Why I disagreed with Boris Johnson about Investigations into Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Why I disagreed with Boris Johnson about Investigations into Childhood Sexual Abuse

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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An ability to communicate well is important for all politicians, particularly those holding senior office, where every word will be analysed and dissected. On a number of occasions, Boris Johnson MP has caused offence by his language, appearing to lack sensitivity and an appreciation of the issues being addressed.

Interview on LBC Radio

One such occasion occurred in March 2019 when Boris Johnson was being interviewed by Nick Ferrari on LBC radio. The interview was wide ranging and included questions about the police, particularly about resources for the police to meet the increasing demands of the role. In response to this line of questioning Boris Johnson said that an “awful lot of money” and an “awful lot of police time” was going into investigating historical childhood sexual abuse offences. He suggested it was a “malarkey”.


Specialist Solicitor Acting for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

For a solicitor who specialises in acting for and supporting the survivors of childhood sexual abuse, i.e. adults who were abused in childhood and those who are children now, I found this remark shocking.  It struck me as being made by an individual who, like many people, fail to understand the gravity of an offence of childhood sexual abuse and particularly what can sometimes be, lifelong consequences of those assaults upon the child.

To compound the hurt and anger that Boris Johnson’s remarks caused to listeners, he proceeded to use lavatorial language, saying that £60 million was being “spaffed up the wall” i.e. that substantial sums of money were being wasted on investigating historical childhood sexual abuse.

Boris Johnson questioned how such investigations would protect the public now, arguing that what people wanted to see was, police officers on the street doing what they had signed up to do.

My response to the interview

I was incensed by his remarks. I was angry and wanted to tell the Prime Minister why he was wrong. Therefore, I took immediate action. I wrote, and to my surprise, 48 hours later I had a one-to-one meeting with Boris Johnson.

At that meeting I explained to Boris Johnson that he was utterly wrong about money spent on historical child abuse allegations being a waste of money. It most certainly is not. I set out to Boris Johnson why it was important that every single person who was assaulted and abused in childhood deserved justice, to be listened to, to be heard and importantly to be believed.

To suggest that we should draw a line and forget behaviour of the past is unacceptable. Those responsible for causing such devastating harm should not be allowed to live the rest of their lives without answering for their crimes.

The Consequences of Sexual Abuse

The survivors of abuse and assaults bear the psychological and psychiatric scars for many years, often their entire lifetime. Only by investigating all such allegations of abuse and understanding the potential lifelong effects of sexual abuse, will we confident that we are taking the necessary steps to reduce the risk to children, to the lowest possible level.

Furthermore, only by listening to the experiences of both children and adults (who were abused in childhood) will we understand the support they need, often over a long period, to ensure their entire lines are not blighted by the abuse. They should not be held back by the evil behaviour of adults. They should be able to look forward, not held back by the symptoms of abuse. Contrary to what many people may believe, the effects of sexual abuse do not stop when the abuse stops: it continues, it can continue for many years.

Mandatory Reporting of Suspicions of Child Abuse and Neglect

I reminded Boris Johnson that the Conservative Government had undertaken a consultation, to consider whether a law should be introduced to make the reporting of suspicions of sexual offences mandatory. The proposals had been to introduce mandatory reporting as a duty on individuals, to report child abuse or neglect.

After two years of consultation the Government decided, in 2018, it would not press ahead with reform.

Mandatory reporting is law in many other parts of the world and therefore it remains a disappointment that the Government felt disinclined to bring in similar legislation in United Kingdom.   I put it to the Prime Minister that introducing such legislation was likely to protect children as I have too many experiences of hearing children having made a disclosure (about inappropriate behaviour) to an adult, only for it to be ignored.

I have also heard children say no action was taken even when other adults were witnesses to strange behaviour (of the abuser).   The result is that the child continues to be assaulted and abused. We need a change in the law: I suggested to the Prime Minister this issue required revisiting.

Insufficient Mental Health Funding for Sexual Abuse Survivors

I also put it to the Prime Minister that although we had seen a significant increase in funding for mental health services over the last few years, the funding for children and adults who have been abused in childhood is far from adequate.

Time and time again I hear stories of individuals being offered half a dozen or a dozen sessions of counselling. 12 sessions of 45 minutes duration are not enough to heal the scars of sexual abuse.

There needs to be a commitment from the Government to provide long-term support for those affected by childhood abuse. I hear many stories of inadequate support.   A recent example (not for the first time) is of a young woman telling me that after she disclosed the fact she had been abused, her family were offered counselling for the abuse child.  However, this counselling/therapy would be in a group setting. The very idea that an individual, particularly a child, would want to talk about their experience of sexual abuse with others, complete strangers, demonstrates a lack of understanding by those who are supposed to be specialists. This standard of care has to improve.

Response from Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson listened attentively to what I had to say. He explained his remarks with regards to money being spent on historical investigations was driven by his personal experience. This concerned a friend who was being investigated for historical childhood sexual abuse, but that such allegations were found to be false. Understandably, the allegations caused deep distress to the family and it was that experience which had influenced the Prime Minister’s view on these matters.

In response to my concerns about police investigations, Boris Johnson promised to “clarify” his remarks.   He also promised to note my concerns over the lack of support for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and the potential benefits for the introduction of mandatory reporting of suspicions of child abuse, to protect more children.

Some weeks later I received a letter from Boris Johnson, in which he acknowledged my concerns with regards to the lack of mental health support for victims of childhood sexual abuse. He said:

“Let me repeat that my remarks on the radio were in no way intended to dismiss the suffering of victims of sexual abuse. I take very seriously the points you make, especially over the need to ensure that they receive proper care and support.”

As to the arguments in favour of mandatory reporting of suspicions of child abuse he wrote:

“I will reflect also on your suggestion that there should be a mandatory obligation to report suspicions of sexual abuse. I will consult with the Department of Justice on this point and report back to you. I can see some attraction in the idea but also some drawbacks which would need to be looked into further”.

Next steps

At the time of our meeting, in March 2019, Boris Johnson was a backbench MP (having resigned as Foreign Secretary) and therefore not being able to directly influence changes in either funding for child abuse survivors or the mandatory reporting of suspicions of abuse. That changed in July 2019 when he became leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister.

Therefore, I am now challenging the Prime Minister, seeking an opportunity to discuss this matter further, either with himself or those in the Department of Health and Department of Justice.

I will not stop pursuing justice for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Speak to our expert sexual abuse solicitors

If you are the victim of sexual abuse and believe you have a claim, please speak to us, regardless of whether or not your abuser is still alive.  We will look into your case in a sensitive, compassionate manner and quickly let you know if you have a claim worth pursuing.

At IBB, our personal injury and abuse team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim following sexual abuse. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and handled with the utmost sensitivity.


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