Social Work -Theory

BBC News Wales are reporting that more than 130 ‘looked after’ children from Wales are currently in ‘care placements’ outside of the country. The numbers of children placed outside of Wales varies between local authorities – for example Swansea has a comparatively high number, whereas Carmarthenshire and Denbighshire have none. The BBC asked all 22 local authorities in Wales how many children and young people were placed outside the country. Eighteen provided figures, revealing that at least 131 children were placed outside of Wales, with either a relative, friend, foster carer or in a home. Merthyr Tydfil, Rhonda Cynon Taf, the Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham Councils did not provide figures. Among the long list of English authorities which were named as receiving children from Wales there were some such as Doncaster that have been the centre of scandals involving the sexual exploitation of children in care. Of course some of the councils sending children on placement to England, such as Swansea, have also presided over scandals regarding their children’s services. ‘Action For Children’ have stated that children placed hundreds of miles away from their original homes can feel ‘disconnected’. Jennie Welham, the ‘children’s services manager’ for Torfaen’s multi-disciplinary intervention service has commented that it’s a ‘big deal’ for children to be miles away from families, communities, schools, friends and previous activities. She also observed that placing a child from the Welsh Valleys in suburban Surrey would be ‘huge for identity’. Dr Jael Harris, a clinical psychologist colleague of Ms Welhams observed that the lack of foster carers was the key reason that youngsters ended up outside of Wales, that foster carer’s receive ‘inadequate support from the mental health services and therapeutic services to really understand children’s needs…it really does require people to work together across health, education, social care and the voluntary sector and that’s sometimes difficult to pull off…takes a shared vision across agencies and that willingness to collaborate’. Des Manion, head of NSPCC in Wales, commented that the majority of children who need foster care have suffered from abuse and neglect in their birth families and were taken into care to protect them from significant harm and that it is often challenging to find a placement that will meet the child’s needs – moving them outside of their local area often makes it difficult to provide the best possible support for them.

It is so obvious that transporting ‘looked after’ children hundreds of miles across the UK and frequently moving them from one ‘placement’ to another will be profoundly damaging, that people involved in child care outside of the UK are gobsmacked that this happens. Some years ago I got to know a young German man who, in Germany, had worked as a ‘social pedagogue’ (a profession that we don’t have in the UK, but it’s a profession that spans the fields of social work/occupational therapy/education) and he could not believe what the UK care system does to it’s children. Indeed, he established a consultancy and was able to make a living advising English local authorities that moving children from placement to placement hundreds of miles away from their original homes, families, schools and friends really was not a good idea. I was delighted to hear that he was doing this – but why did it take a young German in his capacity as a consultant to tell the UK care system something that nearly every grandma in the country could have told them?

This process of transporting children in care around the UK has been going on for decades. Readers will remember that in my posts about the north Wales child abuse scandal, I detailed how children from London authorities – authorities which also had paedophile rings operating in their children’s homes – were being placed in Paul Hett’s ‘children’s homes’ and ‘residential schools’ at Dolgellau where there were allegations of sexual abuse and cruelty (see post ‘Further Information On Garth Angharad Hospital’). It was revealed during the Waterhouse Inquiry that children from other parts of the UK were being placed with the Bryn Alyn Community, the children’s home complex in north Wales where sexual abuse had been rife. However these former residents could not be traced, because their records had gone up in flames during the Waterhouse Inquiry in the warehouse fire that ‘wasn’t suspicious’ and they were no longer living in Wales.

