The Goddard inquiry shows we need a public inquiry into rape

Daily Telegraph, Thursday 19 May 2016

At first sight, the figures are jaw-dropping: police in England and Wales are preparing to deal with 30,000 new cases of child sexual abuse. Reports are being passed to the police at a rate of 100 a month by the Goddard inquiry, which was set up after the exposure of Jimmy Savile. One senior officer told the Guardian he predicts that police will be investigating 200,000 cases across the country by 2020.

Some critics will regard these figures with scepticism, pointing to the botched inquiry into allegations of historical sexual abuse against a number of public figures, which has now been wound up. But the mishandling of that investigation does not mean we can ignore a mounting body of evidence that the scale of child sexual abuse is much greater than most people ever suspected.

The figure of 30,000 comes from Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk and head of the national coordinating unit, Operation Hydrant, which is handling reports passed on by the Goddard inquiry. Justice Lowell Goddard is in charge of 13 investigations involving a number of institutions, including the Church, Westminster, the borough of Lambeth and a detention centre in Durham, along with allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, Devon, Cornwall, Oxford and Rotherham.

Two thousand victims have already contacted the Goddard inquiry and 600 have said they are willing to speak to its ‘truth project’, which was set up hear detailed testimony of childhood abuse. Bailey says he is surprised and shocked by the extent of the abuse being exposed. He’s right – we should never lose our capacity to be shocked by crimes against the most vulnerable individuals in society. But this is not the first indication that the scale of child sexual abuse has been hidden from sight for decades.

In November last year, the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, published a report which estimated there were between 400,000 and 450,000 victims of child sexual abuse in England between April 2012 and March 2014. The NSPCC estimates that for every child known to be in need of protection from abuse, another eight are suffering in silence.

This is a very dark picture of childhood and it is not surprising that some people are reluctant to acknowledge it. But two things have come together to tear away the veil of secrecy. Operation Yewtree, the inquiry which uncovered the staggering extent of Savile’s crimes, concluded that he had targeted 450 victims and committed more than 30 rapes.

At the same times, the activities of gangs of men who sexually exploited under-age girls have been exposed in Rotherham, Derby, Rochdale, Oxford and other towns. None of these problems was even on the radar 10 years ago, and a handful of people who told the police they had been assaulted by Savile or tried to expose ‘grooming’ gangs were ignored.

The idea that there is a pool of thousands of victims of child sexual abuse up and down the country is all too plausible, I’m afraid. In London, senior officers are already contemplating the possibility that they may have to handle as many as 15,000 new cases as a direct result of the Goddard inquiry.

But the implications for victims and the criminal justice system are even wider. Child sexual abuse is not the only crime that has been vastly under-reported for decades; senior police officers believe that only one in five rapes is ever reported, and the same is likely to be true of serious sexual assaults. More women are going to the police than ever before, but low conviction rates and lack of confidence in the prosecution process still deter many victims.

They are more likely to contact a rape crisis line to ask for advice and support, and organisations that work with victims see many more women and girls than the police. They have argued for years that most rapists get away with their crimes, creating a pool of women who never see their attackers punished.

In London, almost 16,000 sexual offences were reported to the police last year, along with 5,410 rapes. If those figures represent only a fifth of the total, the true picture is likely to be very different: more like 80,000 sexual assaults and 27,000 rapes. The true number of rape victims in London alone each year is probably around the size of a small town, while a staggering number of perpetrators are walking around, free to commit further offences.

Like the failure over many years to properly investigate child sexual abuse, this is nothing short of a scandal. The Goddard inquiry is finally beginning to make amends to children for years of neglect, but what it is uncovering applies just as much to adult victims of rape and sexual assault. The time for a public inquiry into how those cases are investigated is long overdue.


My mother’s treatment in hospital opened my eyes to a policy of shameful neglect

No one consulted me when my 89-year-old mother was discharged from hospital. The NHS ombudsman’s report shows this is happening all over Britain

The Guardian, Thursday 12 May 2016

The first shock came when I found out my mother was dying. The second was when I discovered that she had been discharged from hospital without my knowledge. My mother was 89, and had dementia, lung cancer and secondary tumours on the brain. I had pleaded with the hospital not to take any decisions without first speaking to me, but they ignored me, as they had done since she was admitted as an emergency six days earlier.

What happened to my mother is far from unusual, I’m sorry to say. Elderly people are being discharged from hospital too soon, according to an excoriating report from Dame Julie Mellor, the parliamentary and health service ombudsman. It describes the experience of nine patients and their families in harrowing detail, including the case of a woman in her 90s who collapsed and died in her granddaughter’s arms after doctors failed to diagnose an infection and sent her home. Dame Julie says these cases represent only a fraction of the total number.

