Scottish Herald, 4 November 2017
HUNDREDS of rape victims are being denied compensation after committing ‘minor’ criminal offences, The Herald can reveal.
It is estimated that at least 500 women have seen their claims rejected by the UK Government‘s Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) since 2010.
The scheme, which is funded with public money, is designed to give financial payments to victims of violent crime.
But under its rules, the CICA must turn down claims for anyone given a community sentence by the courts.
The policy has been described as “cruel” by campaigners for rape victims while a leading lawyer described it as a cynical attempt to save money.
Christina McHugh, 27, was raped by a family friend when she was just 11 and went on to suffer many years of mental health problems as a result of the crime.
However, when she later applied for compensation, she was refused and told she was not entitled to the payment of up to £27,000 because of an unspent conviction.
“I was a kid when I was raped and the fact hundreds of women are turned down is completely disrespectful to what happened to us,” she said.
“People could have something brutal happen to them, but they do not get compensation because of a conviction that is completely unrelated. It is ridiculous.”
Prior to 2012 CICA rules said anyone claiming could have a compensation award stopped or reduced if a conviction made their character “inappropriate”.
But the powers of discretion were removed in 2012 and the numbers of victims missing out on compensation has risen since then.
At least 500 women have had their claims rejected since 2010, including several dozen in Scotland.
The organisation Women Against Rape (WAR) is appealing for those affected by CICA rules to join a campaign to have them changed.
Lisa Longstaff, spokeswoman for WAR, said “CICA don’t seem to be taking account of the pain and suffering that sexual offences cause people.
“It is very cruel to deny women who have suffered such a serious assault, on the basis of often very minor convictions.”
Ms McHugh was raped in 1997 by James McCracken, who was convicted of the crime in 2015 after the testimony of two other women who were sexually assaulted by him in similar circumstances was used in corroboration under the Moorov Doctrine.
Three years before making a claim to CICA, Ms McHugh was convicted of assault after intervening in a fracas in the street outside her home.
A man with a pole was advancing on two women, who she claims she was trying to protect. She was later convicted of assaulting the man.
However, in a letter, CICA said Ms McHugh’s conviction was unspent and so she was not entitled to the payment of up to £27,000 to which she might otherwise be entitled.
“I am therefore unable to make an award of compensation… please note I have no discretion,” an official at the agency wrote. “I am sorry to send what I know will be disappointing news.”
Ms McHugh is attempting to appeal the decision but has been told her bid is unlikely to be successful.
Ms McHugh said she felt her conviction was unfair, but had accepted it and completed an 18-month community payback order.
She is now backing a change in the CICA rules. “If these are the rules, I want them changed for other women like me,” she said.
Peter Garsden, a partner with Manchester-based Simpson Millar, and president of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, said abuse can leave people vulnerable, with mental health problems and drug or alcohol additions. All of these issues can lead people into conflict with the law, he said.
“These rules deny a lot off vulnerable, worthy individuals justice from the government,” he said.
“It is frankly appalling that the CICA want to blame the victims of abuse when the convictions were obtained a number of years after the offence they suffered.
“Particularly when people were children at the time a crime was committed against them they were blameless.
“Sexual abuse can leave people with a distrust of authority, often people blot out their experiences with addiction to alcohol or drugs, while others have mental health problems brought on by the abuse.
“CICA is passing judgement on the victims of abuse which is very unfair and unjust.”
Mr Garsden added: “I have been involved in these cases for 25 years and the scheme has got progressively more mean and unfair.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said:”There are criteria to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not paid to applicants who may have caused distress, loss or injury to another person, or committed another criminal offence, and as a result incurred costs through police investigations or court proceedings.
“As part of our work to develop a strategy for victims, we will be examining the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. This work will also incorporate recommendations from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.”