Why the Jeremy Forrest case is NOT a love story

[Trigger warnings: sexual abuse, grooming, victim-blaming]

Clearly the Sun must have either a short memory or a lot of gumption. Today they’re trumpeting the headline that Jeremy Forrest wants to wed the teenage girl he abducted, and the girl’s father would be happy to walk her down the aisle. Yesterday they reported that other teenage girls, some as young as 13, had received advances from him. The story focuses particularly on one girl who describes what sounds like some fairly classic grooming behaviour, while another was touched inappropriately and a third was receiving texts and online messages from him.

Really, Sun? From sexual predator to star-crossed love story in the space of 24 hours? Don’t you read your own newspaper?

I’ve read a lot of comments on social media trying to depict the Forrest case as some sort of modern-day Romeo and Juliet, in which the authorities have simply over-reacted. The trouble is, such suggestions are immediately scotched simply by reading the judge’s remarks prior to sentencing. There are almost no mitigating factors and a whole slew of aggravating ones.

Just to prove what absolute rot is being spoken out there, I’ve juxtaposed some excerpts from the sentencing remarks with a selection of quotes that I found through a quick trawl on Twitter. The sentencing remarks are in bold. The tweets are in italics.

“I really don’t understand how Jeremy Forrest is guilty of abduction when she willingly went with him”

“the evidence showed clearly how concerned your fellow members of staff were for your reputation as a teacher. They responded to the reports from students of your behavior and their own observations. Time and time again between Feb and July 2012, they warned and advised you and offered you support. You lied to them as to the nature of your developing relationship and denied sending the messages and photos that pupils had seen.”

“This is so wrong, she consented”

“You even complained that the rumours that were circulating were lies by X. You lied to her mother and complained that X’s silence in relation to those ‘false’ rumours was ruining your career and that she was harassing you. She felt mortified that her daughter was behaving in that way.”

“Wife and him were distant well before this happened. She didn’t and still doesn’t get on with her Mum. Jeremy was her saviour.”

“I am satisfied that you deceived X, too, about the true nature of your relationship with your wife.”

“Prosecution used terms like ‘paedophile’ and ‘grooming’ and the jury bought it.”

“I have seen nothing in the evidence which shows that at any stage you tried to provide proper boundaries between yourself and her, to discourage her, or let other staff deal with the matter appropriately. Indeed all the evidence shows that you encouraged her infatuation and provided opportunities for her to communicate with you and be alone with you.”

“Maybe she exploited his sensitive and caring vulnerability :-)”

“Your research into what might happen to you, if caught, is proof of the deliberate nature of your behavior.”

“I don’t really get how Jeremy Forrest got 5 and a half years, he didn’t exactly abduct her or do anything she didn’t want :S”

“On 20th September you took her to France. I suspect you went for your own purposes. In taking her with you, you subjected her family to appalling distress and concerns for her safety. You made no attempt to think of their welfare or let someone know she was safe.”

“he may have done it the *wrong* way, but he potentially saved her from suicide or some other fate on her own in France”

“You have contested the abduction charge raising a spurious defense, so that she had to give evidence, evidence very different in content from her original account and designed to support it. She had clearly received assistance in relation to what she should say.”

“He said sorry for failing her, and putting her through all the proceedings – that’s what a genuinely caring guy would do :-)”

“Where is that genuine care for her welfare that is the hallmark of a truly loving relationship?”

The Socialist Workers Party: Sex, Power and the Abuse of Trust

[Trigger warnings for rape and sexual exploitation]

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the scandal engulfing the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation I regard as closer to a cult than a political party. Just to recap, a senior figure in the SWP was accused of rape by a female party member. Rather than call the police, the SWP held an internal inquiry by a “Disputes Committee” made up of the accused’s friends, who completely exonerated him. Details have been published on the internet, prompting an internal revolt.

There’s been intense discussion of this on various left-wing blogs. This has resulted in details emerging that paint the whole affair in an even more disturbing light, bringing to bear issues over possible abuse of power dynamics.

To summarise these details, here’s a post by former SWP member Anna Chen. She replied to an exhortation by one of the SWP leadership not to listen to “filth” on the internet.

WHAT IS FILTH?

“Filth” is an alleged rape taking place when a woman is nineteen, 2 years after she and her party leader meet, at which time he is forty-six and she seventeen.

