As appeared in Law Society Gazette 15th March 2007
Who? Peter Garsden, 49-year-old managing partner and head of the child abuse team at Cheshire firm Abney Garsden McDonald.
Why is he in the news? Peter Garsden represented the Manchester children”s homes abuse group who were between them awarded more than £2 million compensation for alleged acts of sexual and physical abuse. The High Court in Manchester ordered the city council to pay a total of £2.3 million to the group of 168 individuals. The case arose out of a police investigation from 1997 to 2002 Operation Cleopatra that looked into allegations of child abuse in 66 children”s homes in Greater Manchester, dating back to 1958. Manchester City Council”s social services department ran most of the homes involved. Four people have been convicted in connection with some of the abuse allegations and two other alleged abusers were too ill to stand trial. The victims” group was closed after last week”s hearing, but the court may allow new claims if more victims come forward.
Background: Law degree at Staffordshire University followed by Law Society finals at the College of Law in Chester and articles with Berrymans Lace Mawer in Manchester. He qualified in 1981 and worked at Lake New & Hurst in Stockport and JF Fielding & Co in Cheadle Hulme before setting up his own firm in 1985.
Route to the case: “We were instructed by a number of the victims because of our reputation for doing these kinds of cases.”
Thoughts on the case: “The damages awarded for child abuse by legal precedent are fairly pitiful when you consider the money is paid for ruined lives and equates to £2.70 a day in the worst cases. The attitude of Manchester City Council was conciliatory and came from a genuine desire to try and compensate for the past, which was laudable and a different attitude to what we encounter when insurers are involved. However, the survivors” desire is not for the money, but for the opportunity to tell their story in court which, frustratingly for many of them, never happens.’
Dealing with the media: “I have been dealing with the media since the mid-1990s, but I can”t recall a time when there has been quite so much interest. I generally find them empathetic and understanding in child abuse cases, and they do understand the need for anonymity. But they are interested in the human stories and not the legal issues, which I”m often trying to get across. What illuminated the media in this case was the amount of money involved. The media is a good means of communicating new group actions to the general public. In this case there were initially only 15 people in the group, but following appeals in the local press that figure rose to 168.