Multi-million pound child abuse case settled
THE case of two siblings, who were suing Health for what was believed to have been one of the largest personal injury claims in British legal history, has been settled – for an undisclosed amount.
On Wednesday, the Royal Court heard that an agreement had been reached between the siblings’ counsel and the defence to pay the plaintiffs – who suffered a catalogue of sexual, physical and emotional abuse – a lump sum and an annual payment to meet their care costs for the rest of their lives.
The agreement comes following a lengthy trial this summer, which resulted in the Solicitor General intervening to tell the court it had the power to impose a Periodic Payment Order, which allocates damages payments in set intervals rather than in a lump sum. Previously, the Royal Court had allowed a PPO when both parties wanted such an order.
During the trial Advocate David Benest, who represented the plaintiffs, argued against the use of PPOs in the case and instead called for the siblings to be given a total lump sum between them of £162.1 million – a figure which had been reduced from £238 million when the case first opened.
However, yesterday Advocate Benest said that after closing arguments were heard and while the court was reaching its findings the parties had been able to reach an agreement which involved undisclosed PPOs and ‘substantive’ lump sums to both siblings.
The PPOs will be used to pay for the siblings’ ongoing 24-hour care which is likely to be for the rest of their lives, while the lump sum is a contingency fund for the future and also pays for general damages and the siblings’ loss of earnings.
Following the hearing the JEP approached Advocate Benest to ask why the figures would not be disclosed.
He said: ‘It is best that they [the plaintiffs] are allowed to move on and live their lives after what has happened to them with some degree of privacy.’
When Advocate Lee Ingram, defending, was asked about the settlement he would not be drawn on the amounts but only said the payments would not be coming from the public purse.
Commissioner Pamela Scriven QC, said the trial heard that the siblings – one of whom lives in a secure unit in the UK and the other in a ‘highly supported environment’ – had suffered a catalogue of abuse including being sexually abused, bitten, burnt and forced to live in ‘filthy conditions’ and added that the plaintiffs were ‘two of the most damaged children’ that the experts who gave evidence had encountered.
‘Two [siblings] were left in an appalling, abusive home some nine years after it should have been obvious that they needed to be removed,’ she said. ‘That neglect has been accepted [by the defence] as a profound failure of the social care process.
‘As a result of that [the siblings] were subjected to systemic abuse of the most appalling kind throughout their young lives until they were removed from the home.’
She added: ‘The tragedy of the case is if they had been removed earlier and placed within a reasonable time for adoption it is accepted they would have been able to live relatively ordinary lives with the benefit of support from their adopted family, friends and community services.
‘The appalling outcome of the abuse from which they were not protected is that these two [plaintiffs] have been extraordinarily damaged. That damage will live with them for the rest of their lives.’
Ms Scriven said as the trial progressed ‘it had seemed to us that the evidence pointed more and more clearly’ towards a PPO. She added due to the settlement it had not been necessary for the panel to determine if it had the power to impose such an order.
‘The parties in our view wisely agreed a form of order that we are in no doubt best meets the ends of justice – justice to both these plaintiffs and the States of Jersey,’ Ms Scriven said.
She added that the court was ‘pleased to learn’ that legislation regarding PPOs was being considered by the States – this week – as she said it ‘would have the great advantage of making the legal position clear and unambiguous in the future’.
Jurats Paul Nicolle and Sally Sparrow were sitting.
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