“Filth” is an appeal to the party’s internal disciplinary body being met with a kangaroo court run by several of the party leader’s friends, who then exonerate him.

“Filth” is the woman denied access to his evidence while he sees hers: the game is surely “I’ll show you mine IF you show me yours.”

“Filth” is a woman ostracised, cast out as unclean with a scarlet letter “A” carved into her forehead.

“Filth” is her friends put under heavy manners by the party’s attack dogs, fresh from their two-minute hate.

What particularly concerns me here – quite aside from what sounds like allegations of disgraceful treatment of the woman by her party – is the age difference between the two people involved. When they met he was 46, and a party leader, and she was only 17?

Given the widespread discussion of the case on various blogs, I don’t think it’s breaching any secrets to say that the accused is Martin Smith, former SWP secretary, and currently the national organiser of Unite Against Fascism. My understanding is that he denies rape – not that the truth can now be established either way. The SWP’s kangaroo court will have massively prejudiced any attempt at a criminal prosecution. However, he admits to having had a consensual sexual relationship with the girl in question.

There’s references to this in the transcript of the Disputes Committee report, which was leaked onto the Internet.

We also however thought it was important to be clear that the disputes committee doesn’t exist to police moral, er, bourgeois morality, so we agreed that issues that weren’t relevant to us were whether the comrade was monogamous, whether they were having an affair, whether the age differences in their relationahip, because as revolutionaries we didn’t consider that should be our remit to consider issues such as those.

Trouble is, this isn’t just about “bourgeois morality” but power relations. Let me draw an analogy. Normally, the age of consent for sex is 16. However, if the older person is classed as being in a “position of trust” over a younger person, then the age of consent runs up to the 18th birthday, for the simple reason that trust can be abused. Teachers are an example of this, and I previously made this point while discussing the Jeremy Forrest Case. As a nurse in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, I too would be classed as being in a position of trust. Hence if I slept with a 17 year old patient I wouldn’t only be committing gross professional misconduct. I’d also be committing a crime under the Sexual Offences Act.

Obviously, leaders of Trotskyist sects are not subject to the same legal obligations as teachers and nurses. Even so, the power relation still exists. When considering the power relation, remember that the SWP is absolutely notorious for authoritarianism, control-freakery and groupthink.

At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like.  A number of [Central Committee] members are big fans of jazz music. Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events.  Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn’t purchase tickets.  This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.

This is an organisation that claims to speak truth to power. Yet they seem incapable of understanding the potential for abuse of power when a middle-aged party leader is having sex with a teenage volunteer barely old enough to be out of school.

Then again, maybe their relationship had nothing to do with power relations, and Mr Smith cuts a dashing Robert Redford-style figure?

 

The #Rotherham #UKIP fostering row: Further details emerge

Another day, another set of details emerge about the UKIP fostering row. This time courtesy of the Daily Mail. I’ve said before that I’m not comfortable with the way a sensitive case about vulnerable children is being played out and discussed in the media, but since other people are clearly going to comment on the case, I suspect throwing a tuppence forth from this little blog isn’t going to make much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Last week the Guardian alluded to tensions between Rotherham Council and elements of the local East European community, and yesterday’s Daily Mail fills in some of the blanks regarding this. Apparently the council has been the subject of protests from Slovakian families following a number of removals of children into foster care. These families are accusing the council of “child-stealing” for racist reasons and of trying to impose British values on them. This has led to protests from the Slovakian government who appear to be taking the side of the families.

Though the “British values” in question appear to be things like children going to school, not wandering the streets at 2am, and not living in a mice infestation.

The Mail being the Mail, they don’t appear to see any irony at all in, a couple of weeks after accusing the council of ideologically-driven fixations with multiculturalism, then granting a fairly uncritical interview with an alleged abuser, strongly suggesting that the council are racist towards East Europeans.

The words “shot at from both sides” spring to mind.

And naturally, there’s a rentaquote from John Hemming, an MP who seems to live in a strange parallel world where child protection proceedings are nearly always due to scheming, malicious social workers and hardly ever about averting another Victoria Climbie or Baby Peter.

These arguments appear to have been made in the courts as well as in the media and council meetings, apparently with some success. As the Guardian said,

But a family court judge ruled three of the children should be returned to the parents after the birth parents successfully argued that the council had failed in their duty to ensure the children enjoyed the linguistic right to learn and speak the language of their birth.

