UK

Scout Association faces increase in historical sex abuse claims

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Media captionThe Scout Association told the BBC that it had started work to review all its membership files - Lucy Manning reports

More than 50 people have instructed solicitors over historical abuse claims against the Scout Association since the Jimmy Savile scandal emerged, the BBC has learnt.

The association and individual scoutmasters have also paid £897,000 in damages, lawyers for the claimants say.

One MP urged an inquiry into failures to pass records of abuse to police.

The Scout Association disputed the figures, but said it was "deeply sorry" for anyone hurt by abusers' actions.

It added the safety of young people was its "number one priority".

'Increase' in reported cases

Lawyers for people alleging abuse have told BBC News that 56 have instructed solicitors to sue the association for historical abuse since the publicity surrounding allegations about Savile.

The association said it had been notified of 36 claims since October 2012. It said it had only faced 12 other such claims since its formation in 1907.

It said it had 550,000 members and that like other institutions it had "experienced an increase in reported historic cases since 2012".

Lawyers also say £897,000 has been paid by the Scout Association and scoutmasters on historical abuse claims. Some of those claims started before October 2012 and others began after that date.

The association and its insurers have contributed £567,000 to this amount, according to the lawyers. The association says it only paid out £496,500 during this period.

Image caption Child abuse lawyer David McClenaghan said the figures were the "tip of the iceberg"

David McClenaghan, a lawyer at Bolt Burden Kemp who represents many child sex abuse claimants, said the real number of victims was far higher than 50.

"I know from my own experience from seeing police files on investigations into sexual abuse within the Scout Association that many of those people who have been victims of abuse choose not to bring compensation claims forward," he said.

"It's only a very small fraction of people that go on to bring a case against the Scout Association. In terms of figures, 50 is absolutely the tip of the iceberg and the reality is that there are many, many more people who have suffered abuse in the Scout Association."

The BBC has spoken to one alleged victim, who has not been named to protect his identity, who received £45,000 in compensation in 2011.

He said he was abused by a scoutmaster at weekly meetings and at camp in the early 1980s.

"I was sickened and disgusted by it. I wanted it to stop but I couldn't make it stop," he said.

"I had no-one I could speak to and I didn't know what to say. Perhaps he was clever in choosing people who he knew wouldn't be in a position to talk about it."

Years later the scoutmaster was investigated by the police but killed himself before the trial began.

A decade on, the victim decided to ask the Scout Association to provide therapy for him: "I was looking for them to help.

"It was a time of crisis in my own life and I was looking for someone to be there to help address the issues I was experiencing."

The Scout Association advised approaching the NHS but he decided to pursue a compensation claim to fund therapy privately.

"I knew that I needed help. Therapy even now is not very widely available on the NHS; it's very difficult to get. Going private is very expensive."

The association's lawyers initially denied liability for the abuse on a number of grounds, including claims that it had no legal obligation to pay compensation because scouting was a "desirable activity" - a legal definition originally designed to protect organisations from spurious health and safety claims - and the scoutmaster was not an employee.

But the BBC understands the association forced the scoutmaster to resign in the mid 1980s after reports of inappropriate behaviour with scout members. The police were not told of the allegations until people alleging abuse came forward a decade later.

The Scout Association said that the fact that the abuser was not reported to the police was "an inappropriate and unacceptable response to that situation", but added: "It was an extremely rare incidence."

Image caption The court was told Martyn Tucker abused scouts at a farm in Pontybodkin, Flintshire, owned by a member of his family at the time

But it is not the only case where the Scout Association knew of abuse allegations but did not inform the police.

Martyn Tucker, a former scoutmaster who admitted 26 sex offences against boys in the 1960s and 1970s, was jailed for 12 years in May.

During its investigation, North Wales Police uncovered an internal file on the allegations from the Scout Association's headquarters, including statements from a number of boys made at the time that had not been passed on to the police.

Following the sentencing of Martyn Tucker, the association announced plans to review his case. It said the review had concluded that it "should have actively referred the issue to the appropriate statutory authorities".

"Those who decided not to report Tucker to the police are no longer involved in the Scout movement," it added.

Public inquiry

The association says records of abuse complaints are held, but not in the form of a series of files.

"Before the advent of computers, we operated a paper based reference system designed to prevent those who sought to harm young people from becoming volunteers with the movement.

"This system, which goes back to the early days of the movement, was not a series of files detailing incidents of abuse. It was a precursor to CRB checks and was instead used to log all complaints that were made about adult Scout volunteers - these ranged from complaints made about volunteers wearing the incorrect uniform to volunteers swearing in front of Scouts.

"This system was also used as a means of lodging complaints about abuse within Scouting."

It said that all adults had been required to report suspected cases of abuse to the police for the last 20 years.

Elfyn Llwyd, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, said that if the records of abuse complaints were not published there should be a public inquiry.

"If the scouting movement change their mind and if they're prepared to release all the information, all well and good. But if not, an inquiry is demanded because that's the only way we'll get to the root of the problem and that's the only way people who have suffered will be given justice."

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