Exeter church apparently ignoring safeguarding concerns about struck-off counsellors

In May 2016 we published the Unsafe Spaces report, which highlighted how under-regulation of counselling and psychotherapy allows people to practice in these fields even after being struck off for very serious misconduct. In July the report was discussed in Parliament.

A key case study in the report was Exeter-based Palace Gate Counselling Service. In 2014 this firm was struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, after the owner/director was found to have made unwanted sexual advances towards two women during therapy sessions. The company simply ignored the striking-off and carried on as if nothing had happened. This caused alarm among local agencies and controversy in the media.

 

clapham

Palace Gate Counselling Service lease their premises from the Palace Gate Centre, which is owned by South Street Baptist Church, a member church of the South West Baptist Association and the Baptist Union of Great Britain. After the BACP struck the firm off, the church was approached, and the safeguarding issues raised by this ruling were highlighted.

In July 2014, the chaplain of the Palace Gate Centre gave this response,

Regarding safeguarding, South St Baptist Church takes this extremely seriously and has its own regularly updated safeguarding policy. In terms of the Palace Gate Centre, though, we are not responsible for safeguarding within the activities run by other groups/organisations who rent space in our building. We do ensure that any group working with children, young people or vulnerable adults in a Regulated Activity in our Centre is aware of their need for their own safeguarding policy and of their responsibility to implement it.

As the Palace Gate Counselling Service is not operated or controlled by the church, any issues to do with safeguarding lie with PGCS and not with us.

To a degree, fair enough, though expecting PGCS to address a safeguarding concern is pretty meaningless when the concerns are about the owner of the company. It’s also debatable that the church can say that a safeguarding issue is not their responsibility. As anyone who’s ever attended child protection or protection of vulnerable adults training will know, “nothing to do with me” is simply a statement you can’t say. Safeguarding issues are regarded as everybody’s business.

The chaplain’s response continues,

The legal advice we have been given tells us that the findings of the BACP do not provide any lawful grounds upon which the church could terminate its lease with Palace Gate Counselling. Indeed, if we did pursue such action it is possible that the church itself could be taken to court for acting prejudicially.

Okay, so their hands are tied. However concerning the BACP findings about Palace Gate may be, the church can’t evict them or they’d get sued.

So, South Street Baptist Church are simply reluctant landlords, stuck with a tenant they can’t get rid of.

But if that’s the case, why does the church continue to endorse this firm on their website?

ssbc

Incidentally, the claim that “almost every other agency in the area recommend us” is contradicted by reports we hear from the Exeter area. Multiple agencies in Exeter have blacklisted PGCS due to the safeguarding concerns. I have no information as to whether they’re still getting referrals from GPs, but I sincerely hope not.

What shocks me is that this church knows that people have been harmed while attending this so-called counselling service. A finding of fact was made by a professional body, the BACP. The case has been in the national media. Their chaplain confirmed they know about it, but simply insisted they can’t do anything about it.

As it turns out, they are indeed doing something about it. They’re actively promoting this very same company. That’s utterly unbelievable.

Neither South Street Baptist Church nor the South West Baptist Association have responded to requests for comment.

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Outrage at failure to prosecute sex abuse of mentally ill woman

In 2013 I reported on the case of Geoffrey Pick, a psychotherapist who was found to have committed serious sexual misconduct with a mentally ill client. The allegations were found proven by the Arbours Association of Psychotherapists, a member organisation of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, and he was dismissed from his NHS post. Disgracefully, Arbours gave him a one-year suspension instead of a striking off, and then he was allowed to re-register as a psychotherapist. He subsequently resigned his registration after being contacted by a broadsheet journalist. The UKCP has since changed its rules so that member organisations are no longer allowed to investigate complaints themselves. All complaints now have to go through a centralised Complaints and Conduct Process.

I’ve since been told that a criminal prosecution of Mr Pick has been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, for reasons that seem both shocking and farcical.