In the light of the Guardian and Daily Mail reports, I’m going to make a rough educated guess at the backstory here, which may or may not have to amended as further details emerge into the public domain.

It seems likely that the council would have been anxious to avoid a repeat of this judicial ruling. It also seems likely that they may have been vigilant for anything that would be immediately be pounced upon by the birth family’s lawyers, by the Slovak protesters, possibly even by the Slovakian government and media.

Something like the foster carers being members of UKIP. They may well have been doing a perfectly good job as carers, but that wouldn’t be what the family’s lawyers would say in court.

One could argue that the local authority should have challenged the judicial rulings, ignored the Slovak government and media, and served up the local Slovak community a hefty slice of if-you-don’t-like-our-rules-you-don’t-have-to-come-here. I’ll leave others to argue that one out.

But either way, the application of Occam’s Razor doesn’t require the council to be acting out of an ideological crusade about multiculturalism, or a Labour-inspired grudge against UKIP, in order to have acted in this way.

It certainly doesn’t require any David Icke-style conspiracy theories about Common Purpose.

Such a scenario is entirely consistent with the local authority trying to tiptoe around one set of legal, social and political grenades, and in doing so accidentally setting off a completely different grenade. And that’s my guess as to what’s happened. Eventually time will tell whether I’m right or wrong.

One thing this case does show is how complex and difficult fostering cases can be. When such cases are seized upon for political reasons, whether by UKIP or the Slovakian government, such complexities and difficulties are rarely grasped.

The #Rotherham #UKIP Case – Will Nigel Farage and Michael Gove now apologise?

When the story broke that three children had been moved from a foster family in Rotherham, reportedly for being members of UKIP, I went out and talked to social workers, solicitors and care leavers. Consistently I got a response that the reported account was implausible, and there was almost certainly a more complex story to it. I put up a blog post saying so, and got a barrage of responses, much of them abusive.

Now a more complete picture is coming out about the affair. And – surprise, surprise – it was more complex than that. The details emerging are not of politically-crusading social workers with a grudge against UKIP, but of a difficult court case, dealing with distressing circumstances, with social services trying to comply with court rulings and fend off legal counter-arguments from the birth family.

This was not a case that should have been played out in the public domain like this. These are incredibly vulnerable children and their privacy has been invaded in an atrocious manner. I’m not going to repeat the details here (though people can just go to the Guardian for that)  but the distressing nature of their abuse gives a clear reason why such matters should be kept confidential. Not because social services have anything to hide, but to safeguard the wellbeing of the children.

A badly-handled interview with Joyce Thacker, Rotherham’s director of children’s services, didn’t help. Though with hindsight this is likely to be partly due to being caught on the hop on a Saturday morning, and also partly due to trying to be careful about what she said about a complex case. It may have been better for the council to have simply put out a “no comment” rather than trying to rush out an interview at the weekend.

Quite possibly the foster carers may well now have some difficult questions to answer about the way they went to the media and ignited a political firestorm. But politicians also have some questions to answer about the way they conducted themselves in this case. Nigel Farage practically turned  the whole thing into a party political broadcast for UKIP. Then there’s Michael Gove, the minister responsible for children’s services. He called it “indefensible” though in fact it turned out to be totally defensible. He also called it “the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons”. Did he even know the way or the reasons when he said that? Was he even interested, or was he simply putting the Rotherham by-election before his ministerial responsibilities?

Ed Miliband emerges only marginally better in that, unlike Gove and Farage, he admitted he didn’t know the facts of the case and limited himself to calling for an investigation.

If politicians were cynical and opportunistic, some in the media were even worse. For example, the inexplicably-respected blogger Guido Fawkes ran an absolutely barking mad article. “Rotherham’s UKIP Child-Catcher Joyce Thacker Follows Common Purpose Progressive Agenda.” He leapt on a set of conspiracy theories, straight from David Icke territory, that accuse a rather dull training company called Common Purpose of trying to rewire our society along a “Marxist and Fabian” agenda. He concluded.

Thacker is yet another graduate of the Common Purpose organisation which pursues a“we know best” Fabian-style progressive agenda in the public sector. She was a project advisor for a pilot programme, run by Common Purpose, that was concerned with diversity issues in the West Yorkshire area. Something tells Guido she has an axe to grind in this and is not a neutral public servant…

Something tells me that Guido had better hope Ms Thacker doesn’t find herself a decent no-win-no-fee libel lawyer.

