One of the UK’s leading experts on child abuse, Stockport based Peter Garsden, has welcomed the announcement that a special panel to review historic sex abuse allegations is to be set up as part of a radical overhaul designed to reform the way in which child sexual abuse is handled within the Criminal Justice System. This comes after The Director of Public Prosecutions; Keir Starmer QC told the BBC there was an “overcautious” approach with victims in cases of sexual assault in order to guard against false allegations. He said the focus was too much on whether the victim was telling the truth and not enough on the suspect.
Peter Garsden, whose firm Simpson Millar represents adult victims of abuse in their claim for compensation, is “frustrated” by having to advise victims who have tried to have their abuser prosecuted by the police, but for various reasons, have been unable to do so. Mr Garsden believes that his clients often turn to the civil process in an effort to exact some justice. He believes that they launch a compensation claim to put right the wrongs of the past and not simply for monetary gain.
Commenting, Mr Garsden who has specialised in abuse cases for the last 19 years, said: “At one time 41 out of 43 police forces had a major abuse investigation in their area. Police were tasked with investigating allegations of abuse committed in various institutions spanning 3 decades from the 60’s to the late 80’s. The 2002 Home Office Select Committee Enquiry into alleged false allegations which followed, was motivated by the desire to stop the police investigations in their tracks by discrediting the approach of “trawling” for evidence – the process whereby the police went looking for allegations by contacting as many former residents of children’s homes as they could find. I believe that in these latest proposals Mr Starmer is implying that the police will have another look at the process of trawling, which is a perfectly proper method of investigating a crime. If there is a sex offender on the loose, the police want to find all victims whether or not they have come forward. I have to say that back in 2002, after the Select Committee enquiry, I feared we would end up in this position. It’s a shame that it has taken the Jimmy Savile enquiry to wake everyone up.”
Mr Garsden believes that the solution to ensuring that child sexual abuse doesn’t go unreported is to make the non-reporting of abuse a criminal offence. He believes that there should be a legal obligation on those responsible for the care of children to report the abuse they witness, and for the failure to report it to be a criminal offence. This mandatory reporting is already law in all other Commonwealth countries. In his capacity as President of ACAL (Association of Child Abuse Lawyers) Mr Garsden is campaigning for a change in the mandatory reporting law through support groups and Parliament and has launched an online petition.