September 5 1999
Abused children to sue councils
MORE than 500 children who suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of social workers are to be given permission to sue them as a result of a landmark court action, writes John HarlowJohn Harlow
The Sunday Times
The decision in favour of five brothers and sisters from Bedfordshire, who have been suing their local authority for nearly a decade, will open the way for massive financial settlements that could create havoc in county councils.
The case, known as X vs Bedfordshire county council, which ended with immunity for local authorities in the House of Lords four years ago, was taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg by the official solicitor, the children's court-appointed champion.
Court sources say an "imminent" ruling is set to overthrow the Lords' decision. The Human Rights Act, which comes into force in Britain next year, will also make it easier to seek compensation from public agencies.
In the Bedfordshire case two boys and three girls suffered gross neglect at their home in the mid-1980s. They were so underfed they stole food from school bins, slept in urine-sodden bedding and were locked in their bedrooms for days at a time. From 1987 Bedfordshire social services received reports of their plight from the NSPCC, neighbours, police, their GP and a headmaster. But they were taken into care only in 1992.
The official solicitor sued Bedfordshire on the children's behalf. But the law lords ruled that councils could not be financially penalised for failing in their statutory childcare duties.
Copyright 1999, Times Newspapers Ltd.