Scales of justice

Organisations where adults work with children must become used to
dealing with abuse allegations by using external and independent
investigation specialists, writes Beatrix Campbell.

security cameras were being installed all over Britain in the
1990s, in residential neighbourhoods as well as shopping precincts,
civil rights pressure group Liberty commissioned a study to
determine whether this level of scrutiny of citizens and social
space was welcomed or feared. Much to its surprise an overwhelming
majority of people ticked the “for surveillance” box.

Likewise, anyone who travels by plane, especially back and forth
over the Irish Sea, has been subjected to searches for decades. We
submit because it is good for a secure society.

Yet that
tolerance does not seem to determine our response to children’s
safety. A tone of affronted outrage greets inquiries into
children’s allegations of abuse by adults. Tolerance of abuse was
exemplified by Archbishop John Ward’s refusal to be called to
account for his failure to do something when warned about a
paedophile priest. Ward’s recent resignation does little to
eradicate this impression of tolerance. Yet the withdrawal of
protection for abusive priests is supported by his congregation and
colleagues, and by the Nolan Committee’s tough proposals on child
protection for the Catholic church.

the victims of abusive clergy remain sceptical, Archbishop Vincent
Nichols, who has been charged with implementing the Nolan
recommendations, made a reference to the cultural revolution
implied by the Nolan report: “Members of the church who bring
forward concerns are acting in the interests of the church.”

Nolan recommendations rely on internal scrutiny. But consider the
fate of parliamentary standards commissioner Elizabeth Filkin. She
seems doomed because of her vigour – a reminder of the fragility of
internal scrutiny.

And the
police complaints procedures are a national scandal.

has been an increased awareness of abuse that needs to be matched
by institutional cultures and protocols. But this has been damaged
by a muddled notion of balance.

It is
said that we must balance the rights of the accused against the
rights of the accuser. Lest we forget, the rights of the accused
are buttressed by the criminal justice system’s high standards of
proof, and by the stringent criteria that surround civil standards
based on the balance of probability. Let us also remember that
courtroom results for children who have been abused are little
better than when the cultural revolution began in the 1980s.

what really animates concern about balance is not justice at all,
but professional pride and reputation. To be the subject of
scrutiny or investigation is, it seems, the problem.

According to a senior manager who has promoted rigorous procedures
for responding to allegations against staff, departments must
expect allegations to emerge from any environment in which adults
work with children – the trick is to get used to it.

does not mean becoming relaxed. On the contrary, it means rigour.
It also means that people become familiar with the processes,
rather than panicked by them. Child protection services are best
placed to help managers invoke procedures when staff are accused,
both because they understand the issues and because, as one senior
manager notes: “they are used to dealing with heat and emotion.
Personnel departments aren’t.”

are school managers, teachers and governors. Indeed, the teaching
profession’s difficulty with this issue is cemented by local school
management and the power of lay governors, and compounded by the
disrespect shown towards children.

practice suggests that all allegations should be referred to the
local authority’s child protection specialists. Strategic
conferences involving police, managers and anyone with information
should assess the allegation, which must then be followed up either
by a police investigation, or an inquiry by an independent social
worker. Good practice also suggests an independent investigation
team, relieving colleagues of the burden of investigating each

on the voluntary sector to provide that independence has become
compromised by the voluntary societies’ reliance on local
authorities as commissioners.

should be sought not in the space between adults and children, but
in a multi-disciplinary reservoir of independent investigation
units. This is second best to what we really need, but are not
going to get: a national centre for the investigation of child

Beatrix Campbell is a writer and

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