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Struck off as a psychotherapist, but still practising. Charles Davison responds

Yesterday I broke the story that a psychotherapist had been struck off by the UK Council for Psychotherapy, but had simply carried on practising after being removed from the register. Unfortunately this is legal because “psychotherapist” is not a protected title.

I’ve had a response from Charles Davison, the psychotherapist in question. Frankly, I’m not very impressed by it.

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Who’s responsibility is child protection? An analysis of the @mwilliamsthomas Twitterstorm

[Trigger warning: sexual assault/exploitation]

Another day, another Twitter pile-on. I love Twitter, but it has its drawbacks. Not least of these is the 140 character limit, which makes it hard to express nuances and complexities. When those complexities have to be squeezed into a tiny little box, misunderstandings happen, and those misunderstandings turn into flaming great rows, particularly on an emotive topic.

This morning the criminologist and TV presenter Mark Williams-Thomas tweeted

The story about the 12yr girl being raped in London in early hours of Sunday morning is horrific. But what was she doing out at that time?

The story he’s referring to is this one, and it does indeed look horrific. A 12 year old girl on the streets of Leyton after midnight, picked up by three older teenagers, taken to a secluded spot and gang-raped. Truly awful.

Williams-Thomas was instantly bombarded with angry tweets. I won’t list any @usernames here, but much of it was from a certain segment of Twitter that tend to have their outrage on a hair-trigger.

Disappointing victim blaming from @mwilliamsthomas…Maybe she was homeless, in care, missing?!

 

Whatever time, 12 yr old girl is out, for whatever reason, rape inexcusable. To say otherwise suggests victim culpability?

 

doesn’t really matter what she was doing out at that time – should be free to walk anytime w/o fear of attack

 

does it not matter at this stage? Questions like that deserve to be raised after any prosecution. Blinkered.

 

Infuriating that @mwilliamsthomas didn’t ask why men think its ok to rape girls & women, and instead blamed the 12yo victim.

The trouble with hair-trigger outrage though, is that sometimes the wrong targets accidentally wind up getting blasted with both barrels. Mark Williams-Thomas has an impressive CV. He’s a former police officer and child protection expert. He’s also the guy who exposed Jimmy Saville, and has presented numerous TV shows about child abuse and protection. If he’s a rape apologist and victim-blamer, the ghost of Jimmy Saville must be feeling rather let down.

Williams-Thomas quickly clarified his previous tweet.

Child was 12yr & therefore an adult had responsibility as to why she was out past midnight. My Q does not in anyway put any blame on child

This didn’t do anything to stop the piling-on.

Children are probably more at risk in their homes, you realise?

 

So you’re blaming her parents/guardians rather than the rapists. Well that’s fine then.

 

Obviously rapes only happen at night, when women/girls shouldn’t be out. Right? Oh wait…

 

but it shifts the blame AWAY from the offender.

And so it went on. 

When these sorts of arguments flame up on Twitter, sometimes its helpful to step away from the 140 character limit to a blog post, where such matters should be thought about more carefully.

So, whose responsibility is it when a child wandering the streets late at night is sexually assaulted by three individuals? And whose responsibility is it to protect children from such assaults?

To start with, and I hope this goes without saying, the first to blame and the worst to blame are the three alleged perpetrators. They have committed an awful crime and need to be subjected to the full force of the law. 

Despite the Twitter outrage, there is a legitimate question of why the child was left unprotected to wander the streets at night. The legal concept of parental responsibility makes it clear

If you have parental responsibility, your most important roles are to:

  • provide a home for the child

  • protect and maintain the child

Of course that’s assuming the child was at the parental home during the hours before the attack. It’s also possible that she could have been with relatives, or could have been a looked-after child. Whatever her circumstances, somebody had a duty of care to this poor girl, and for some reason, that duty of care has failed catastrophically.

There may be a relatively innocent explanation for this. The parents may have thought a door was locked…it wasn’t…the girl slipped out unnoticed. That’s possible. Another explanation is that she was simply being neglected. and while we don’t know the circumstances right now, it’s a question that needs to be asked.

