Submitted by Mrs Penelope Ayles, Woollcombe Beer Watts Solicitors (CA 197)
Further to receipt of the minutes of the 14 and 21 May 2002, I write to submit information on the specific issues raised.
Reference has been made to myself and the Forde Park litigation I have conducted by David Rose, a Journalist, and Mr Phil Craig.
I met Mr Rose who wrote an article in The Observer on 6 January 2002. I enclose a copy of that article which in itself reasonably reflected what I told Mr Rose. The matters set out by Mr Rose and recorded in the minutes of the meetings sent me do not accurately represent anything I told Mr Rose in the interview I gave him. I therefore find it necessary to explain the background of the Forde Park litigation against Devon County Council that he refers to in those minutes.
The first client [C] that I represented in an action against Devon County Council relating to Forde Park Approved School instructed me in 1996. He alleged that an employee of Devon County Council had sexually abused him whilst he was a pupil at Forde Park School. That employee of Devon County Council [Mr B] had already been convicted of abusing other children and had served a prison sentence. I commenced proceedings on behalf of C as an individual claim for damages arising out of the abuse that C had suffered. Devon County Council applied to strike out the claim. The County Court judge refused to strike out the claim in negligence and Devon County Council applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal. Permission was refused. The case was of some considerable interest as it distinguished the House of Lords' decision in X v Bedfordshire CC and allowed a case to proceed against a public authority in the area of child care. The case was reported in the legal press; reference was made to the allegations in respect of my client's treatment at Forde Park Approved School.
Thereafter I was instructed by a number of other clients who had also attended Forde Park School and made allegations of sexual abuse by employees of Devon County Council including but not limited to allegations in respect of Mr B.
Before explaining how clients came to instruct me initially, I set out how the litigation was in fact conducted.
In taking instructions from these clients I took the same steps as I would take for any other personal injury client. I took a fairly detailed statement of the allegations the client was making and of the client's financial means. I was then in a position to decide whether to advise the client to apply for public funding to investigate a personal injury action. In those cases where the client's instructions included grounds for making an application for public funding I gave the client the necessary forms to complete and made application for public funding. The statement given to me at that initial interview formed the basis of each client's claim. Thereafter I obtained further information from the client to draft a more detailed statement.
Once a client had been granted public funding I carried out further investigation of his claim in order to commence proceedings. I instructed leading and junior counsel and was advised to commence proceedings promptly in order to precipitate the limitation position. By the summer of 1999 I had over 60 clients. Between August and October I issued claim forms in these cases. I then obtained psychiatric reports in respect of each client.
In October 1999 the Court gave directions for the further progress of this claim and allowed the claims to proceed without the service of detailed particulars of claim at that stage. However each client had to serve a psychiatric report in which the allegations they made were fully set out by the psychiatrist.
In December 1999 I had about 60 clients from whom I had statements, I had instructed a psychiatrist to examine each client and had issued a claim form for each client. Each of these clients needed to be kept up to date with the progress of the litigation I was conducting on their behalf. Many of them did not like detailed letters sent to their home address because their families did not always know they had been abused as children and some of the clients could not read. I had instructed leading counsel as to the conduct of the group of claims; she had only met two of the clients. I therefore arranged a conference to which all my clients were asked to attend. The conference was arranged in a hotel because there were too many clients to fit in a room at my office or in counsel's chambers in London. Each client who attended was checked against a list of clients held by my secretary; their names were ticked off as they arrived. At the conference leading counsel and I gave the clients advice on general matters concerning the claim including the state of the law, the progress of the claims, the outcome of the case management hearing and the issues to be addressed before the next hearing. No individual case was discussed at the conference; individual clients who needed to discuss aspects of their own claims were advised to make separate appointments to do so. No one (other than spouses or partners of existing clients) attended this conference unless they had already instructed me and I already had had a detailed statement for them.
Subsequent conferences conducted in a similar format took place on 9 May 2000, 14 November 2000, 18 April 2001 and 22 June 2001. Each was attended by existing clients, myself, assistant solicitors in my office, leading and junior counsel instructed in the case and by my secretary. Nobody else attended the conferences. No individual cases were discussed. The content of the conferences is privileged in the same way as any other conference with a client. Counsel and I saw up to 60 clients together to discuss generic issues because this was a cost effective way of counsel giving advice to clients. It did not seem reasonable to use public funding for counsel to repeat the generic advice separately to over 60 clients, which would have been the alternative course. There was no question of these conferences being attended by anyone other than existing clients.
In about April 2000 15 lead cases were selected by agreement between the Claimants' legal advisers and the Defendants. The non-lead cases were stayed pending resolution of the lead cases. The intention was to limit the costs and to make the case manageable for trial. The conferences enabled myself and counsel to inform my clients in the non-lead cases as to the progress of the litigation in a cost-effective way.
During the course of the entire litigation only two clients added significantly to the core allegations they gave me when first giving instructions and there were good reasons for these additions.
I never advertised the Forde Park Litigation in The Inside Times or elsewhere. It should be noted that litigation of this type is now usually covered by a Group Litigation Order ("GLO") made by the Lord Chief Justice. The court can order that group litigation be advertised (CPR 1998, Part 19.11). There was no GLO in this case and no advertisement was placed. My firm, together with a number of other personal injury firms has placed advertisements in The Inside Times; these have been in general terms. The North Wales litigation in which my firm had a number of clients was subject to a GLO and was advertised; the South Wales litigation is also subject to a GLO and will require advertisement.
Many of my clients (but not all of them) gave statements to the police before they consulted me. Subsequently where I was entitled to do so I obtained copies of the police statements which were usually in similar terms to the statements that I had taken from my client. The main distinction was that I took from my clients details of allegations of physical abuse whereas the police were only interested in the detailed allegations of sexual abuse. Often the police saw clients they had identified at a point where the client had never before been asked to give an account of what happened to him at Forde Park School. Many of my clients reported that giving a statement to the police was very traumatic for them.
Many of these clients gave evidence at the trials of Mr E and Mr H both of whom were convicted by a jury. The defence solicitors in the criminal trials obtained from the judge orders for disclosure of the statements these clients had made to me. I could not disclose the statements without a court order given their privileged status. In accordance with those orders I disclosed the statements made to me by clients. Those clients were cross-examined in the course of the criminal trial on the content of their statements to me and were asked about the civil claims they were making. The jury in relation to the case of each of my clients accepted the accounts given to them despite this cross-examination and convicted the Defendants. In the case of a third man Mr F the jury could not agree on many counts and a re-trial is scheduled. On some counts in respect of Mr F the jury acquitted Mr F.
These civil proceedings were conducted in the same way as other personal injury claims handled by my office: a trial was listed before a High Court judge and within a few days of the trial commencing Devon County Council settled the lead cases. Thereafter they have settled a further 60 cases. The settlements were negotiated with leading counsel instructed on each side and with Devon County Council having access to all the usual information that a Defendant has in a personal injury claim.
I have thought it right to draw to your attention something of the detail of how these claims are conducted as the implication of some of the comments made in the Select Committee minutes that mention my name is not only seriously misleading but entirely without foundation.
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