Child protection is unreliable without mandatory reporting says Peter Garsden - senior partner at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden...
Jimmy Savile allegedly abused up to 1,350 individuals, some under the eyes of employees of various institutions such as the BBC, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Leeds Police, Duncroft Children’s Home, Leeds Hospital, and other venues too numerous to mention. Children were warned to keep away from him, and warnings of his conduct went unheeded.
There has never been a law which makes it a criminal offence not to report abuse which someone in loco parentis to a child either reasonably suspects has occurred or is witnessed. If such a law had existed since the early 1960s - as there is in America - then Savile may have been prosecuted years ago. The Savile case, which unfortunately is not the first of its kind, highlights the need for the introduction of a law that makes the reporting of child abuse mandatory.
Together with a number of charities, including NAPAC, Innocence in Danger and the Survivor’s Trust (representing over 100 charities) we are pushing for a change in the law. In my experience of manifest abuse that took place in many institutions such as children’s homes from the 1960s to the 1980s, had it always been a criminal offence not to report, then it is much more likely that the abuse which took place would have been reported. The police would also have been able to report wardens in charge of children's homes, whom they knew had turned a blind eye to abuse in their institutions. The Catholic Church, which has repeatedly moved abusive priests from one parish to another, could also have been brought to book. It is also much more likely that Jimmy Savile would have been prosecuted in his lifetime rather than waiting until he died for a retrospective investigation.
On the 3rd of October, to coincide with the publication of the serious case review into the death of Keanu Williams, I was interviewed on BBC News 24 & Radio 5 to talk about the purpose of mandatory reporting in child abuse cases. The report highlighted that many opportunities were missed by the services to:
1. Take him into care and away from his parents by social services.
2. Report obvious signs of abuse so as to avoid the death which occurred.
3. Police, social services, his school, and the NHS apparently all had contact with him, but only saw pieces of the jigsaw. The bits were never joined up until his mother finally exploded and beat him to death
Mandatory reporting is the obvious answer:
1. Make failure to report actual or suspected abuse a criminal offence.
2. Limit it to professionals carrying out a regulated activity i.e. looking after children.
3. Bring England into line with the USA, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Northern & Southern Ireland, and many other countries
Only recently Keir Starmer, the ex-director of public prosecutions, has spoken out in support of a mandatory reporting law saying: “Now is the time to plug a gap which has been there for a very, very long time.” Unfortunately the British government does not share his sentiment. The Mandate Now coalition of survivor charities that I am working with is petitioning Michael Gove – the education secretary - to introduce mandatory reporting which I would implore people to sign as this law is vital to protect our children from harm.
About Peter: Peter Garsden is the senior partner at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden. His firm has been representing victims of abuse in their claim for compensation since 1995. In 1997 he helped to set up ACAL (Association of Child Abuse Lawyers), a claimant based organisation of compensation abuse lawyers dedicated to raising the standards of advice through training and support, of which he is now President. He was awarded Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year at the Manchester Legal Awards in March 2013.