BY TOBY PORTER
Historic child abuse victims are contemplating employing a top human rights lawyer after it emerged some of them will get the same compensation as people who were in care homes the same length of time but did not suffer abuse.
More than 400 victims of an organised paedophile ring within Lambeth’s children’s homes, going back as far as the 1950s, have now applied for payments under the town hall’s redress scheme.
But it has emerged in recent weeks that everyone who was placed in the homes for six months or more will get £10,000, whether or not they were victims of the ring.
Those who were just placed there for the same six-month period, but were not racially or sexually abused, will get the same £10,000 compensation.
Some people, who had previously been assessed as being entitled to, for example, £6,000 or £8,000 compensation for sexual or racial abuse they suffered, are not getting that extra compensation if they have already had their £10,000 payment for being in “harm’s way” – which anyone who was in the homes for more than six months is entitled to.
Some people assessed as entitled to £20,000, because of the abuse they suffered, are now getting another £10,000 on top of their £10,000 “Harm’s Way Payment” (HWP). But they are unhappy that they will not receive the £20,000 on top of the HWP.
But Lambeth council insists the £10,000 HWP was agreed with SOSA after initial plans for £1,000 payments were rejected. The authority also claims the £10,000 sum represents a greater figure than many victims would have otherwise received through the courts – while allowing them to avoid potential fees incurred through any legal process.
However Raymond Stevenson, of the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA), said: “It is not fair because, as it stands, it means people who lived in the harsh environment will get the same as some people who suffered levels of sexual and racial abuse over many years.
“How can that be right? SOSA members are now receiving responses from the council whereby even though they have been awarded individual redress, where this amount is under £10k this money is deducted. This is just a cost-saving exercise which impacts disproportionally on black residents who suffered racial abuse and those on lower tariffs for sexual and physical abuse.”
Victims can, however, claim Individual Redress Payments, with greater compensation available to those who suffered the most severe abuse.
Malcolm Johnson, head of the abuse department at Hudgell solicitors, said: “The Harm’s Way Payment was set up to compensate people for the fact of being in an atmosphere of abuse. It’s a pity that the way in which the Redress Scheme has been set up means that some former residents will only ever get a Harm’s Way Payment, even though they suffered so much more.
“Lambeth needs to remember – these were their children.”
Charles Derham, an abuse lawyer at Verisona Law, said: “Despite the great efforts of the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association in obtaining justice by way of a redress scheme for survivors of Shirley Oaks and other Lambeth children’s homes, justice has sadly not been obtained for some.
“The scheme does not properly compensate those who suffered abuse that does not fall into the most severe spectrum. These individuals are being undercompensated by Lambeth and their compensation is being unfairly limited to a harm’s way payment. The harm’s way payment is designed for those who feared abuse or neglect, not those who suffered potentially prolonged physical/racial/emotional abuse.
“Their suffering should be paid by way of compensation in accordance with the tariff over and above the harm’s way aspect, not encapsulated within. This raises a pertinent question…How can this be justice and will they ever obtain justice?”
Mary Wells, of Streatham, whose daughter, now 50, had respite care in Ivy House Lambeth children’s home, said: “The council seems to be unwilling to address the issues here at all. It does not seem to have been thought through.
“Officers also said the scheme would be publicised but the only adverts were buried among other subjects and used official language which hardly anyone is going to understand, let alone someone with learning difficulties.
“The simplest way would be to write to people directly or through organisations which support people with learning difficulties. There should also be public information sessions so people can ask questions about how it works.
“Lambeth recently had an equalities commission but it seems some officers don’t understand how relevant that should be to this redress scheme.”
The Harm’s Way Payment was developed under the groundbreaking Lambeth Children’s Homes Redress Scheme, to ensure victims can get compensation without the usual burdens of proof, renewed trauma or delay which is normally associated with such claims. It was designed to ensure those who suffered verbal racial abuse, for example, but who would not normally qualify for compensation for abuse, could receive a payment for their suffering.
Lambeth council says the Harm’s Way Payment was devised after talks with lawyers representing survivors.
The council has written to Hudgell Solicitors in response to their concerns, and met with many of the law firms representing the hundreds of abuse survivors who have applied for compensation. l For more information visit www.lambeth.gov.uk/redress.