Ground Breaking Appeal Court Decision Print

For immediate release
3 August, 2009.


Leading child abuse lawyers Abney Garsden McDonald have welcomed a ground-breaking Appeal Court decision to lift the time barriers for two of its clients pursuing a former Catholic care home for damages following alleged sexual abuse between 1968 and 1980.

A third client, whose alleged abuse was not considered as serious, failed to have the limitation lifted.
The Appeal Court decision now makes it easier for claimants to pursue damages for abuse. For the first time it recognises that an abuser no longer needs to be alive as long as it is the shame of the abuse and the victim’s psychological condition that has caused the delay.  The decision also means legal proceedings can begin even in the absence of criminal convictions against an abuser, and the categories of abuse that can be put before a court are now much wider.  The credibility of an abused person is also crucial.

The three claimants subject to the Appeal Court decision were once resident at St.Aidan’s children’s home in Widnes and run by the Catholic Nugent Care Society.  The home closed in 1982.  The three men are among around 40 of the law firm’s clients still seeking damages for alleged sexual abuse at St. Aidan’s and similar care homes, with around 40 more of their clients who’ve succeeded in suing for damages.

The two Appeal Court successes are benefitting from House of Lords rulings that allow judges more discretion in extending the three-year limitation on sexual abuse claims – after six years in some cases - and to pursue an employer for damages.  The limitation period begins from a claimant’s 18th birthday.

The three men involved in the Appeal Court applications to lift the limitation all had poor home backgrounds and became involved in criminal activity – mainly burglary – which led to them being sent to St. Aidan’s.

One of the claimants, JPM, now aged 56, arrived at St. Aidan’s in May, 1967, when it was still an approved school, after being convicted of housebreaking.  He claims he was abused by three members of staff between November, 1967, and May, 1968.   In a police statement submitted to a previous civil hearing, JPM says “my life has been ruined and I want these people to be brought to justice.”

He first began talking to his GP about his abuse in 1996.The second claimant, DVB, now aged 45, was sent to St. Aidan’s in May, 1979, following burglary convictions.  His housemaster, who was later convicted of sex offences in 1995, allegedly abused him between his arrival and March, 1980.  As an adult, DVB turned to alcohol and drug abuse and his marriage broke down in 1988.

Both have succeeded in having the time limitations lifted and can now resume civil actions for damages
The claimant who failed to get the limitation lifted is Jim Browne, aged 51, from Bootle, Liverpool, who is allowing his name to be used.  He was sent to St. Aidan’s in 1971 for burglary and claims he was punched in the stomach by a bricklaying instructor and subject to “sexual groping” on three occasions by a housemaster.
It was only in 1995, at the request of police, that he made a witness statement about alleged sexual abuse at the home.  He was apparently unaware that he could take civil action – he wanted his abusers to face criminal charges, which never arose.

All his alleged abusers and other witnesses are now dead and documents that could have been used in evidence have been destroyed.  There was also no psychological reason, the Appeal Court ruled, why he did not report the alleged abuse earlier.

Despite losing his appeal, Mr. Browne was keen to encourage others to press ahead with legal claims.   “You have to keep going, you can’t give up the fight just because I didn’t get all the way.   We had a wall in front of us and we have started to demolish that wall and climb over it,”  he said.  The father of three grown-up children and a grandfather said he had been listened to in court and believed.   “That is what I wanted.  It wasn’t about money, it was about being believed after all that time.”

Paul Durkin, co-ordinating solicitor  Abney, Garsden, McDonald, said: 
“We are delighted that the Appeal Court has now clarified the situation regarding two of our clients and they can now proceed with a damages claim.   This ruling is hugely significant and makes it easier for victims to pursue claims for damages, victims who have been fought by defendants for many years, often on technical details and through lengthy and stressful court hearings. 

“Now, though, a lengthy delay will not necessarily prevent a court exercising discretion in lifting the limitation barrier, even where an alleged abuser has died and there are no criminal convictions for abuse.  And if a victim’s evidence is regarded as compelling that will also be hugely supportive of their case, and if their failure to reveal the abuse is as a result of the abuse itself, that will also be a crucial.  (Cont.)

“Of course we sympathise with Mr. Browne because the limitation was not lifted in his case on the basis of proportionality and fairness to the defendants.  He has been attempting to get redress for 13 years and has been a beacon of hope for many others in a similar position.”

Judgement was handed down by Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony, Lord Justice Waller and Lord Justice Maurice Kay, after a three-day hearing on appeal from the High Court in Manchester.
Abney Garsden McDonald are pursuing Nugent Care Society and their insurers, Royal Sun Alliance, for damages.

Peter Garsden and Paul McDonald formed Abney Garsden McDonald in 1985.    From their Head Office in Cheadle Hulme they offer a comprehensive range of legal  services.  Since 1994 the firm has developed a niche market in child abuse compensation claims and now has the UK’s largest dedicated child abuse compensation claims department.   Peter is one of the founder members of a nationwide group called  A.C.A.L. (Association of Child Abuse Lawyers).  Peter has substantial media experience and is currently the Co-ordinating Solicitor for most of the North West Child Abuse Group Actions.   Paul McDonald retired from the partnership in February 2007.


Media contacts:
Paul Durkin
Abney Garsden McDonald Solicitors Office: 0161 482 8822, mobile 07762-823474.
Jim Browne, 0151-933-4967. 07973 697843.