Overcoming hurdles to win cases
We were instructed by two former pupils of Ruffwood Comprehensive School in Kirkby, Liverpool, who were both sexually abused by their teacher and housemaster, Nicholas Morgan, during the 1980s.
Morgan went to great lengths to win the confidence of pupils at Ruffwood School. His appearance and attitudes towards teenagers at the school led many of them to regard him as a kindly eccentric. But Morgan got too close to some of them and abused his position of trust. He had carried out the offences at school, at a camp in the Lake District and at his own home. Some of the boys were given money and one was given several glasses of wine.
Morgan was exposed in around 1988 after one of his colleagues found a video tape, which showed a naked boy being caned on the bottom by him. He was suspended from the school. The police conducted an investigation and interviewed the boys identified on the video tape, which included our clients and this lead to Morgan being convicted of the offences against them.
Given the length of time which had passed since the conviction, we knew that there would be a number of hurdles to overcome in order to succeed in these cases.
Gathering evidence piece by piece
- Relevant documents
We had to investigate at the outset what documents relating to the criminal prosecution of Morgan were still available. Liverpool Crown Court confirmed that it could not locate Morgan’s certificate of conviction or indictment, without specific dates.
The police no longer held their file into the investigation into Morgan and therefore our clients’ police statements were not available. However, the police were able to produce Morgan’s antecedent form, which contained brief but crucial information relating to his arrest and the charges against him. Of most significance for our purposes were the dates on which he was arrested, charged and sentenced as well as his date of birth.
Using the information from the antecedent form, we contacted Liverpool Crown Court once again and on this occasion they were able to track down Morgan’s record of conviction and indictment. These confirmed that Morgan pleaded guilty to 11 offences of indecent assault, procuring acts of gross indecency between one boy and another and of making an indecent video. He was sentenced to 3 ½ years imprisonment at Liverpool Crown Court on 23 June 1989.
We also contacted the Liverpool Records Office, providing all the relevant information we had obtained from the police and the Crown Court, to see if they could locate any documents relating to Morgan’s conviction and/or the school. A number of newspaper articles were produced, which confirmed important details about the nature of the offences, the school and Morgan’s role at the school.
- Witness evidence
Fortunately in this case, not only were we able to trace a number of other victims of Morgan, we were also informed by the police that the Detective who had lead the investigation into Morgan was still employed by them and would be willing to provide a statement. This evidence was particularly helpful because the Detective was able to recall precise details of the arrest and the interview with Morgan, the evidence which was gathered and the witnesses who came forward, the role of the school in the investigation and Morgan’s involvement at the school.
Claim against Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council
Ruffwood Comprehensive School was owned by the Council and we pursued the claim against them on the basis that Morgan was a member of staff at the school and employed by them, as such they were vicariously liable for his actions.
The Council admitted that it was responsible for the school and that Morgan was a member of staff at the school but argued that the claims were out of time as a result of which there was now insufficient evidence to confirm or deny whether the abuse occurred during the course of Morgan’s employment with them. This was notwithstanding the plethora of documentary and witness evidence we had obtained confirming exactly this. We therefore issued court proceedings and pressed ahead with the claims.
Consultant psychiatrists were instructed in these cases to determine the impact of the abuse on our clients. Their reports highlighted that our clients had suffered embarrassment and distress at the time of the abuse and disclosure of the abuse. They had recurrent episodes of insomnia, had suffered from recurrent depressive disorder and anxiety and found it difficult to trust people which contributed to relationship difficulties.
By leaving no stone unturned, we were able to gather ample evidence to prove the claims against the Council. Once all evidence was disclosed and court proceedings were issued, the Council decided to engage in settlement and, following negotiations, the claims settled out of court.