Nothing good has come out of this affair. Vulnerable children have had their privacy invaded. Hardworking and honest public servants have been grossly slandered. And why? For short-term political gain in a by-election. The likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Guido Fawkes need to apologise for their shameful behaviour in this ridiculous and unpleasant case.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Over the course of the past months, who could help but feel a plethora of emotion as the horrors of Winterbourne View have unfolded before our very eyes: Absolute disgust that an organisation could get to the point where such blatant institutional abuse becomes a part of daily life, anger at the systems in which we work as they are revealed as insufficient to protect the most vulnerable in our society or perhaps a heart-wrenching empathy towards the vulnerable and a passion that things have to change and something done… but what?

It will hopefully have challenged us all as a professionals.  Is it just possible that as we go about our business there is a very real danger of becoming complecent unless we keep on out toes and remain true to our professional standards and ethical practices?  I’ve been reminded how very important the role of those who commission services and the need for greater accountability when choosing services for individuals who can’t choose for themselves.   Are we pressured into choosing the cheaper option even when we know in our heart that it isn’t the most suitable?  Do we sigh a sigh of relief and accept without question when we find a service that will accommodate the individual with particularly challenging behaviour knowing that the option will be limited? Do unrealistic case-load sizes prevent us from spending time to think outside of the box and identify the very best service and then think how it might be achieved? Do we have a professional relationship with providers when a less formal relationship can be so much easier? If we become too familiar those so important boundaries can become distorted and increase the risk of poor practice or even abuse going unnoticed or being excused.

I started my social care career working in a residential home for children with autism and it must be said that in my experience the majority of carers are decent caring people who go the extra mile.  Most don’t get paid heaps, have to work shifts but still turn up at work asking how they can make the next 8 hours the best they possibly can for those they have come to work for.  However, there are some for whom that isn’t the case and over the past couple of weeks we have seen 11 photos that will probably remain imprinted on our minds long after the media frenzy has died down.

I’d really like to hear how recent events have perhaps challenged you as a health or social care worker as you strive to help deliver the very best services to those who need them. I also look forwards to hearing how the Department of Health is going to drive service commissioning, delivery and safeguarding forwards.  What is agreed upon is that there needs to be a radical overhaul of social care; what doesn’t see so clear is what that will look like.

 

Winterbourne View owners sponsor learning disability nursing award. Satire dies.

The abuse of people with learning disabilities that took place at Winterbourne View “care” home was utterly horrific. Castlebeck, the company that owned the home, took £3500 per person per week from the taxpayer for mostly unqualified staff to abuse and assault its residents.

I have to thank Mark Neary for spotting this. He noticed exactly what Castlebeck are doing with their dirty money, and who’s taken it. The Nursing Standard, the weekly magazine of the Royal College of Nursing, has announced its Nurse of the Year Award. Scroll through the categories, until you get to the Learning Disability Nursing Award. This is “for nurses working within the field of learning disability who can clearly demonstrate that their initiative has improved the health, well-being and social inclusion of people with a learning disability.”

And who’s sponsoring the award? Unbelievably, it’s Castlebeck. While I’m hardly surprised that this sordid company wants to try to mend its shredded reputation by associating itself with such an award, I’m utterly shocked that the RCN would accept their tainted gold.

Remember that when Castlebeck trousered public money to take in these deeply vulnerable people, they didn’t provide the Winterbourne View residents with psychology input, or an occupational therapist. They didn’t even have that many learning disabilty nurses. The overwhelming majority of the staff were unqualified support workers. Tragically, some of them turned out to be the sort of thugs that I wouldn’t trust to look after my cat.

I’m not entirely surprised by the RCN. They’ve always had a bit of a reputation for shameless establishment schmoozing. It’s for that reason that several years ago I switched my union membership from the RCN to Unite. Even so, this is an appalling decision on their part. I don’t know how they keep a straight face and a clear conscience from doing so.

Exposure and the CQC

Last night, ITV examined the state of residential care and regulation of the sector in Exposure. While I watched the programme through the lens of someone who has had significant experience of the sector, I’ve also followed the birthing pains of the Care Quality Commission avidly so some of the information given wasn’t ‘new’ to me. I probably didn’t approach the programme as an ‘average viewer’ might.

