Councils are liable for abuse by foster parents, court rules

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Oct 19, 2017
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The Supreme Court ruled that Nottinghamshire county council must pay damages to a woman who was abused in the 1980s

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Councils are responsible for abuse suffered by children at the hands of any foster carers, the UK’s highest court has ruled.

In a landmark judgment that overturns previous rulings, the Supreme Court said that Nottinghamshire county council must pay damages for the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on Natasha Armes by her foster parents.

Armes, now 40, from Nottingham, was placed in the care of the council during the 1980s. She was under the care of two sets of foster parents, Mr and Mrs Allison between March 1985 and March 1986, and Mr and Mrs Blakely between October 1987 and February 1988.

Her lawyers argued that during her time with her foster carers, she was physically abused by Mrs Allison and sexually abused by Mr Blakely.

They argued that the abuse had occurred through the negligence of the local authority, or that the council was liable under the legal principle of vicarious liability.

Today five Supreme Court justices, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke, Lord Reed and Lord Hughes, found the council to be liable for the actions of Armes’s foster parents while she was in their care.

Bilhar Uppal, her solicitor from Uppal Taylor Solicitors, said: “This is a landmark judgment which clarifies the position of both foster children and foster parents in terms of their ability to have recourse to the law. It means that children in foster care are not effectively left out in the cold as victims with no redress.”

He added that a civil claim for compensation would now go ahead and that a sum of six figures would be sought. “Ms Armes is a single mother and is attempting to rebuild her life after so many years of not being believed and knowing she has achieved this seminal ruling for foster children.”

Police investigated Armes’s allegations at the time but no criminal proceedings were brought. Both Mrs Allison and Mr Blakely have denied the allegations.

Peter Garsden, a partner at the national law firm Simpson Millar and president of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, welcomed the ruling as “long overdue”.

“Local authorities have for many years argued that they could not be held responsible for the wrong done by a foster carer, despite the fact that these are contracted, paid, trained and supervised by them. If abuse was committed by a care worker in a children’s home, the local authority would, however, always be held responsible. This is entirely illogical and the Supreme Court has finally recognised that.”

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