5:05pm Thursday 13th December 2012
By Duncan Leatherdale
A COUNCIL has been ordered to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding a children's home where a man claims he and other vulnerable youngsters were violently abused more than 30 years ago.
Nigel Dunn blames the treatment he received at Aycliffe Young People's Centre, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, in the early 1980s, for messing up his life.
The 43-year-old is now suing Durham County Council for substantial damages, and today (Thursday, December 13) he won a significant court battle to have confidential information released to his legal team.
Mr Dunn said he was subjected to violence six or seven times by a care worker and "brutalised" in the home's "special unit" when he lived there between the ages of 11 and 14.
He said he also witnessed other boys being attacked on about 50 occasions.
Mr Dunn has previously asked the council for confidential records about his alleged abusers and other residents at the home which he said would be invaluable to his case.
Although the authority had disclosed many documents from the home's files, it said its hands were tied by the Data Protection Act and redacted the names of other boys who may have suffered or witnessed abuse.
In February, a county court judge ordered that "all files should be disclosed entirely unredacted" - but the council challenged that decision at the Appeal Court.
Dismissing the council's appeal, Lord Justice Maurice Kay underlined Mr Dunn's right to a fair hearing of his compensation claim and said the council's concerns about its Data Protection Act duties were merely a "distraction".
The judge, sitting with Lords Justice Munby and Tomlinson at the Civil Appeal Court in London, said it was a "strict necessity" for the documents to be disclosed in unredacted form and the county court’s order was "unassailable".
When Mr Dunn's case comes to trial, safeguards can be put in place to ensure that "intensely personal information" - particularly about former residents at the home - are not released into the public domain, the court ruled.
It is Mr Dunn's case that he was a victim of "systemic negligence" and "trespass to the person" while living at the home which caused him psychiatric injury and had devastating consequences for his later life.
Today's ruling opens the way for his lawyers to peruse personnel records of his alleged abusers and to trace former residents who may have witnessed, or themselves been victims, of what is said to have happened there.
Peter Garsden, Mr Dunn’s lawyer, said today’s ruling will save local authorities thousands of pounds as they will no longer have to pay staff to go through documents in similar cases redacting information.
Mr Garsden, who is also president of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, said childhood abuse like the kind Mr Dunn claims he is a victim of often leads to a damaged life.
He said: “It makes people very angry, depressed and rebellious towards authority.
“Victims of abuse are unable to effectively form relationships, are mistrustful of employers and often blame themselves for what happened resulting in low self esteem.
“They use drink and drugs as a means of masking the emotional effects of being mistreated.
“Children in care homes are already vulnerable, abuse is life-changing and damages them even more.”
The once controversial centre in Newton Aycliffe gained a national notoriety in in the eighties and nineties amid allegations of brutality and a prison-style regime, but has since been rebuilt and now has an international reputation for its work with some of the UK's most vulnerable youngsters.
Collette Longbottom, head of legal services at Durham County Council, said: “We have just received the judgement and are considering it at length.”
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