Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Payout plans criticised

Payout plans have let us down, say abuse victims

LET DOWN: Campaigning abuse victims Chris Daly and Helen Holland, and Nazareth House in Aberdeen, where Mr Daly was beaten by nuns. Main photograph: Martin Shields
EXCLUSIVE brian donnelly

Share 21 Mar 2011

THE Scottish Government has been criticised by victims of one of the country’s worst child abuse scandals, who say it has failed to hold to account institutions guilty of sexual, physical and psychological attacks on vulnerable children.

A draft justice department consultation document obtained by The Herald shows planned changes to the law on getting compensation for abuse fall far short of what was widely hoped for.

Victims who suffered abuse in Roman Catholic orphanages in Scotland and social care experts who advised Holyrood expected a new legal framework mirroring the system in Ireland that was set up under similar circumstances, which means victims don’t have to fight their cases in open court.

In the Irish “redress” system, set up 10 years ago in response to endemic abuse in schools, orphanages and other institutions run for the state by Catholic nuns, priests and brothers, the burden of proof is lower than the “balance of probability” test used in civil courts. The institutions responsible make the compensation payments.

It was expected the same system would be introduced for victims of priests, nuns and other care workers in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has failed us … I’ve had a friend crying on their death bed to me that they were never believed
Hundreds are still fighting for adequate recognition decades after it is claimed they were abused and many are said to be living in limbo as a result.

More than 100 child care institutions were run in Scotland in the last 70 years. A country-wide picture of abuse in such places has never been established.

Campaigners including Chris Daly, 47, of Rutherglen, who suffered depression and years of anguish after being beaten by nuns when he lived at Nazareth House in Aberdeen in the 1970s, said they were promised radical reforms.

Currently victims in Scotland must take their claim to court within three years of alleged abuse taking place or face, it is claimed, a near-impossible struggle for compensation.

This time-bar is to be stretched from three years to five years under the Government’s plans, but is still too restrictive, according to campaigners.

Victims of abuse before 1984 – the cut-off year for historic claims set out in earlier legislation – must also make a difficult court challenge if they want compensation.

The Scottish Government insisted its reforms will be radical and said the draft consultation is just the starting point.

Father-of-two Mr Daly and Helen Holland, 52, who was sexually abused in a children’s home which was run by nuns and priests in Kilmarnock, have been petitioning Holyrood for a redress scheme and said the issue should have been broached in the document.

Ms Holland said: “The Scottish Government has failed us. The same abuse took place here as in Ireland and we are still waiting for institutions to be held to account. It’s already too late for some. I’ve had a friend crying on their death bed to me that they were never believed.”

Mr Daly believes abuse led to later mental problems. He says at the age of 10 nuns punished him by making him stand in a small dark mortuary holding the coffins of elderly people who had died. He said: “Children from Nazareth House were granted some compensation.

“I was one of the highest awards and it was £2500. It was a token award. It’s not a lot for what people went through. Some have struggled their whole life because of what happened. I’m still trying in court but my case is currently suspended.

“A compensation scheme would give a sense of having justice.”

A study finished in January of abuse victims at Quarriers, which has homes in and around Glasgow, called Time to be Heard, was expected to be followed by a redress scheme.

Jennifer Davidson, director of the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care, a Scottish Government-backed body of experts, told Holyrood last month research showed a need for such a compensation route.

Victims have been backed by Clydebank and Milngavie MSP Des McNulty who said it is virtually impossible for victims to win their cases if they bring them outwith the time-bar.

He said: “In a sense these people’s cases have been left in a kind of limbo. Scotland has been slow to take this issue forward.

“For many people the [draft] recommendations don’t remove the barriers to recognition and compensation.

“The time-bar prevents cases from going forward. People struggle to get Legal Aid so they can’t get advice on taking their cases forward and outwith the time-bar lawyers won’t usually take you on.”

The Scottish Government said it had responded to Scottish Law Commission recommendations, adding: “The purpose of the consultation exercise, when it begins, is to look at options for being more radical”.

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland declined to comment.

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