The Government is considering making it a criminal offence to not report child abuse, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has today revealed.
The Prime Minister’s remarks came after NSPCC chief Peter Wanless suggested it should be a crime for someone to keep abuse secret so as to protect an organisation or an individual’s reputation.
Home Secretary Theresa May had earlier left the door open to changing the law as a response to allegations that politicians, and institutions including the government, the BBC, the NHS and the Church were part of an cover-up of years of sexual abuse. In a major turnaround Mr Wanless, who is leading the review into the Home Office’s handling of abuse allegations, said he now backed mandatory reporting of abuse.
Mr Wanless told the BBC:
“If someone consciously knows that there is a crime committed against a child, and does nothing about it because they put the reputation of the organisation above the safety of that child, that should be a criminal offence.”
He also welcomed the idea of imposing a duty on hospitals, boarding schools and children’s homes to report abuse. However, as recently as March the NSPCC indicated it was opposed to ‘blanket mandatory reporting’. The charity has previously said it felt ‘criminal sanctions against those who hesitate is unfair’, but then added that the law should focus on those in positions of authority who have failed to take action.
Former Tory Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan has urged the government to consider the issue of mandatory reporting of abuse.
“As there is still no duty to report suspected abuse, …. the inquiries [should] look again at mandatory reporting of suspected abuse in regulated activities.
“I have already discussed that with the for Education and hope that the Home Secretary will take it up as well.”
The prospect of mandatory reporting has been welcomed by other charities. Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said:
“I think this is a really significant U-turn for the NSPCC and hugely welcome – it’s a big step in the right direction.”
A lawyer representing 176 victims of disgraced television personality Jimmy Savile welcomed the suggestion. Liz Dux, a lawyer with Slater & Gordon, said:
“The NSPCC’s backing for mandatory reporting is a welcome and significant moment in our fight to protect future children from predators like Savile, Harris, Smith and Hall.
“This, coupled with an announcement earlier this week by Theresa May that an independent inquiry is to be held, signals we are moving in the right direction – the victims will take some heart.
“Universally the victims I work with say they want change, they support mandatory reporting.
“We must not pass up this opportunity to protect our children and we must not delude ourselves that outrages like these ones will never happen again – if we don’t act they could.
“I would urge the NSPCC to go one step further and back mandatory reporting for both open and closed institutions,” she said.
“There are examples where mandatory reporting would have stopped offenders in open institutions as well, why should the children there not be afforded the same safeguards?”