Last year the ombudsman investigated 221 complaints about patients being discharged too early. I am one of the people who complained. The ombudsman upheld several of my complaints against the NHS trust that runs the hospital, listing a series of failures in communication with my family. The report on my mother’s care, which was written jointly with the local government ombudsman, also criticised social services for failing to ensure that proper care plans were drawn up when my mother was admitted to a care home, seven months before her death.

I was relieved when I read the ombudsman’s conclusions, hoping the recommendations might protect other elderly people from the catalogue of errors that affected my mother in the final weeks of her life. A key finding was that hospital records incorrectly recorded that she lived in a nursing home that had the facilities to look after her. She did not, and the staff of the care home were alarmed when she arrived back from hospital without a proper discharge letter. The paramedic who pushed her into the home in a wheelchair – she was too frail to walk – said that in his opinion she should not have been discharged from hospital.

If you have not been through the gruelling process of trying to get proper care for an elderly relative, the errors around my mother’s discharge might not sound significant. But they go to the heart of the problem identified in Dame Julie’s report, which is that hospitals are sending people home without establishing what kind of care and support is available. Sometimes that results in someone who is confused and frightened being left in a flat or house entirely on their own. That is what happened to an 85-year-old woman with dementia who was sent home at 11pm and then discovered by her daughter the following morning with no food, drink or bedding.

In my mother’s case, her complex medical needs meant that her discharge should have been planned by the hospital, social services and the care home, after discussion with the family. None of that happened, even though my mother was at high risk of malnutrition and dehydration. She should have been assessed and referred to a dietitian as soon as she was returned to the care home, but nothing was done for another week. When she was finally weighed, it became apparent that she had lost almost 12kg over the previous six months; she had lost another 5kg by the time she died the following month. I know that from reading the report of her postmortem, a chore I would not wish on my worst enemy.

Coping with an elderly person who has dementia or cancer is difficult and upsetting, but I’m not convinced that the agencies involved are very good at taking the feelings of relatives (or indeed patients) into account. In my case, the situation was complicated by the fact that my mother lived at the other end of the country. She had moved to the north-east to be close to her sisters and brother after my father died, but it made everything immeasurably more difficult when her health began to fail.

I can’t be the only relative who has had to deal with social services and doctors at a distance, but just getting anyone to return a phone call was a gargantuan task. This was a recurring problem but it became more acute when I found out from my aunt that my mother was in hospital in January 2014. I immediately called the hospital to find out what was wrong, and was asked to come to an urgent meeting that afternoon. I explained that was physically impossible – it is a drive of seven hours – and I was assured that a consultant would call me back. When I was given a code word that I would need to repeat to the doctor to establish my identity, I realised that something was seriously wrong. I waited hours for a phone call. Nothing happened. In a state of some agitation, I called the hospital again and managed to track down the consultant.

Even now, it is painful to remember the shock I felt when he told me that my mother had late-stage lung cancer. I tried to gather my wits, asking about palliative care, and he promised that someone would call me before any decisions about moving her were taken.

I never heard from him or the hospital again. It was left to me to make phone calls, find someone who knew about my mother’s case – not always an easy task – and establish how she was. I had no idea she was about to be discharged, and no one told me that a doctor had completed a “do not attempt to resuscitate” form, another failure that was criticised by the ombudsman.

Now that people are living longer, many of us will go through the grim experience of witnessing the decline of a close relative. Until my mother’s health failed, I had a naive belief that we lived in a society where relatives could work collaboratively with professionals to get decent care for the elderly.

Two years ago, my faith in that system was shaken to the core. Now Dame Julie’s report suggests that not much has changed.

Police reaction to revenge porn is playing into predators’ hands

The use of cautions against sexual predators appears to confirm fears that police are unclear how to define revenge porn and when to use harassment legislation

The Guardian, Tuesday 10 May 2016

A few years ago the idea of someone publishing explicit photographs of a former lover, out of spite or as a form of blackmail, was still in the realms of fiction. But advances in technology have created fresh opportunities for sexual predators, and the criminal justice system is finding it difficult to cope with new forms of aggressive and controlling behaviour.

Revenge porn – the sharing of explicit or sexual images without consent – became a specific criminal offence in the UK just over a year ago, and it seems that some police forces are struggling to understand how to use the new law. In the latest example to make headlines, Sussex police have been criticised for merely handing out a caution to a man who targeted four women and a 15-year-old girl. They arrested the 36-year-old last week after receiving complaints, from three of the women and the girl, that images had been posted without their consent on a pornography site.

One of the women said she discovered two pictures of herself on the porn site along with the comment: “Do your absolute worst guys and abuse her as much as you like, all I ask it that you show me it all.” In the case of the 15-year-old girl, explicit sexual images were superimposed on to pictures taken from her Facebook account. Given that the photographs were doctored, and not taken during a relationship, it is more akin to harassment than what we normally understand as revenge porn.

