuse they suffered is to sue the governors of the school who were in post when the abuse happened.  But those individuals are now dead or presumed dead and their successors have no legal liability.  This stance is regrettable and goes against the Diocese’s public pledge to the contrary, when they said in January 2014 that: “All victims of abuse, however historic, are entitled, in law and in justice, to apologies and compensation, where possible, following a judicial finding in their favour”.  Clearly, these attitudes are not filtering down to the Diocese’s legal advisers.  

With this in mind, we were encouraged to read that an Anglican diocese in Victoria, Australia, has voted to incorporate, so that child abuse survivors will know exactly what entity to sue if they choose to pursue a case against the Anglican Church for abuse committed by its former priests or employees.  Wangaratta is the third Anglican diocese in Victoria to make the decision to incorporate. Ballarat and Bendigo have already done so, and the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne will vote on whether to do so shortly.  These churches are taking a simple but profound step.  They are freeing children who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Anglican priests or employees from having to engage in a long legal battle just to establish that the Church legally exists and is required to take responsibility for their actions.

Pope Francis recently established a tribunal to investigate bishops accused of failing to protect children and vulnerable adults from sex abuse, his most forceful act to date to tackle the church’s legacy of abuse and cover-ups.  This is a positive move.  We hope that he will also direct the Catholic Church and its lawyers to stop avoiding responsibility in cases of terrible abuse by resorting to loopholes.  The Anglican model in Australia sets a good example for how the Catholic Church should behave, in England and around the world.  

First child sexual abuse case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses won today

A woman who suffered horrific sexual abuse from age 4 to age 9 by a Ministerial Servant in the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been awarded significant damages in a civil case against the organisation.  Her abuse was brought to an end when the perpetrator, Peter Stewart, now dead, was sent to prison for abusing two other children.

Prior to abusing Amelia the perpetrator had admitted to the sexual abuse of another child in the congregation.  No protective measures were put in place by the local congregation or the Watch Tower Society of Great Britain, the body that governs congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK, to prevent other children from coming into contact with him. If proper safeguarding steps had been taken Amelia would have been saved from years of severe sexual abuse by a known perpetrator.

Amelia says: “The procedures the Jehovah’s Witnesses follow for dealing with child sexual abuse are the same as it was when I was abused.  Even having a Ministerial Servant sent to prison was not enough of an incentive for them to implement change.  This sends a clear message about the importance Jehovah’s Witnesses place on child protection.  The one thing I would like to come from this case is that they will feel forced to change their child safeguarding procedures.”

Ann Olivarius, Managing Partner of AO Advocates who represented Amelia in the case, said: “This is the first case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK.  What is perhaps most striking is not just the level and frequency of the abuse but the fact that Peter Stewart admitted sexually abusing another child to the elders in Amelia’s congregation before he began abusing Amelia. Yet the elders did nothing to prevent him from having contact with Amelia and as a result her ordeal lasted for several years”.

Read the full story and an interview with Amelia (not her real name) and, Kathleen Hallisey a Senior Associate at AO Advocates on the BBC website. 


Trial at the High Court against the Jehovah’s Witnesses

In early February 2015, our Senior Associates Kathleen Hallisey and Thomas Beale represented a client who was severely sexually abused as a young child by a ministerial servant in a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

The trial lasted for over two weeks and many witnesses were called to give evidence.  Judgement has been reserved and we expect to receive the Court’s decision in the next several weeks.