I really don’t think that it was an accident that children in those children’s homes which had been infiltrated by paedophiles were being shunted around hundreds of miles across the UK – there was very obviously a reciprocal arrangement in place and my post ‘More On Those Prisons For Folk Who Dared Complain’ has explained the links that existed between these abusive ‘services’ across the UK. If you are a vulnerable person being abused in the ‘care’ of others it is very much harder to draw attention to what is happening to you if you are hundreds of miles away from your family, your friends, any other connections that you might have. It’s even harder if you are a kid from inner London living in an isolated ‘home’ in Snowdonia where you don’t even speak the same language as the rest of the village. It would be equally isolating for a child from Wales to be placed in London. (I described the same process in my post ‘A Very Convenient Arrangement With The Private Sector’, only in that case it was vulnerable people with learning difficulties and mental health problems being transported from hospitals in England to a network of thoroughly abusive ‘care homes’ in north Wales which were actually part of a people trafficking organisation.) But that was what was happening in the 80s and it’s still happening now. Furthermore, this wasn’t a result of a few ‘bad eggs’. This sort of en masse child abuse is rather different from an unsavoury character in a flasher’s mac lurking around on the corner – that is bad enough, but the sort of thing that the Waterhouse Inquiry was investigating and that the other more recent inquiries into child abuse have investigated is organised crime, which is why the inquiries never get to the bottom of it and the large scale abuse of children in care has continued. More recent scandals such as Rotherham have begun to show just how serious the criminals involved are – the teenagers being abused were being threatened with guns if there was a suspicion that they might go to the police and one girl was doused in petrol and threatened with being burned alive. This is nasty stuff and involves institutional corruption in the police, the mental health services and the law. If new readers think that I am blowing things out of proportion here, read my past posts regarding the names of the numerous ‘expert witnesses’, lawyers and judges who were faced with the reality of what the children’s services and mental health services in north Wales were doing to people but either ignored it or colluded – and of course the many politicians who knew but kept schtum. It has been admitted that the CPS ‘missed opportunities’ to prosecute Lord Greville Janner for child abuse – at least one of those ‘missed opportunities’ was due to a slip-up by Alison Saunders. Alison Saunders is Director of Public Prosecutions. (For further details please see post ‘Sisters Are Indeed Doing It For Themselves’.)A system like that can’t operate unless an awful lot of people are on board – and if this sort of machinery was in place in the 1980s, what is going to be happening now?

So what of the people on the ground who are organising these ‘placements’ and who are responsible for the children’s welfare ie. the social workers? One does not have to be a journalist working for the Daily Mail to realise that the social work profession is in deep trouble. I am close friends with a number of people who have worked as social workers or completed social work education and all have told me that it is a very dysfunctional profession. They all believe that social work has a place in society but they maintain that it has gone badly wrong and indeed went badly wrong years ago because of, basically, institutionalised corruption. One friend underwent social work training in London in the 1970s and undertook a placement with Haringey. (Haringey was of course the authority that became mired in serious scandal after the death of Victoria Climbie and then again after the death of ‘Baby P’, Peter Connelly.) He told me that even then, Haringey was in chaos. He and his fellow students were expected to process the most sensitive, difficult cases in a conveyor-belt like fashion. He told me of one case in which a client died as a direct result of a decision made by a social worker that a layperson could have predicted would be catastrophic. At one point, my friend wrote a report stating that the main problem that the ‘problem family’ to which he had been allocated had was very bad housing. He was told by his tutor that he ‘wasn’t allowed’ to write that and that the students must not criticise the council. That would have been Islington Council presumably – the Islington Council whose children’s homes had been infiltrated by paedophiles, the Islington Council run by Margaret Hodge – the Margaret Hodge who is now in the House of Lords, the Margaret Hodge who is a mate of Tony Blair. The Margaret Hodge who was married to a judge. (For more complicity of this nature involving some now very influential people please see post ‘The London Connection’.) I have a friend whose father is a retired social worker and who was himself involved in the investigation of a paedophile ring in Chester, which involved social workers. She remarked that it was frightening how ‘evil’ some social workers are. (Having been stung by Lucille Hughes, Rob Evans and Keith Fearns, I second that.) I have another friend who left social work because they felt that they could not protect their clients from the rampant abuses within the care system itself. I know a number of social work students who reported abuse that they’d witnessed on placement and were told very firmly to keep quiet about this or they would not be qualifying. They took the view that they would go along with this to qualify but after qualifying they would work in some other sector because they could not be complicit with such malpractice. I live in hope that one day some of these people will publish what they witnessed – we need to hear a critique of what has gone so wrong in social work, but not from a Thatcheresque ‘I hate them because they are a bunch of Guardian-reading pinkos’ perspective. The anecdotes that I have heard have come from right across the UK, from people ranging in age from their 20s to their late 60s. Like psychiatry, social work has been in a bad way for decades.

