Claiming compensation for historic sex abuse
We recently represented a client in relation to historic sex abuse he had suffered at the hands of a priest in the late 1970s.
Our client, who was just 9 years old at the time, had served as an altar boy in the church and attended the associated primary school. He was groomed and sexually abused by the priest, with the abuse taking place in both the church and the priest’s home. The abuse continued for some weeks before our client was able to disclose what was happening to his brother. Our client’s brother then told their mother who involved the police.
The priest was arrested and charged with over 20 offences involving our client and other children he had abused in the course of his priestly duties.
As a result of the abuse our client suffered a chaotic life. He was ostracised by the local community for having reported the priest. He struggled at school and with personal relationships. As a teenager he began to abuse alcohol and illicit drugs in an attempt to cope with his psychological symptoms.He got into trouble with the law as his life spiralled out of control, resulting in him receiving numerous prison sentences as a result.
It was against this background that our client consulted us. He called our confidential helpline and received free guidance about his entitlement to pursue a historic sex abuse compensation claim.
He decided he wanted to go ahead and we agreed to take his case on under a No Win, No Fee agreement.
A formal letter of claim was submitted to the Diocese concerned. In the meantime we attempted to locate documents relating to the criminal investigation. Due to the passage of time the court had destroyed their files. We therefore made enquiries with the Crown Prosecution Service, but again no records could be located.
The Diocese instructed solicitors to respond to our letter of claim. They confirmed they were investigating and requested documentary proof of our client’s allegations.
We made extensive investigations with the Metropolitan Police who were finally able to locate a microfiche copy of the list of charges. This was a crucial breakthrough as it confirmed that our client had been a named victim of the priest in the criminal proceedings. Once this was disclosed the defendant accepted they were liable for the priest’s actions.
The defendants then raised the ‘limitation’, arguing that the offences had occurred so long ago the claim was out of time. As our client had been abused as a child the standard time limit for bringing a claim was his 21st birthday. The defendants argued that they were prejudiced by the late presentation of the claim which they said would prohibit a fair trial.
However they would have known that the courts adopt a sympathetic approach to historic sex abuse claims and are willing to allow considerable leeway when applying the law in relation to limitation. It therefore came as no surprise when the defendant made a formal offer of compensation to settle our client’s claim without the need to obtain a report from a psychiatrist.
We arranged for our client to meet with a barrister specialising in claims involving historic sex abuse to discuss the offer. The barrister explained that our client could choose to accept the offer, make a counter offer for a higher amount or obtain a report from a psychiatrist to set out the extent to which the abuse had affected him. Our client said he would prefer not to have to see a psychiatrist as he still found it difficult to talk about what had happened so he asked us to make a counter offer.
Although the counter offer was rejected, the defendant returned with a further proposal which was double their original offer. Our client decided to accept this offer and the claim was therefore settled out of court.
When the claim had been concluded our client confirmed he had found the process of making the claim extremely positive and it was not just about the financial compensation. Given the difficulties he had experienced following his criminal convictions in the 1970s he had been concerned about bringing a compensation claim. He had never been able to discuss what had happened to him and had always wondered what had happened to his abuser. He said that being listened to and believed, finding out what had happened to the priest, and having the Diocese formally acknowledge what had occurred had given him a great sense of peace.