I started this website with the help of Mumsnet users in 2014. I thought it would be a good way to address some of the misinformation on offer about care proceedings and child protection in England and Wales. The website analytics seem to bear that out – so far in 2019 (from Jan 1st until June 23rd 2019) the site has 202,170 users, about 34,000 every month.
Child protection seems to be an ever green topic of difficulty for many. I will restate it in the simplest terms I can.
- A child is defined as a person aged 0-18.
- The majority of children under 12 are unlikely to be considered ‘Gillick competent’ to make important decisions about their own lives.
- We have a difficult and grey area around 13-16 where children may well as individuals have greater capacity than the law allows them. But we have to draw a line somewhere.
- And for children, sex and the criminal law, that line is firmly set at 13 years. See the Sexual Offences Act 2003. A child under 13 cannot consent to sex. It is rape.
I therefore consider myself on firm ground to say that the vast majority of children under 12 neither want nor need exposure to adult sexuality. It is important that they are allowed the time and space to develop their own identities and their own sexual preferences; free of the coercion or manipulation of an adult. And once they cross that threshold into adulthood they should be free to live and love as they wish, according to the boundaries of the existing laws. Sexual activities between consenting adults is none of my business or concern.
What I have witnessed developing over the last year or so has caused me increasing concern about the extent to which groups of adult men wish to re-frame the discussion about the sexuality of children. And the extent to which they are often coy about stating exactly how they define ‘a child’. The difference between a 9 year old and a 16 year old is vast and in every domain; physical, sexual, social.
Their scripts should not be written for them by adults who have a particular drum to beat – I have already written, for example, at my deep unease about how a High Court Judge dealt with a 3 year old ‘transitioning’.
(as an interesting aside I found myself subject to a recent actual blackmail attempt by the pro-paedophile organisation Prostasia after querying why they had a man involved in their organisation who had been arrested in 2012 for sexual contact with a child under 13. The rage of thwarted male entitlement is strong indeed.)
My concerns finally reached their zenith on June 12th 2019. Idly scrolling through my Twitter feed I noted that a number of people had raised concerns with the NSPCC over allegations that one of their employees had come to work dressed in his rubber fetish gear, masturbated in the toilets at work, filmed it and published on the world wide web. The response of the NSPCC was – via their public twitter feed – to call those who raised concerns ‘bullies’ and asked people to report them. Various high profile Twitter users followed suit, calling them ‘homophobes’ – as apparently the employee in question is a gay man.
I wrote the following email to the NSPCC
— Sarah Phillimore (@SVPhillimore) June 13, 2019
The text of the email is here:
I write using my Chambers email address so that you are able to reassure yourself as to my identity and my interest in/knowledge of child protection law and safeguarding policies. I have been a specialist family law barrister since 1999. I have copied my MP Michelle Donelan into this email given the level of my concerns.
On the evening of 12th June 2019 I became aware via the social media site ‘Twitter’ of an allegation that a member of your staff had engaged in sexual activity on NSPCC premises, had filmed himself engaged in this activity and published that recording to the internet, making it clear that he was filming himself on NSPCC premises. I then further noted that when members of the public attempted to alert you to this via Twitter, your response via your public Twitter feed was to describe this as ‘homophobia’, and to suggest any such tweets should be reported as in breach of the Twitter terms of service as ‘bullying’.
On the morning of June 13th 2019 I therefore published a tweet, including the Twitter handle of your organisation, asking your organisation to make it clear what investigations you proposed into this allegation. I am well aware that social media is frequently used irresponsibly by some to make malicious and false allegations and I certainly want to play no part in dissemination of false information. However, I assume that if the allegation about your member of staff was in fact malicious or otherwise false, you would be able to respond quickly to reassure the public. That you have not done so, causes me considerable concern.
This allegation, if true, represents unboundaried and actively dangerous behaviour. It would be unacceptable in any workplace, but is even more alarming in the context of your charitable status and significant statutory powers in the field of child protection. The public is entitled to know what your response is to such a serious allegation.
I asked for a reply by 4pm today and have heard nothing.
Please therefore would you respond to me by 4pm on Friday 14th June. If you are unable by then to reassure me that either this allegation is false or that you are taking urgent steps to investigate, I will refer this matter on to the Charities Commission without further reference to you.
I received no response to this email other than some cut and paste job sent at 16.05 on 14th June, by which time I had already made a referral to the Charities Commission. [EDIT – this should read ‘Charity Commission’]
I was then contacted by the Sunday Times and a news agency, neither of which reported on this – I was told by the news agency that ‘no paper would touch this’. I expressed frustration and concern about this – why? why would no paper report on this? It is a clear and obvious matter of public interest that a charity set up to safeguard children would attempt publicly to shame people who had attempted to bring serious allegations to their attention.
I note with increasing concern that matters appear to be continuing along the same path of seriousness; that the NSPCC appears to see itself as an organisation geared to the promotion and protection of the sexuality of adult men. On every metric of which I am aware, adult men are those who pose the biggest risk of sexual harm to children. The most recent news is that the NSPCC are apparently subject to a variety of ‘conditions’ before they will be ‘allowed’ to take part in London Pride.
I agree the NSPCC behaved badly in how they informed MB of their decision that she couldn’t represent them. But this was because she encouraged children to contact her on line – against their own policies. NSPCC need to own their guiding principles: these do not include parading pic.twitter.com/akCE9ljh6u
— Sarah Phillimore (@SVPhillimore) June 26, 2019
Imagine if I said as a disabled woman – you may not criticise my behaviour. If you do I will call you ‘disablist’ – I will try and get you sacked etc, etc. That would obviously be ridiculous. Disabled people are people after all; we aren’t saints. Exactly the same argument applies to those who identify as gay or trans or any thing else. No one is above scrutiny. No one can use their identify as part of a minority, persecuted or not, to shut down legitimate concern about their activities. To allow this will be to put children at serious risk of harm from those predatory adults who will claim membership of particular groups to evade scrutiny. We must speak up against this.
The Charities Commission request 30 days for a response. On 15th July I will consider that response, or lack thereof. If I am not satisfied that they and the NSPCC understand the seriousness of this situation I will raise money via the Crowdjustice web site to investigate what legal action is possible.
I hope very much that the response I get will reassure me – and the many others who complained – that the NSPCC does understand its charitable objectives and guiding principles and it will never, ever, again attempt to shame or dissuade people from raising concerns if it appears to be acting in breach of those.
IIf you are or if you know of a lawyer with specialist knowledge in charities, regulatory law or judicial review, do please get in touch. My next steps must be to identify specialist lawyers who would be willing to take on a legal action via funding from Crowd Justice.
I will update this post on July 15th 2019.
Sounds to me as though the Staff at @NSPCC are more bothered about their sexual orientation and missing out on Pride London than about the well-being and safe-guarding of vulnerable children.
— Katrina Watson (@KatrinaWatson) June 26, 2019
EDIT JULY 27th
I am pleased to note that the NSPCC did contact me on July 15th to say that they had referred themselves to the Charity Commission, recognising that this was a serious incident. I have yet to hear back from the Charity Commission itself and will chase them for information in September.