Local authorities could be hit by a “hidden army” of people seeking damages for historic child abuse cases, lawyers have warned.
The warning follows the news that Essex council has paid damages of almost £1m to four siblings it failed to protect from years of parental abuse.
Ed Mitchell, a solicitor who specialises in social care law, said: “This is certainly the largest compensation award against a council for failing to protect vulnerable children I have ever come across. I strongly suspect there is a hidden army of uncompensated claimants out there.”
Mitchell said there were two reasons behind the relatively low number of similar cases. The first, he said, is the psychological impact on the claimants. “It is psychologically wearing to bring a compensation claim of this type against a council and many who begin a claim will give up or settle for relatively modest sums,” he said.
“The second is that many possible claimants will simply not bring claims. We are dealing with a client group where many members have multiple disadvantages and lead chaotic lives so many will not even consider the possibility of bringing a claim,” he said.
The lawyer who represented the children, Thea Henley, of Henley Law, agreed but warned local authorities not to “rest on their laurels”.
“This case could and should prompt other claimants to come out of the woodwork. The defendants [Essex council], in my view, used the system to their advantage, which is why this case took almost 10 years. I hope this case will change that in the future and it will be easier for young people to get the redress they deserve,” she said.
A spokesperson for Essex council said: “Essex County Council does not comment on individual cases. In recent years we have made significant improvements in our children’s services and we are committed to continue to do this.”
Council pays £1m damages for ‘shocking’ child abuse failings
Inform expert guides include:
Guide to an initial pre-assessment of an adult who has committed sexual abuse
Parenting assessment reference manual
Guide to managing risk in social work