Social workers like to believe that ‘social work theory’ underpins their practice. ‘Social work theory’, like ‘nursing science’, is a rather strange beast. The ‘theory’ that student social workers are actually exposed to is usually a sort of rather uncritical watered down version of a simplistic understanding of sociology. Social workers are aware that ‘gender’ matters, but the message that is sent out is frightening. Some five years ago I sat in a seminar room with four other female academics and a social worker  – we were taking part in a seminar to analyse gender in film. The film in question was a particularly vomit-inducing romcom with Jennifer Anniston. The plot seemed to revolve around Jennifer Anniston bursting into tears periodically because her boyfriend hadn’t purchased her flowers. The boyfriend would then claim ‘but you told me not to’, so Jen would cry even harder and say things like ‘but you must know not to believe a girl when she says that she doesn’t want flowers’. (And of course when a woman says she doesn’t want sex she really means YES!) A discussion followed where we all agreed that the portrayal of women in this film as passive aggressive idiots who say no when they mean yes was very worrying, but at least it was set in New York or some similar city and didn’t really have much to say to a normal woman living in Wales. I say we all agreed – well all of us except for the social worker. She assured us that this hogwash was an accurate portrayal of the lives of the women that she met in north Wales in her capacity as a social worker and that such films provided her with a real ‘insight’ into the roles in the families that she worked with. And that because she was a social worker she knew all about sex roles. This was not a one-off. I was told by a senior academic who was a sociologist that he was called in to resolve a problem with a social work student – the student had complained of being bullied whilst on placement – which necessitated meeting the social worker supervising the placement, who robustly denied any wrongdoing. The meeting took place in the sociologist’s office and a few days previously a student had sent him a postcard whilst on holiday, a standard postcard of people sitting on the beach, featuring men in trunks and women in bikinis. As the dispute regarding whether the student had been bullied on placement or not heated up, the supervising social worker told the senior sociologist that he needed ‘gender training’ because he had pinned up a ‘sexist oppressive’ postcard on the office wall. At this point the sociologist told the social worker to ‘fuck off’. The sociologist could also have mentioned that he’d published on gender theory, but hey I don’t think that it would have sunk in, so telling the social worker to fuck off was probably more sensible. The social worker concerned was employed in an authority that had previously been the centre of a major child abuse scandal and is still plagued by allegations of abuse and corruption.

I witnessed at first hand much confusion over ‘theory’ in social work whilst I attended a course at an FE college in north Wales some years ago. Many people were using this as an ‘access to social work’ course and only me and two other students did not go on to become social workers. This course provided me with some knowledge of the thinking of a number of people who eventually were employed as social workers in north Wales. The whole class was constantly told that ‘anti-discriminatory’ and ‘anti-oppressive practice’ was central to social work. Yet it was clear that there was very little understanding of what these terms meant, even on the part of the lecturer. One morning there was a discussion regarding Section 28 (the legislation introduced by Thatcher that prevented the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities). The discussion didn’t pivot around the political manipulation of services or the stigmatising by Gov’t of a group of people who were not breaking any law. The discussion was led by two women (who both subsequently obtained employment as social workers in north Wales) as to whether homosexuality was ‘right’ or not. A comment of ‘well we’ve all heard about their rights but what about ours? I don’t want to work with people like that’ was made by one of these students. Another student then asked the lecturer whether she thought that homosexuality was ‘right’ or not. The lecturer replied that she thought that it was ‘wrong’. Anti-discriminatory practice anyone? Or are we talking hating queers? On another occasion a student robustly denounced the presence of another student on the course because they were German and she wouldn’t want ‘a German’ as a social worker. One day in a discussion concerning the circumstances under which social workers should impose their will on clients, one of the students who hated poofs revealed that she worked with an old lady who had terminal cancer. The old lady lived in the cottage on Anglesey where she’d lived all of her life but it wasn’t modernised and she had to walk across a courtyard to get hot water. The student who hated poofs had been making representation to her manager suggesting that the old lady should be made to move into a nice bungalow, although the old lady was highly resistant to this idea. The manager had explained to the student that the old lady was fully in possession of her faculties and that she wanted to stay in her life-long home. The student remarked to the class that ‘if I was in charge I’d have her out of there’. And the old lady would probably be dead within a month…

Throughout this course, as I heard the most extraordinary attitudes expressed, I had to keep reminding myself that not all these people would actually become social workers and be let loose on the world. They did and they were. The only students who didn’t become social workers were me and two others who chose to do something else. The queer-bashing German-hating old lady-dictating students all qualified. Some six years ago I heard a follow up anecdote from someone who knew one of the homophobes. The homophobe had become a probation officer and had been promoted to the position of team leader of a team that was alleged to be full of bad practice, bullying and was generally considered to be unmanageable. I was told that not only was the homophobe completely out of her depth but that the team had been in trouble because of a major cock-up. A group of young male prisoners had been given early release and as part of the conditions for this they were obliged to attend a course at an FE college. There was subsequently an incident at the FE college when one of these young men became incredibly aggressive with a female lecturer. It transpired that this man had been in prison for rape and no-one had told the college. The woman lecturer had been left alone with him, out of hours. Questions were asked about how this ever happened – and it was discovered that the homophobic ‘team leader’ had not risk-assessed any of the former prisoners. I was told that it was this incident, as well as the general chaos presiding in the team that she ‘led’, that caused her to be quietly put out to grass in the form of ‘sick leave’ followed by early retirement shortly afterwards.

