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Scouts urged to make urgent changes to protect children from predators

6 November 2023, 07:58 | Updated: 6 November 2023, 10:47

Scouts abuse survivors are calling on the charity to make urgent changes to protect children from predators
Scouts abuse survivors are calling on the charity to make urgent changes to protect children from predators. Picture: Alamy

By Bronwen Weatherby

Two women who successfully sued the Scouts Association over alleged sexual abuse say urgent changes are needed to protect other children from predators.

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Survivors have told LBC that repeated calls on the group to improve safeguarding have fallen on deaf ears and now measures including mandatory reporting are needed to stop the abuse.

The Scouts have paid out millions in court settlements to survivors over the last decade, and campaigners warn sexual abuse is still prevalent with people coming forward to report incidents that have taken place as recent as this decade.

But the charity insists its safeguarding policies are robust and that over 90% of offences occurred prior to 2013.

Katy and Anna - not their real names - allege they were sexually assaulted by their Scouts leader - Phillip Perks - in Penarth, South Wales when they were teenagers and away on camping trips.

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They say despite reporting the abuse twice to people within the Scouts nothing was done, and Perks remained a leader, even going on to win Scouting's highest award in 2020.

Perks was arrested and questioned after Katy went to the police in March 2022 but he took his own life shortly after being released on bail.

Both women received a financial settlement and apology from the Scouts in September but say that outcome feels “empty” without further measures to protect others from experiencing the same.

Speaking after the case was settled, Anna said: “I thought I’d feel some kind of relief or, I thought it would feel good, but it just didn’t really change anything because the Scouts didn’t change anything.

“I feel like I spent the last year and a half fighting and now I can just take a minute and breath, so that’s good.

“But I don't feel like we’ve really made any systemic changes.”

In total, the Scouts has paid out more than six million pounds to abuse survivors in the last decade alone - and there have been almost 300 convictions of leaders across the UK.

Victims we've spoken with say they don't believe the safeguarding rules in place are working and are too dependent on the compliance of the leaders themselves.

They now want a new external body to oversee the Scouts, and the mandatory reporting of allegations of abuse to police or social services.

Mandatory reporting for organisations which work with children was one of the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report and would require a person “to report when they received a disclosure of child sexual abuse.”

Some also want the names of those who’ve been suspended or banned to be published - as is now the case in athletics.

Katy also claims the way the Scouts has treated them throughout the process has been “retraumatising” and called for victims to be treated better when the come forward.

“We’ve been screaming and shouting at them for the last year but we’re just two people,” Katy said.

“Hundreds of people have done it before us and actually hundreds more could keep doing it and we’d all be explained away as odd cases where you had a dodgy district commissioner, you had a dodgy scouts leader or there was something wrong in your particular locality.

“They’ll say all the right things and then they actually don’t act on them and that’s almost worse because you’ve got nothing to hold them to because they’re saying all the right things but there’s nothing behind it. There’s no action.”

Sheanna Patelmaster, also an abuse survivor who now runs Yours in Scouting which collates and publishes the stories of victims online said: “The issue that we’re hearing a lot from people is the Scouts say all the right things, and they’ll often settle outside of court so they don’t get the bad publicity, but they don’t genuinely listen to you, they don’t genuinely try and change things.

“Even though the Scouts say it’s changed, 20% of the stories we’ve had in are from post 2014 - after, they said, they’ve fixed all these loopholes.”

Abbie Hickson, child abuse lawyer for Bolt Burdon and Kemp, told LBC her firm alone has taken on 207 claims against the Scout Association in the last decade.

Ms Hicks said: “I’d say sexual abuse is definitely prevalent in the Scouts, it without a doubt has a real problem with leaders abusing children.

“Abuse is often about opportunity and the fact scouts leaders take young children away camping gives abusers a huge opportunity to do what they want to do.

“The language of their policies also seems to be focused on protecting the leaders from allegations of abuse.

“When abuse is then reported to them it seems they tend to victim blame and brush things under the carpet.”

Dino Nocivelli from Leigh Day, another lawyer specialising in child abuse claims and who represented Katy and Anna, said: “Is there a problem within the scouts? The answer is yes. There’s been numerous allegations of abuse, numerous convictions of scout leaders over a significant period of time.

“I think it’s complacent for people to consider this to be historical. It happened in the 80s, 2000s, 2010s and I’m still representing clients who suffered abuse in this decade in 2020 and 2021.

“We do need organisations like the Scouts Association - which is a really good initiative on the face of it - to be open to these issues, to develop, and grow and learn and we need them to engage with those with lived experiences.”

A spokesperson for the Scouts said: “In the UK almost half a million young people enjoy Scouts every week and nothing is more important than their safety.

“Any form of abuse is abhorrent. We are deeply sorry for anyone who has suffered because of the actions of abusers.

“We have robust safeguarding policies, training and procedures that are routinely externally reviewed. We change procedures and training based on of learning from these reviews. We exclude anyone who is proven to not follow our processes.”

“A review of our cases that took place last summer tells us that 96% of safeguarding claims related to cases where the offences occurred prior to 2013, with the majority relating to offences that took place between the 1960s and 1990s.

“The Charity Commission are our regulatory body. We report to them regularly and they expect us to keep them briefed on all aspects of our work. The safety of young people in our care remains our number one priority.”

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