Can the victims of Sir Jimmy Saville make a compensation claim?

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Listening to "Any Questions" on Radio 4 on Sunday, one of the panel pointed out that even though Sir Jimmy was deceased (and consequently cannot be prosecuted in a criminal court), there should be a full inquiry so that his victims can tell their stories.In fact, the victims' allegations may go a great deal wider and name others who may have been involved in the abuse, or who turned a blind eye.


At present, under section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, a person can be prosecuted for "arranging or facilitating" the commission of an offence. Its forerunner, Section 23 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 contains the offence of "procuration" of a girl under 21 to have unlawful sexual intercourse with a third person. However it may well be that the victims can still have their day in a civil court. This is because it would be quite open to them to sue a) the estate of Sir Jimmy Saville b) the BBC.  What are the hurdles to such a claim?


The first hurdle is limitation. Probably for all of these unfortunate women, limitation passed on their 21st birthday, but in case after case involving child abuse, the courts have shown themselves willing to disapply the limitation rule under Section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980.  The landmark case of A v Hoare [2008] UKHL 6 states that where the evidence against the abuser is very strong, the courts may make an exceptional case and take down the limitation barrier.


The second hurdle is suing someone who is dead, but here again claims against estates are fairly common. In fact there is a well known case, Amanda Lawson v Ann Glaves-Smith, Executor of the Estate of Christopher John Dawes Deceased [2006] EWHC 2865 (QB) where such a claim was made. I myself have only recently recovered substantial compensation from the estate of a man convicted of abusing a member of his family.


The third hurdle is tracing the money in Sir Jimmy Saville's estate. Firstly not all of the funds may have been distributed as Sir Jimmy died relatively recently and completing probate on an estate can take a very long time. Secondly,  it may be possible to trace the monies that have been distributed, as apparently some of it was given to charities who are now (according to press reports) thinking of giving the money to child abuse charities.


However the estate of Sir Jimmy Saville is not the only potential Defendant in such a claim. According to the allegations made against him, the abuse occurred during the time he was working for the BBC as a radio and television presenter. It is now settled law that a care worker who abuses his charges may fix his employers with vicarious liability, regardless of what they knew or should have known about what was going on. Very broadly, what is needed is a close connection between the work undertaken by the employee (caring for children) and the abuse itself.


The recent decision of JGE v The English Province [2012] EWCA Civ 938 in the Court of Appeal shows how far the definition of an employee can go. In that case, the "employee" was a priest who had no employment contract with his diocese and there were strong arguments from the Defendant that he was simply an "officer".  The Court of Appeal did not agree. The Diocese was directly responsible for the abuse that he had committed.  A few years ago, I successfully concluded a number of child abuse compensation claims against a local authority, who had employed a man to be a disc jockey at a local municipal centre, where children would go to roller skate. The arguments in those cases now look very similar to the ones that might be put forward in the case of Sir Jimmy Saville.


In addition, a case might be made that the BBC was negligent in allowing such abuse to continue, in circumstances where it could be shown that they knew or should have known about what was going on.So far the evidence seems to be piling up against them, as more and more victims come forward.


Finally all of these victims have potential claims to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, a government body set up to compensate victims of crime. As with a civil claim, there is a time limit but this is often waived in strong cases, and a conviction or prosecution of the abuse is not strictly necessary. Very recently I persuaded the CICA to disapply the time limit in a case of gross neglect by a parent, where there had been no police investigation whatsoever, and we were entirely reliant on social services records.  In another case involving sexual abuse, two separate police investigations had resulted in no prosecution, but nonetheless the Authority waived the time limit.


My advice to any person who is unfortunate enough to be a victim of abuse, is to seek advice from a practitioner with the necessary expertise and experience as soon as possible. A great deal of time may have passed, but further time simply damages the potential for a successful claim.


Malcolm Johnson
Senior Associate. Personal Injury team

Malcolm is a co-author of "Child Abuse Compensation Claims" published by Jordans and a member of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers. He can be contacted on 02078145441 or malcolm.johnson@bllaw.co.uk.

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