It seemed that no matter how unsuitable a student, they would be allowed to qualify from this course. I knew of another case in which a student – but not one in the year in which I undertook that course – was identified as being a potential danger to clients by the one very competent lecturer who taught on the course (who interestingly enough wasn’t a social worker herself). This student had misunderstood the theories regarding the toxicity of organophosphates used in sheep deep and kept maintaining that she knew ‘farmers who had developed schizophrenia from the sheep dip’. Believing that Gwynedd was heaving with farmers sent mad because of the sheep deep could be perceived as eccentric but harmless – but this young woman was rounding the farmers up and taking them to the Hergest Unit demanding that they be sectioned. The college knew that this was happening. The young woman concerned was also known to be claiming to be personal friends with various well-known people when she wasn’t. Although the one capable lecturer was doing her best to raise concerns about the conduct of that student she was ignored. She became even more concerned when, a few weeks before the final exams, this student heard a woman in a supermarket shout at her child when they were shopping and rang the police telling them that she was a social worker and that this woman was a child abuser and demanded that she be arrested. The college were told of this incident by the very concerned police. Weeks later that student qualified. I was told that an objection was raised by someone but they were told that there was a shortage of Welsh speaking social workers and she was a Welsh speaker and on those grounds alone she would be permitted to qualify. Bilingual social workers are a useful thing, but there doesn’t seem much point in having them if they also keep trying to lock innocent people up for no good reason – before they’ve even got around to qualifying. So if you live in Gwynedd – that woman is practising near you, so don’t yell at the kids or admit to using sheep dip if she’s in your vicinity.

As with the insanity prevailing in the mental health services, I strongly reject the notion that these things are ‘only happening in north Wales’. They aren’t. The craziness and misunderstanding has its own manifestation in north Wales because of local concerns – for example, rurality and the Welsh speaking nature of many communities. But the complete misunderstanding and misapplication of ‘theory’ takes place across the board. Shortly before all hell broke loose in, I think it was Rotherham, in the wake of the publicity regarding the criminal gangs who’d been sexually molesting teenage girls whilst EVERYONE ignored this, one of the senior social services managers who was named as being complicit with the abuse in the same authority was the centre of a less high profile scandal, in which a foster family had had a child removed from their care because they were found to be UKIP supporters. The woman who was later named in the abuse scandal appeared on the BBC explaining that the foster child was mixed race and as UKIP was a racist party they had to remove the child. There had been no previous concerns regarding the child’s welfare at the hands of the Ukippers. I can’t really imagine a situation in which I’d ever vote UKIP myself, but there was clearly a lot of confusion involved in this decision – confusion regarding what racism is, what ethnicity and associated identity might be and indeed confusion as to what UKIP actually is. Meanwhile the same woman said nothing when scores of white teenagers were gang raped by criminal gangs because she confused notions of crime and notions of racism.

I think a lot of what I’ve seen and heard regarding the misuse of ‘theory’ in social work is a result of sheer fuckwittery. However I have seen such examples that definitely are not. I know one lady who has for many years fostered and worked with troubled young people who have been abused variously by their birth families, the child care system and the mental health system. She has been very, very brave in taking a stand against some very abusive individuals and systems. She is also involved with the Anglican Church. On one occasion I was discussing her work with a social worker whom I now know has for years known about the serious abuses in the north Wales mental health system and undoubtedly knew about the child abuse within the children’s services as well – he has kept quiet about all of it and for years worked within those systems without blowing the whistle. He commented that this lady’s ‘religious beliefs made her oppressive’. No they didn’t, at no point did she ever try to involve any of the many people whom she supported in her religious life – although some of them did end up choosing to attend church with her, this was because they asked her if they could accompany her. I suspect that a lot of people felt very challenged by this lady and what she was discovering – she very obviously couldn’t be discredited in any other way, but oooh, those religious beliefs… Thus the waters are muddied.