I tried to remonstrate this point on Twitter, and got some angry replies.

A child is raped by two teenage boys, and the immediate reaction is to question the parenting of the victim.

 

suggesting that implies one caused the other. They’re separate issues.

Are neglect and sexual assault separate issues? Take a look at this list of children most vulnerable to street grooming by those well-known victim-blamers, the NSPCC. Unsurprisingly, it’s a list of the already-vulnerable. Missing or runaway children, looked-after children, kids with mental health conditions or drug problems, or who live in poverty or a marginalised community. The Rochdale trafficking case is a prime example of this, where kids from dysfunctional backgrounds were preyed on by the gang.

As a CAMHS nurse who has worked on child protection cases, this chimes neatly with my clinical experience. Sexual predators will home in on those children and young people who already have a pre-existing vulnerability. The looked-after child who keeps absconding from foster care…the boy who’s developing a drug habit and needs money…the lonely girl with low self-esteem and a row of self-harm scars on her arm…

…or the 12 year old girl who, for some reason yet unknown, has been left wandering the streets late at night.

So, when there’s a concern that a child may or may not be adequately cared for, who’s business is it? The police? Social services?

The answer to that question is very clear both in law and in policy. Child protection is everybody’s business. Schools, hospitals, police, CAMHS, churches, Scouts and Guides, military cadet forces….everybody who works with children has a responsibility to look out for signs of abuse or neglect, to ask questions and, if necessary, to make a child protection referral to social services.

Does a 12 year wandering the street after midnight sound like grounds to trigger a child protection referral? I suspect I’d be in a lot of trouble at work if I said it doesn’t.

And yes, I know all that “everybody’s business” rhetoric may sound like a Big Brother, nosey-parker Panopticon state. But the brutal truth is that if we don’t all look out for vulnerable children, then there’s other, far nastier people who will.

So, to summarise:

  • Parents and carers have a responsibility to protect their children.
  • Everybody who works with children has a responsibility to be vigilant for abuse or neglect, and to report it where necessary.
  • Twelve year old girls have a responsibility to…well, they don’t have a responsibility to anyone. They’re twelve. Adults have a responsibility to them

 

Outside of certain heated Twitter arguments, I don’t think this a particularly controversial statement.

 

 

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?

 

Diagnosis Shopping

The following story is fictional, but inspired by several real cases that I’ve been involved in.

A child is brought to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) by his parents. Mother is convinced he has aspergers. The child is clearly troubled, and shows signs of palpable distress. However, he shows no signs whatsoever of being on the autistic spectrum. On the contrary, he’s sociable, emotionally responsive, with no ritualistic behaviours and no sensory issues.

The school report he’s emotionally fragile, with low self-esteem. His teachers report that Mum seems very negative towards him.

The family spend some time with the family therapist. Themes emerge that Mum is strongly rejecting of the lad. She seems to be projecting something onto him, but we don’t get to find out what because Mum promptly sacks the family therapist as soon as he starts exploring that particular route.

Mum tells the consultant that he needs individual work on anger management and social skills, not this family therapy rubbish. The CPN gives him some individual sessions. For some unfathomable reason, the CPN has a habit of ensuring that Mum is in the room during the “individual therapy”. This is what is known as family therapy by stealth.

The boy is reviewed by the consultant. He’s now doing better, and there’s no evidence of mental illness or developmental disorder. Mum insists he has asperger’s, and demands a second opinion.

Another consultant provides a second opinion. No evidence of asperger’s or any other problems. Mum declares that she is outraged by this shabby treatment at the hands of the NHS.

The case is discussed in our team meeting. We feel we’ve done as much as we can. There’s nothing wrong with the boy, but Mum won’t take no for an answer. A team decision is made to discharge him from CAMHS.

As the discharge letter is being typed up, we get a phone call from the school. Mum has taken him to a child psychiatrist in private practice. After a single appointment, the private shrink has diagnosed him with asperger’s.

It seems that in a free market, even diagnoses are for sale.