Lotto rapist ruling clears way for claims
· Late compensation cases can go ahead, law lords say
· Local authorities face rise in sex abuse payouts
Clare Dyer, legal editor, Thursday January 31, 2008,The Guardian
A woman subjected to a brutal attack by the so-called Lotto rapist, Iorworth Hoare, won a landmark victory in Britain's highest court yesterday, opening the way for thousands of other victims of sexual assault to claim compensation.
The retired teacher, identified only as Mrs A, and five victims of child sex abuse who also took their cases to the House of Lords, had been barred from suing by a six-year time limit for claims based on deliberate assaults.
But, in a rare move, five law lords unanimously overturned a judgment of their own court 15 years earlier, ruling that courts will in future have discretion to extend the six-year limit, which runs from the age of 18 in the case of children, to allow late claims to go ahead.
The decision is expected to bring thousands of claims from abuse victims, who may now be able to take action many years after the alleged attacks. It puts local authorities at risk of having to pay out millions of pounds in damages for abuse by teachers and care home workers, following a ruling in 2002 that employers can be held liable for abuse by their employees.
Lawyers said the ruling could even open the way for the families of murder victims to sue in a civil court the person they believe was responsible for the killing, even if that person had been found not guilty in the criminal courts. It could be invoked, for example, by the family of Billie-Jo Jenkins, who was killed in 1997. Her foster father, Sion Jenkins, was cleared after a third trial when the jury in a criminal court failed to reach a verdict.
The case of Mrs A will now go back to the high court for a decision on whether to extend the time limit. She was 59 when Hoare sexually assaulted her in 1988, but it was not until he won £7m while on day release in 2004 that he was worth suing.
Mrs A, 79, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "It is as if a great heavy mantle has been lifted from my shoulders. It feels like justice is finally about to be done."
Jonathan Wheeler from Bolt Burdon Kemp, who represented two child sex abuse victims, X and Y, said victims typically took years to come forward. "Paedophiles abuse in secret, and often threaten their victims not to tell. This combines with feelings of guilt and shame in the children who have been abused and has a profound effect on young minds."
The law lords awarded damages of £57,500 and £70,000 to X and Y, two men in their 30s who were sexually abused in the 1980s by a teacher, who was later jailed, at a school run by Wandsworth council in south London. The ruling also means that a 36-year-old man, C, will receive damages of £95,000 from Middlesbrough council for sexual abuse he suffered between the ages of 10 and 16 at a council-run school.
A case brought by a man named H against Suffolk county council over sexual abuse at a school in 1989 and 1990 was sent back to the high court for a judge to decide whether to extend the time limit.
The high court will also be asked to reconsider the case of Kevin Young, 49, of York, who claimed he was sexually abused at a Catholic school in Tadcaster and at Medomsley detention centre in county Durham in the 1970s. His attempt to sue Catholic Care and the Home Office failed but his lawyers will reframe his action.
Criminal justice: Avalanche of cases
Lawyers for child abuse victims whose cases were on hold pending the law lords' ruling yesterday are gearing up to launch an avalanche of claims. Tracey Emmott of the law firm Pictons in Luton, solicitor for two women in their 20s whose neighbour was convicted of indecently assaulting them and jailed for seven years, said she would be applying to the high court next Monday to freeze his assets.
Few perpetrators of sex assaults are as rich as the so-called Lotto rapist. But Graham Pope, who was jailed in 2006 at Luton crown court for 20 indecent assaults on five girls between 1985 and 2000, owns a Hyundai dealership in Hertfordshire which Emmott believes is worth about £450,000-£500,000. The business is being sold and Emmott failed in an earlier attempt to win a freezing order because of the six-year time limit. Abuse victims have until six years after their 18th birthday to bring a claim, but both women are over 24. "My clients approached me wondering whether they could do anything in the civil courts but time expired for them on their 24th birthday," Emmott said. "This has been the injustice in the law. But now because of the judgment that has been handed down today, they are free to pursue him."
Jonathan Wheeler of London solicitors Bolt Burdon Kemp, who acted for two of the successful claimants, said his firm had several calls yesterday from potential clients and would be reviewing 200-300 cases of those who had consulted them in the last three years.
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