Gaining clarity through the muddied waters is very difficult indeed. I note that the BBC report about the children in care relied on the opinions of people from the Third sector as well. The Third sector is frequently complicit with abuse in the statutory and private services (hence the many previous references to MIND on this blog). The NSPCC was found to have failed as badly as Haringey Social Services in the Victoria Climbie case – furthermore the NSPCC altered documentation in order to try to conceal their failures. Martin Knapp, an academic now at the LSE, memorably described the Third sector as a ‘loose and baggy monster’. It’s a hugely variable sector, with some parts doing some very fine work, but other parts are corrupted or are simply complicit with failures in other sectors. The big professionalised charities who receive millions in Gov’t funding are undoubtedly completely compromised.

The BBC has just finished screening a three part series, ‘Three Girls’, based on the Rochdale child abuse scandal. (I haven’t watched it all on catch-up yet, but I have seen two episodes.) There seems to be much discussion regarding the social worker who blew the whistle being made redundant. Of course she was, that is part of the routine. If a whistleblower was ever going to be listened to, the sort of abuses that were happening in Rochdale would never have taken place. This was not a case of ‘stigmatised’ teenagers ‘not being believed’ – everyone knew what was happening, they were all just working very hard indeed not to admit it. Girls and their parents were repeatedly telling the police and social workers what was going on and they were clearly terrified. Girls of thirteen were getting pregnant – these weren’t immaculate conceptions. There was massive collusion among every branch of the state. Much has been made of allegations that it was ‘political correctness’ that stopped people identifying the problem because the gangs were South Asian. So why did everybody collude with the paedophile gang that operated in north Wales then? They weren’t Asian. What about the paedophile gangs that were in operation in Islington and Lambeth at the same time? They weren’t Asian either. There was a huge cover up at the highest levels in all these cases. The running theme is not Asian gangs and white girls – it is organised crime wreaking havoc in children’s services and the whole statutory sector refusing to stop it. But as explained in previous posts, a substantial machinery that had become completely corrupted is in place – the police, the NHS, the CPS, lawyers and judges, all the way up to the political class, even at the level of the House of Lords. A lot of people and institutions would come crashing down if anyone actually admitted to what was happening.

Some years ago I went to a lecture on the theme of citizenship by the sociologist Professor Colin Crouch. It was a really brilliant but terrifying lecture. He was talking about citizenship rights and how global corporations of the sort that Rupert Murdoch owns were now trying to legally construct themselves as ‘citizens’ in order to gain ‘citizenship rights’. He stated that they were using the same lawyers that advise Gov’ts to do this and that one day they would succeed in gaining those ‘rights’ and then we’ll all really be in trouble. I believe that a parallel nightmare scenario has developed in the UK ‘care’ system. The laws that were originally formulated to protect those in ‘care’ are now being ruthlessly used by those who know that the ‘care services’ are riddled with abuse and crime. For example the Court of Protection – there has been case after case where vulnerable people under the Court of Protection have been grossly abused or have even died. Nothing can be published about any of it. Even by the closest relatives of those who have died. Some people have been imprisoned because they have tried to publicise that a relative was abused whilst under the Court of Protection. Other vulnerable people have been detained in hospital against their will for years under the Court of Protection. Again, nothing can be published about these cases. A number of these cases seem to have arisen when families have complained that the vulnerable person has been abused whilst in some other ‘care’ setting. But look at who is running the legal system – previous posts of mine have named lawyers and judges who were fully complicit with the wrongdoing in the north Wales children’s and mental health services. Including Sir Robert Francis QC – who led the ‘Freedom To Speak Up Review’ into whistleblowing, which did not lead to any protection for whistleblowers. Of course they’re still getting sacked, Robert Francis has made sure of that. In much the same vein, if we have a care system shot through with abuse and corruption, whoever would want a well-educated social worker who was a critical thinker and could cut through the bullshit? Let alone one who understood what ‘anti-oppressive practice’ actually meant. Of course the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse is falling apart with successive Chairs resigning and lawyers walking out. Everyone involved has achieved seniority in a field which for at least the last thirty years has been infiltrated by paedophile gangs – they won’t all be child abusers themselves but they all will definitely have had to turn a blind eye to some pretty horrific things on their way up the greasy pole. And the people who wrote their references when they applied for promotion will have been in exactly the same position. And anyway they’ll all be after a gong or a seat in the Lords themselves now and you don’t get those by exposing people in high places. The price for doing that sort of thing has always been rather steep. When I was still living in north Wales I knew a lady who, when she heard that I was investigating abuse in the mental health and children’s services, asked me over for tea. She revealed that she was a former headmistress and she and her husband had fostered children. One of the girls had told her that she had been abused whilst in care. This lady called the police. The foster daughter was removed from her care immediately and she never saw her again. Days later her husband was arrested and charged with abusing the girl himself, after the social services who had been responsible for running the home where the girl alleged that she was abused made allegations about him. He was imprisoned. When he finally got out of prison they moved to north Wales to get away from the people who had made false allegations about him. The place where all the high drama had occurred was Stafford and this all happened back in the 80s. Stafford children’s services were named in a high profile scandal shortly after this lady’s husband was jailed, the so-called ‘pin down’ scandal, where it was revealed that children in ‘care’ in the ‘children’s homes’ were being subjected to physical and emotional abuse. There was never any investigation into the circumstances of this lady’s husband’s imprisonment. Remember – the reason why children have to be sent hundreds of miles away from their homes is that there’s a shortage of foster parents…

