Successful child abuse case against female teacherFebruary 2, 2016
I have recently been successful in a child abuse case against a private school called Box Hill School for assaults by one of their female teachers.
Background – the abuse
My client (who shall be known as “Jenny” for the purposes of this article) was sexually abused by Mrs Lesley Powell who was a teacher at the school. The abuse took place between about 2002 and 2004 when Jenny was between about 12 and 14 years old.
My client initially felt she was in a relationship with Powell even though Powell was in her late 40’s at the time of the abuse and therefore about 30 years older than Jenny. This understandably caused my client substantial sexual confusion as she went into her later teens and as she became more and more aware that she was in fact not sexually interested in females.
It was only while she was undergoing psychological therapy in her early 20’s that she was finally able to confront the harsh reality that Powell did not love her but in fact had groomed and manipulated her so she could sexually exploit her. Jenny finally felt able to report her abuse to the police in her early 20’s and Powell pleaded guilty relatively early in the criminal case to sexually abusing her as a child.
This provided Jenny with a sense of closure but she felt the school had also let her down and I agreed with her.
Our involvement – pursing a compensation claim
Although you can report a crime at any time to the police, you generally have to bring a civil compensation claim within 3 years of the assault or by your 21st birthday, whichever is later. Jenny was in her early 20’s when she came to Bolt Burdon Kemp to make a compensation claim and therefore out of time to bring a claim. The courts can look behind the time limit however in exceptional circumstances.
I faced hurdles to prove that a fair trial was still possible and that Powell’s case and/or the school’s case had not been harmed due to the delay in bringing a claim. It was my intention to rely on Powell’s prosecution to show that the abuse had taken place and that therefore Jenny’s claim should be able to proceed out of time.
I was concerned in pursuing Powell directly for compensation as there was a real risk she would not have enough money or assets to pay compensation to Jenny.
As a result, we decided to pursue Powell’s employer. It was clear to us that Powell had used her position as a teacher to obtain access to Jenny before manipulating her and then sexually abusing her. The majority of the abuse took place in the school while other incidents of abuse took place on school trips and in Powell’s house, which was in fact school accommodation.
I felt the school were equally responsible for the abuse as they had failed to supervise Powell even though she was allowed daily interaction with young children. Another teacher had also raised concerns with the school’s headmaster about Powell’s relationship with Jenny but the headmaster never acted on these and never informed Jenny’s parents which could have stopped the abuse from continuing.
After a period of discussions, the school finally admitted they were responsible for Powell’s actions but there was then limited progress in the case.
I was not deterred by this however and decided to issue court proceedings against the school. Jenny wanted to ensure her identity was kept confidential and I therefore applied to the court to anonymise her identity. My application was successful and Jenny was therefore known by three non-descript letters (such as “ABC”) and her address was noted as my Firm’s address for the entirety of her claim.
In an effort to speed up the conclusion of Jenny’s case, I decided to ask the school to meet so we could try to settle her case. This meeting was not successful and the school in fact walked out of the meeting while I felt negotiations were still taking place. Jenny was obviously very upset by the school’s actions and it reinforced her feelings that the school simply did not care about letting her down as a child.
I continued to progress Jenny’s case and was able to eventually obtain an improved offer from the school, which my client decided to accept based on my advice that it was a reasonable offer. The conclusion of this case was a significant result for Jenny as she felt she had obtained a sense of justice as the school’s settlement offer signalled they admitted that she had been harmed as a result of their failures and it has finally enabled her to move on with her life. Jenny is hopeful the school will learn from their failures in caring for her and that another child will never have to again suffer what she has been through.
Dino Nocivelli is a partner in the Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Dino free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4887 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Abuse team will contact you. Find out more about the Abuse Team.