There were a few issues raised that I think useful to explore. The programme seemed to rightly raise the void of inspection that took place through the initial years in which the CQC was established. The organisation was established with less money than it’s predecessor bodies, the Healthcare Commission, the Mental Health Act Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection.  While focusing on registering services, the CQC dropped the ball on maintaining inspections and relying on previous ‘good and excellent’ reports to step back on regular on-site checks.

An ‘excellent’ service can fail very quickly if there are changing in funding and personnel in a home, for example and the lack of attention to frequent unannounced inspections was something that was highlighted in this programme.

However while not resolving the organisation of responsibility, this focus has changed and the CQC has stated that regular, unannounced inspections are taking place now.

The website has long been a gripe as far as I’m concerned. There seems to be less information with each iteration and the scope and searchability isn’t as helpful as it used to be. The CQC website remains the only one I have come across at work which has become progressively less user friendly  with each iteration  (and yes, I have always given feedback on the changes when it’s been an option!). The lack of reports from both predecessor organisations (for example, not being able to access CSCI reports or reports when an organisation has changed hands – as was highlighted in the programme) is a big issue. As members of the general public, we can determine how useful or not historic information is but we have to have access to it. More information is better.

Reports need to be very easily understandable and clear about what is expected and what good and bad care look like. They are better than they were. People liked star ratings because they were easy to understand. They were abolished but the star ratings remained on the website for a long time afterward which was poor information in the extreme. While the government excellence scheme was shelved, I think there’s a real desire for people to have an understanding beyond a care home being compliant or non-compliant – people want to know if St Matthew’s Home in Hull is better than St Francis’ Home in Bridlington and a TripAdvisor type comment site won’t always provide an independent and authoritative understanding of that. I’m not sure if it’s the place for the regulator but it was in the past and understanding what good care looks like as well as bad is something that Behan, the new CEO of the CQC has stated he wants to work on.

The footage of Cynthia Bower at the select committee was positively painful and her links with Mid Staffordshire made her a particularly poor choice of CEO initially. They could never establish any credibility in the sector with that background and proved that she was not up to the task. The only concern was how much damage she did in the meantime.

I do have more hope with the new CEO, David Behan and some of the changes that have taken place but the programme showed the need for a strong and authoritative regulator within health and social care.

The problem is that all these cuts happened in the regulator as commissioners like local authorities were hammered by substantial cuts which – certainly in my experience –  have seen monitoring units slashed. You see the monitoring teams – they were the so-called ‘back office’ which were cut but the input that had on day to day care is significant.

The only way forward is for commissioners (local authorities/NHS and yes, private funders), regulators and providers to work very closely regarding responsibilities and tie information in with each other but most important to make that sure those who use the services and local communities, families and advocates can understand and know cohesive lines of communication with organisations responsible for developing and regulating good care.

It doesn’t help for organisations to be siloed when life is more complex and while I would never want to absolve those government bodies like the CQC of their responsibilities, I think the structures and information streams need to be better regarding lines of responsibility.

If the organisation isn’t able to do its job properly due to cuts, it needs to return to the government and tell it.

I have become more hopeful that there will be a change in culture in the regulator with a change in leadership. Use of more and more ‘experts by experience’ and experienced specialist professionals in inspections is also a positive move but it’s not good enough to stand still.

As Barbara Young said in the programme, the CQC needs to the a regulator for people and particularly for people who have their voices quietened by organisations which can display power in terms of delivering care. It isn’t good enough to rely on families complaining as many people in residential services don’t have families who visit. Proactive regulation needs to happen alongside proactive safeguarding investigations by local authorities and proactive monitoring. Organisations which provide care can’t resolve their own responsibilities to provide quality care. If money is cut by local authorities, it has to be challenged and challenged hard before quality slips rather than afterwards as an excuse.

There is room for hope though. I do think the CQC consultation is positive and the move towards regular unannounced visits is a good one. It should never have been otherwise but we can’t change the past.

If we want a regulator that works, it has to be given the tools and the resources to regulate in a way that we want and expect it to. That costs. So be it, it is a necessary cost.

I want a responsive, responsible, proactive and mostly a listening regulator. I’m willing to give them time seeing that some progress has been made, but there really does need to be a change noticed in the reports that feed back to Parliamentary committees and published reports next year.