The use of cautions in cases involving sexual and domestic abuse is controversial. Women have complained for decades that reports of rape and sexual assault are not taken seriously and that few cases come to court. There were 1,160 reports of revenge porn between April and December last year, involving 31 police forces in England and Wales. Three of the victims were 11 years old. So far few of these complaints – only 11% – have resulted in charges. In 40% no action was taken, with lack of evidence or the victims withdrawing support given as the reason. The Sussex case appears to confirm anxieties that some police forces are unclear about the definition of revenge porn and reluctant to use other, more appropriate laws.

In this particular case, although the suspect admitted committing offences over a period of five months, he was merely cautioned for one offence of revenge porn and three of sending an offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing message. Sussex police are currently reviewing a complaint by a fifth woman whose allegations against the same man were recorded as not a crime. The use of cautions in a case involving so many victims, and a range of offences as serious as incitement to violence and harassment, is troubling, especially if there’s a risk of someone committing further offences.

Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, has tried to make sure that the revenge porn law is used appropriately, telling police and prosecutors that a charge of harassment should be considered when there is more than one incident, or a pattern of behaviour. She has also said that if a victim is under 18, a charge under the Protection of Children Act 1978 should be considered. In effect Saunders is reminding the police that the revenge porn law is just one way to approach a range of unfamiliar behaviours that cause great distress to victims, some well under the age of consent.

That is not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about revenge porn. Senior police officers have told me they are worried about teenage boys using explicit pictures to control sexual partners, threatening to post them online when girls try to leave abusive relationships. They believe schools need to warn young people about the risks involved, not for reasons of prudery but so they know how to stay safe.

There has seldom been a moment in history when the criminal justice system has faced so many new challenges. It is constantly playing catch-up with technology, trying to ensure that perpetrators are called to account without criminalising the behaviour of consenting adults. It is not an easy moment for the police, but they have a wider range of sanctions than ever before and should not be reluctant to use them.

Murder on the colonial front line

Sunday Times, 8 May 2016

Calcutta in 1919 is a city of extremes of wealth and poverty, and colonial rule is threatened by a growing nationalist movement. When a senior civil servant is found dead in a gutter, with a message warning the British to leave India stuffed in his mouth, the authorities assume it is a political assassination. But the detective assigned to the case in Abir Mukherjee’s terrific first novel, A Rising Man (Harvill Secker £12.99), listens to local people and thinks that the motive is more likely to be personal.

Captain Sam Wyndham used to work for Scotland Yard and is a disillusioned veteran of the First World War. He survived the conflict more or less unscathed, only to discover that his wife had died in a flu epidemic, and he has come to India in search of a new life. Mukherjee’s descriptions of Calcutta under the Raj are vivid and evocative, while Wyndham’s position as a newcomer with fresh eyes works brilliantly. The plot moves at breakneck pace but Mukherjee’s real subject is the underlying corruption of a society divided by class and race.

Melanie Raabe is a journalist based in Cologne and another first-time novelist. The Trap (Mantle £12.99), translated by Imogen Taylor, is a twisty revenge drama in which a reclusive author writes a crime novel to trap a man she believes guilty of murder. Twelve years ago, Linda Conrads walked into a flat to find her sister stabbed to death and the killer making his escape. Her health collapsed and she withdrew into self-imposed isolation, relying on her publisher and a couple of trusted staff to manage her contact with the outside world.

Linda has not left her house for 11 years when she spots the killer on a TV programme. He is now a successful journalist and she’s certain no one will believe her, so she comes up with a hare-brained plan to base her next book on the murder and offer him an exclusive interview at her home. What happens next is a chilling battle of wits in which Linda tests the limits of crime fiction and risks her own life in the process.

Mark Billingham’s new novel, Die of Shame (Little, Brown £18.99), presents his detectives with an unusual and frustrating case. A group of recovering addicts has been meeting weekly at the north London home of an unconventional therapist, Tony De Silva, who encourages them to socialise outside the group. There are explosive conflicts between some of the members, especially when a morbidly obese woman joins the circle and disrupts its dynamics. When a young woman is murdered, it is clear that one of the group is responsible.

De Silva refuses to cooperate with the police, citing professional confidentiality, and the surviving members take their cue from him. This is an intriguing set-up, involving a cast of suspects where everyone has something to hide, and Billingham shares suspicion around pretty even-handedly. But it is hard to sympathise with characters who are so self-obsessed, and the ending feels artificial.

Elizabeth Brundage’s haunting novel All Things Cease To Appear (Quercus £16.99) unfolds at a leisurely pace, despite a gruesome opening. The novel begins in upstate New York in the 1980s, when an art history professor arrives home to find his wife has been savagely murdered at their isolated farmhouse. George Clare’s immediate concern is the couple’s daughter, who is the only witness but too young to understand what she may have seen. The case remains unsolved for decades, allowing Brundage to expose the unravelling of the mind of the killer in slow and forensic detail.