Revealed: Leaked emails show Ecclesiastical staff using 'callous' language over child abuse claims

Child abuse

Ecclesiastical claims handlers suggested a child abuse survivor could be “bought off” for a modest sum, according to a leaked cache of emails obtained by Post.

The emails, between Ecclesiastical and other parties including law firm BLM, were obtained by a survivor through a Freedom of Information Request.

They have been submitted to the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse.

The documents portray dismissive language used to describe a potential claimant by Ecclesiastical claims staff. They also show attempts to dissuade church figures from making interventions on a survivor’s behalf, in addition to offering pastoral care over legal fears.

The revelations come after Ecclesiastical claims director David Bonehill was taken to task by the IICSA, over the handling of a non-recent claim made by a survivor known as A4, which led to their pastoral care being cut off by the church.

IICSA is due to publish a report later this year, following its investigations. Zurich, RSA and Municipal Mutual Insurance have previously faced criticism over their handling of CSA claims, but Ecclesiastical had widely been held up as an example of good practice.

A survivor said: “It’s clear throughout all this that they have closed down support and dealt [name redacted] with callous disregard and adversarial malevolence. It shows that the civil claims route is spectacularly ill-suited to deal with survivors in a compassionate or even remotely fair way. And it also demonstrates the attitude that Ecclesiastical, the Church of England’s insurer, has towards the burdens of harm and impact that survivors carry.”

Names and locations have been redacted, to protect the identity of the claimant.

The correspondence

The claim was complicated, according to Ecclesiastical emails, as the claimant filed a formal claim in 2014, but was in contact with the insurer several years prior to this.

In an earlier email, dated April 2013, a member of Ecclesiastical’s casualty claim team wrote: “[Name redacted] is our prime company contact with the Church of England and my intention is to see if he can help concerning restricting further the recent interventions [of a bishop].”

Another email stressed ”it has been stressed to all [name redacted] is not to be engaged with on behalf of the [insured].”

A further April 2013 email detailed potential claims by the survivor.

It stated: “There has been a lot of email traffic but the position is that until the claimant properly formulates the claim we have rightly shown little interest in the matter.”

It went on to say: “What has recently complicated matters is the [bishop] in his role as [redacted] has met with [name redacted] to hear his story. Whilst I fully understand the position taken that there is a pastoral care aspect here, my concern is that a continued dialogue between [the bishop and the survivor] could prejudice the positioning we have taken in respect of the two claims.

“This is a very delicate manner where I can see there being a conflict between the pastoral care the bishop feels he has to perform and our desires to protect our position concerning the liability dispute we wish to maintain as the insurer of these two policyholders. It may well be the bishop is unaware of the complexity of these two cases and the impact his actions may have in legal terms.

“When you have a chance to consider this note perhaps we can discuss the matter further. My feeling is at present I would like to use your contact base within the Church of England to at least raise the issue so all are aware of the full picture.”

In an email dated July 2013, a casualty claims manager describes a report from law firm BLM, about the “latest saga of [name redacted]”.

Limitation

In the 2014 email sent by an Ecclesiastical claims team member, following a formal claim being filed, it is shown that the insurer considered a limitation argument, but chose not to pursue it. This was in addition to a number of other options, including conclusions of a medical expert, a lack of “vicarious liability” in three cases of alleged abuse and the abusers in two instances being deceased.

However it went on to suggest that the claimant should be “ ‘bought off’ ”.

The email stated: “Finally, of course, we have a limitation argument. This, as you will see, has been going on since 2004. It is only now the claim is made so his date of knowledge concerning the effect the abuse had on him is much more than three years.

“I am however mindful that the courts will find any pretext to give Section 33 discretion under the Limitation Act, but we clearly have an array of arguments to use here.

“The matter has however been dragging on for 10 years and we would like to see a resolution. […] Our approach will be to see if the claim can be ‘bought off’ for a modest sum representing the litigation risk. If it can then we will be pleased to conclude this troublesome matter.”

The insurer implemented a set of guiding principles for handling CSA claims in 2016, later updating these in 2018.

In January of this year an Ecclesiastical spokesperson told Post: “One of these principles is our commitment regarding the use of limitation as a defence, which is that limitation should be pleaded as a defence to a claim sparingly in relation to physical and sexual abuse claims.”

It currently uses limitation arguments in less than 2% of cases, according to the insurer.

Limitation

Insurers have contended that in recent years they will avoid using limitation defences where possible.

Currently limitation suggests that a claim made three years after a survivor turns 18 or remembers the abuse can be thrown out, though this is at the court’s discretion.

In Scotland limitation ceased to be used in CSA cases as of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act of October 2017.

In June the Association of British Insurers came out in support of a review of limitation laws applying to non-recent child sexual abuse claims.

ABI director general Huw Evans said in a letter to IICSA: “The ABI previously considered that no change to the current law was necessary because the law allows courts to disapply the time bar, which they routinely do for CSA claims.

“However, we have listened to the compelling accounts of victims and survivors about the significant deterrent effect of the current law on limitation. No victim or survivor of abuse should be discouraged from seeking the compensation they may be entitled to. We now believe that there is a need for change and will support a review of the current law on limitation for CSA claims.”

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Previously praised

Ecclesiastical had been praised in the inquiry, which has already seen Zurich, RSA and Municipal Mutual Insurance come under fire.

However on Friday Bonehill faced a tough line of questioning regarding the insurer’s instructions to the church to cut off all contact with a claimant, which led to it also cutting off their pastoral care.

Asked whether the advice was good enough, Bonehill told the inquiry: “With hindsight, no.”

The hearing focused on Ecclesiastical’s response to the 2015 Elliott Review.

The company said at the time: “We did not instruct the Church of England or in any other way advise it to cease pastoral care or counselling.”

The email evidence being examined by the inquiry had previously been private due to client-attorney privilege, which was breached in 2016 when an Ecclesiastical PR read them out to a journalist on background.

Following the hearing, A4 told Post: “They had to concede major points. They were caught bang to rights and all they could do was slide around like slippery eels.”

Ecclesiastical responds

A spokesperson for Ecclesiastical said: “We have great sympathy for survivors and the impact that childhood abuse has had on their lives. 

“We have learned important lessons about the potential distress caused to survivors by discussing the details of their case in the media. For this reason, we will not comment on individual cases or claims.

“When an abuse claim is brought against any of our policyholders, we take full control of handling the claim, with the assistance of the policyholder. Our Guiding Principles support and encourage the provision of pastoral care to survivors through the claims process.”

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