Following the first day of public hearings into the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, claims have been made that the UK’s leading children’s charity, Barnardo’s purposefully and systematically destroyed files that contained evidence needed to bring abuse claims against them.
Leading Abuse Solicitor, Peter Garsden, looks into the claims and discusses what this should mean for future abuse claims and how the law need to change for a fairer approach to justice for survivors.
Barnardo’s Staff Records
The Scottish Inquiry into child abuse began on 15th October 2015 and a report is expected to be provided for the government by October 2019. On Wednesday 31st May 2017, the first day of public hearings took place. Barnardo’s solicitor, Graham Watson, spoke on behalf of the charity with Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, in attendance.
Graham Watson revealed that there had been several children’s homes run by Barnardo’s during the 60s, 70s,and 80s, but most of those had closed down by the mid-90s.
He also commented that:
“Barnardo’s has retained the records for every child resident in a Barnardo’s establishment or foster home.”
However, the documents of interest to abuse survivors and their solicitors are staff records, or administrative records. These documents were destroyed as homes were closed down. In fact, it is thought that only 10% of these records are still in existence.
The main fear here is explained by Dave Whelan of Former Boys and Girls Abused of Quarriers Homes:
“I fear that staff who abused children and were asked to leave an institution were then free to move around the care system. Many will have gone on to perpetrate crimes in other places. Some could actually still be in the care system.”
Initially, Barnardo’s told victims that documents had been lost in a flood, but Wednesday’s revelations show that this was not the case.
Sadly, the Barnardo’s destruction of files that provide evidence for abuse survivors is not an isolated incident.
A suspicious fire broke out at Greystone Heath Approved School that destroyed evidence against a child abuse perpetrator and other such incidents have happened at children’s homes in North Wales. Barnardo’s denies systematically destroying files as part of an abuse cover up.
Peter, explains why some distrust institutions such as Barnardo’s:
“The temptation of destroying evidence where there are culpable comments within them can be too great, particularly where there is no digital version of what is contained in the records. The benefit of destroying evidence comes to light when an institution can argue that without this kind of evidence, there cannot be a fair trial.”
Time Delay Laws
At the moment, law states that claims for personal injury must be made within 3 years of the incident taking place.
In cases of child abuse, that time constraint begins as soon as the survivor turns 18. However, the rise in non-recent child abuse cases has seen a greater understanding of the need for a much longer time to come forward. It is possible for child abuse survivors to come forward much later in life and win a case, but it is made very difficult because of time delay laws. This is made even more difficult if documents of evidence are no longer in existence.
“This provides even more incentive for institutions holding documents to deny that they exist, or even to destroy them.”
Scotland Leads On Time Delay Laws
Because of the shame and fear connected with coming forward about child abuse claims, it is common for survivors of abuse to avoid coming forward for prolonged periods of time. For this reason, Scottish Parliament has put forward the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill.
The Bill states:
“The Government’s view is that cases of childhood abuse have unique characteristics which justify a special limitation regime. These characteristics derive from the abhorrent nature of the act, the particular vulnerability of the victim and the effect of abuse on children.”
“It is common for adult survivors to suppress the abuse because of shame, guilt or fear of because of the stigma associated with abuse (the so-called “silencing effect”).”
A positive outcome for this change in law on time delay is that it will eradicate the ability for institutions to argue that destroyed evidence makes for an unfair trial and therefore will allow for more abuse claims to be taken to trial and for justice to prevail.
Whilst time delay laws are currently more lenient in England, it is Scotland who has decided that laws need to take the “silencing effect” into account to provide the much needed support and justice for abuse survivors.
Peter Garsden continues to campaign for a change in the law in England:
“Barnardo’s lied to abuse victims which is just unforgivable. To say that documents were destroyed in a flood when actually they were carelessly thrown away is just another example of a violation of trust.”
“Barnardo’s does good work and no one can take that away from them. But it will be so important for them to learn from these terrible mistakes and for others to do the same.”
“Survivors of abuse need as much help with the grieving process as possible. Gaining justice and having their voice heard is all part of that. A change in the law in England could pave the way for many more abuse victims to come forward and be successful in their path for justice.”