Leading Abuse lawyer, Peter Garsden, has been quoted in an article in Newsweek regarding the increase in ex pupils from ‘elite’ boarding schools bringing civil actions against their schools for with abuse allegations and failing to protect them from abuse.
The article refers to the fact that prosecutions for child abuse in Britain’s public schools are no longer uncommon. Nine of the schools that have experienced either the conviction of former teachers for sex offences, or are currently involved in criminal investigations were contacted by Newsweek for comment. The magazine states that whilst the line of questioning was not asking for comment on ongoing criminal cases, only one of the schools responded. Those that refused to be interviewed or simply failed to respond were Caldicott in Buckinghamshire; King’s, Rochester in Kent, Wellington College in Berkshire, Beeston Hall in Norfolk, St Paul’s and Colet Court in West London, Downside in Somerset and Ashdown House in Sussex.
Regardless of the increase of allegations the article says it seems that parents have not been put off sending their own children to boarding school. It uses St Benedict’s in Ealing as an example where the intake has been on the up for the past eight years and, overall, there are about 1,700 more children boarding in the UK this year compared to last.
Solicitor Peter Garsden, senior partner at Abney Garsden who heads up the child abuse department says that while some reputational damage to a school is almost inevitable, particularly if a criminal case hits the headlines, “the further away in time the abuse occurred, the easier it is for them to distance themselves from it”.
The article discusses the ongoing campaign for mandatory reporting of abuse, a law requiring professionals who work with children who know or suspect child abuse to report it. Failure to report would be a criminal offence. Tom Perry, who was abused at Caldicott is a member of Mandate Now, a group campaigning for the introduction of mandatory reporting. He says that: “in the absence of law, staff who do report are, by default, whistleblowers with very little protection.” Mr Perry goes on to explain why he believes children themselves cannot be relied on to report abuse as its happening. “The dynamics of abuse have not changed, it may be deeply uncomfortable to acknowledge but the child mistakenly believes themselves to be in a relation with the abuser. Therefore they will feel they are committing a betrayal by speaking out. You can be a child with a mobile phone and all the ‘awareness’ in the world, buy you will still have to speak. Child abuse is a unique crime because it is the only one in which often both the perpetrator and the victim are equally motivated, for different reasons, to keep it secret. If staff are then not required to report reasonable grounds for suspecting abuse, contemporaneous discovery is almost impossible.”
The Department of Education is now reconsidering its opposition to mandatory reporting. With twenty years of experience representing victims of abuse, Peter Garsden says that without such a law, the system is always going to fail. He says: “For staff, that’s their jobs and their security of livelihood. Unless they’re brave, they’re not going to report it. They’d be bringing the whole pack of cards down.”
At Simpson Millar we represent clients who are alleging abuse at Caldicott Prep school in Buckinghamshire. If you have been the victim of abuse at boarding school you can contact us in confidence. We also act for victims of abuse in settings such as foster care, residential care, schools, clubs/associations and religious organisations. Speak to one of our specialist male or female solicitors in complete condience. You can call us on our confidential phone line (0845 604 7075) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.