A specialist lawyer who is representing victims of ‘horrific’ abuse and neglect at former London children’s homes fears many will never see justice as only around a third have so far applied for compensation they are entitled to.
Lambeth Council has revealed it has paid out damages totaling £9.4m to people who were children at various homes which were open from the 1930s until the 1980s and 1990s, having received 1,002 applications for damages in the first year of operation of its Children’s Homes Redress Scheme.
The compensation scheme was launched last January to compensate survivors of sexual, physical and psychological abuse, with individual damages awards of up to £125,000 made available to reflect the most serious of cases.
Under the scheme, all former residents of a Lambeth Children’s Home who were living in and ‘subjected to a harsh environment’ are eligible to receive what is described as a ‘Harm’s Way Payment’ of up to £10,000.
That has led to damages of £7.7 million being paid to 851 applicants over the first year of the scheme, recognising that they feared they would be physically or sexually abused, or were neglected or suffered cruelty.
However, just 68 applicants have so far received damages under the ‘Individual Redress Payments’ element of the scheme, which recognises the suffering of sexual abuse and, or physical abuse and psychological injury – with total damages paid out so far in such cases totalling £915,680 – an average of around £13,500 per claim.
The scheme closes to applications after 5pm on January 1, 2020, and Malcolm Johnson, a senior solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors and a specialist in supporting people who were victims of abuse in childhood, says he fears many victims could miss out.
He feels that not enough has been done to help survivors, and that too few payments have been completed recognising the most serious cases of physical and sexual abuse, leading to long-term suffering.
“The figures of £9.4m in damages and 1,000 applications to the scheme in the first year may sound substantial initially, but we must not forget that the estimates when this scheme was established were that there had been around 3,000 potential victims, and that damages payments could reach in excess of £100m,” he said.
“With that in mind, in reality this scheme has so far only reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of facing up to the past and delivering redress to all those people who suffered so horrifically as children under this authority’s watch.
“It is not enough after a year as we now have around eight months left to support survivors through the process and ensure that they are given all the support they need to get the redress and damages they deserve.”
Only 68 cases in which damages has recognised physical and sexual abuse
Mr Johnson says he is not surprised to see only a small number of Individual Redress Payments applications – under which damages payments of up to £125,000 could be awarded in recognition of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.
“The council says it offers survivors swift and compassionate redress, but the figures only really suggest that is the case with regards to the lower level damages payments,” he said.
“We are representing a large number of survivors, and the difficulty is persuading the council and their solicitors of the damage done to these people and crossing the high threshold set out under the scheme.
“Make no mistake, there was a culture of abuse that flourished for decades in Lambeth’s homes, both in foster care and at residential facilities. In all my years representing survivors of abuse in different boroughs up and down the country, I have never seen anything on this scale.
“The awards need to be relative to their suffering and that is what the scheme is in place to do. It is there to recognise the awful level of suffering so many children endured.
“We have encountered issues in this area and it is another reason why people need to come forward as soon as possible so that we can make representation on their behalf as strongly as possible.”
Lambeth Council has confirmed that the vast majority of claims relate to the Shirley Oaks facility (72%), which was one of the biggest children’s homes in the UK.
Others have related to South Vale, Wood Vale, Chevington House, Gresham Place and St Saviours facilities, as well as Highland Road and Angell Road.
In addition to the payments under the scheme, the authority has confirmed that there have been six applications where the total value of redress exceeded the maximum of £125,000, with payments totalling £747,450 paid against these applications through civil claims.
The authority, which became the first council in the country to develop a redress scheme after the scale of abuse its former children’s homes was revealed by survivors who alleged abuse on an “industrial scale”, says people in Australia, Canada, the USA and the rest of Europe have applied as well as people from England.s