Hounslow Council has won its appeal against a High Court ruling which awarded almost £100,000 in damages to a vulnerable couple who suffered physical and sexual abuse in their own flat by a gang of youths.
A top judge today ruled that despite the suffering the couple endured at the hands of four youths, Hounslow Council could not be blamed for what had happened.
At the initial High hearing last May, Judge Maddison said a lack of communication between council departments had led to the couple, who both have learning difficulties, being subjected to a weekend-long assault in late 2000.
The couple - referred to only as X and Y in court - were made to perform sex acts on each other, drink their own urine and eat the faeces of one of the gang members, who threatened to stab them if they did not comply.
The traumatic assaults were carried out at the couple’s council-owned flat, often witnessed by Y’s children, who are now in their teens.
A number of the assailants had been living in the flat for months before the attack after the couple tried to befriend them.
During last year’s hearing Judge Maddison said the council had acted "negligently" in its handling of the situation.
He said the council should have transferred the family to other housing and a social worker had written to the director of housing before the assault asking whether a "catastrophe" had to occur before it happened.
The couple were awarded £97,000 damages by the court.
However, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, today said the couple had made the mistake of being kind to the youths and overturned the ruling leaving the couple without a penny.
Hounslow Council today said it was pleased the judge had praised social worker Tajinder Hayre, who was responsible for the couple, ruling she was blameless in the incident.
A spokeswoman added: “This is an extremely sad case, and we have every sympathy for the claimants, who were subjected to an appalling ordeal.
"We are also pleased to note that the Court of Appeal praised the social worker involved for her 'impeccable behaviour'."
This "in the community" stuff is a godsend for councils. If the couple had been living in some local equivalent of Barnsley Hall, they would be unlikely to have had (presumably heavily state-subsidised) children, but if they'd been abused in the care of the local authority someone would be responsible for them. As it is, the highest courts in the land are telling them they're on their own :
A social worker had told police the vulnerable pair were being exploited, but was informed that no action could be taken unless the couple complained themselves.
The council employee had also called for the couple to be rehoused. Lawyers for the couple argued the social worker should have realised they were in danger and had them moved.
Hounslow Council took their case to the Appeal Court which ruled the council had no duty of care to the couple. Sir Anthony Clarke, who headed the appeal judges, said: "There is an important difference between a case where children assert that a duty of care is owed to them and a case like this where the claimants are adults living in the community, albeit vulnerable adults."
And what of their torturers ? The trial didn't seem to make the headlines - maybe there wasn't one. (Apparently three presumably anonymous 'youths' were sent down - more distressing details in this story)
As I said last time someone was tortured then murdered, a few months back :
I'm sure there were dark sides to the old "homes" and "loony-bins", where those who were once called 'simples' or 'naturals' often ended up (in the absence of devoted, fit and time-rich relatives). But there's little evidence of their inmates being tortured to death.
Doubtless the heartbreaking details will unfold in due course. If the past is any guide to the future, his torturers and killers will turn out to be well-known locally, "known to social services" and the law, and with habits including petty crime, assault and drug abuse. It's quite possible that at least one of them will be female.