The very recent national publicity about the extent of peer upon peer sexual abuse within some of the Country’s most prestigious and expensive fee paying schools raises numerous issues about how schools intend to deal with these grave, sensitive allegations and their role and liability as “ safe guarders “ for the children in their care.
At the time of writing one school intends to involve the police to deal with these allegations, following advice given by England’s Children's Commissioner, another has appointed a former highly respected Court of Appeal Judge, Dame Anne Rafferty, to oversee an independent review.
The allegations vary from leering, sexual harassment, sexting, blackmail, sexual assault and rape both on and off school property.
Schools have been accused of being intimidated by some of the abusers, or too concerned about their reputation in the highly competitive world of private education to deal with an abusive sexual culture.
The consequences for all involved are frankly enormous and parents have every right to be concerned.
If their child is to be excluded from school upon the basis of such allegations, they must ensure that procedure must be followed to the letter, that s/he has been given a fair hearing, based upon an objective evidential evaluation and after a full investigation has been executed by the school in the first instance.
It is likely that many schools will turn over all responsibility for these investigations to Police, who are trained to deal with such sensitive, delicate and grave allegations, which can lead to the imposition of a Police caution or full blown criminal prosecution against a juvenile.
Often these accusations are based upon the word of one young person against another, without independent corroboration.
We have seen parents readily accept the offer of a police caution, without taking legal advice, in the hope that the situation involving their child has been resolved, only to appreciate the full consequences of a criminal caution, ie a criminal record, at a later stage.
What should you do if you are a parent/Guardian whose child has been accused of a sexual abuse allegation?
Don’t underestimate the situation and its sensitivity, these allegations can at the very least, lead to an exclusion from school and problems when trying to have your child placed in another school.
Don’t try and resolve this privately between parents of other children who are either making the complaints or who are being accused of such allegations.
There will undoubtedly be consequences...emotions will be running high on both sides and there cannot be any firm guarantee that matters have been genuinely resolved and the matter closed.
If the Police are called in to deal, then expect them to contact you and arrange an interview by appointment. A juvenile is entitled to having a lawyer and an Appropriate Adult (often a parent /Guardian) present during the interview.
Take advice from specialist lawyers who have expertise when dealing with criminal allegations against juveniles and in particular sexual offences.
You will also need lawyers who have regulatory experience, some schools (like a number of Universities) will prefer to resolve these allegations internally or the complainant may wish to seek redress within the school system rather than endure the difficulties of making a criminal complaint. The school may then arrange for internal disciplinary hearings which are usually based upon the lower standard of proof.
How can we at LEWIS NEDAS LAW help?
We have been in practice for over thirty-nine years, have been highly ranked and rated by the leading Legal ranking directories over those years, in particular, The Legal 500, The Times Best Law Firms, Chambers UK, Superlawyers UK.
We have won various awards made by legal publications in recognition of our specialised expertise.
We have a number of highly respected, mature specialist lawyers, who discreetly, sensitively, robustly and successfully deal with such allegations within the internal school systems but also within the criminal justice system.
Our aim is to deflect such allegations at the earliest opportunity, bearing in mind that there is so much at stake for all parties involved and possible lifetime consequences for the young person accused of such behaviour.