Sisters Are Indeed Doing It For Themselves…

This blog has previously touched on the way that ‘progressive’ causes such as ‘equality and diversity’ are ruthlessly manipulated by powerful people to close down complaint or debate about abuse in systems like the NHS and Social Services – a lot of Mike Claybrook’s comments on my posts discuss this. The blog has also constantly drawn attention to the various politicians in Wales who style themselves as ‘progressive’ and who keenly tweet their support for every worthy cause going yet who have remained strangely silent about the carnage in the north Wales mental health services.

The Guardian website is covering a story involving the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, who has become embroiled in a spat with a Judge Shorrock, after he wrote a letter to the Telegraph concerning witness testimony in rape and sexual assault trials. Saunders has accused Shorrock of ‘victim-blaming’ and peddling ‘rape myths’.

It would appear that this row was precipitated by a column written by Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph, in which she accused Saunders and Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, of forming a ‘militant sisterhood’ because of their plans to ensure that alleged rape victims no longer have to endure live cross-examination in Court. Allison Pearson is a writer of bile in right-wing newspapers and is almost the living embodiment of the Private Eye’s imagined female columnist ‘Polly Filler’- Pearson’s writing usually involves an all-out attack on other women, usually women rather less privileged than her. Alison Saunders is probably delighted that Pearson has accused her of being a paid-up member of a ‘militant sisterhood’, Saunders would love people to believe that she is championing the cause of the oppressed, in this case victims of sexual assault. There are undoubtedly problems in sexual assault trials because by their very nature, no victim of an assault of that nature is ever going to want to stand up in open court and discuss it and this is frequently fully exploited by people accused of sexual assault or their legal representatives. On the other hand, being found guilty of serious sexual assault can result in a hefty prison sentence and it is not something that one wants to happen to someone who is not guilty. (Furthermore prisoners convicted of sex offences are frequently subjected to violent attacks from other inmates and their lives are often wrecked even after they have left prison.) So the system is left with a situation in which the defendant must be afforded a fair trial but the alleged victim spared as much distress as possible. In this instance, Saunders has gained much of kudos because a lot of people continue to be very concerned at the treatment of some witnesses in sexual assault trials. But how much of an underdog’s champ is Alison Saunders?

When Alison Saunders was first appointed as DPP there was a great rejoicing in certain quarters because she was only the second woman to have held the office, was the first DPP who was not a QC and was the first person to be appointed from within the Crown Prosecution Service. However Saunders’s time as DPP has been dogged by controversy.

There was much criticism of Saunders in the wake of the case of Eleanor de Freitas, who killed herself after the Crown Prosecution Service decided to take over a private prosecution brought against her by the man whom she had accused of rape. Eleanor was a very troubled young woman who had bipolar disorder. Saunders stated that the ‘evidence in this case was strong and having considered it in light of all of our knowledge and guidance on prosecuting sexual offences and allegedly false rape claims, it is clear there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction for perverting the course of justice’.

Saunders also came under fire from campaigners against assisted suicide when in 2014 she was alleged to have amended prosecution policy outside of the democratic process. She was taken to the High Court in 2015 by a campaigner who argued that Saunders’s amendment could pave the way for organisations like Dignitas to operate in the UK. The case against Saunders was dismissed…

However my ears really pricked up over the case of Lord Greville Janner, the former Labour MP from Leicester who for many years had been the subject of allegations that he sexually abused boys in care. Janner always denied this and maintained that he had been the subject of a smear by Frank Beck, a senior social worker in Leicestershire, whilst Beck was on trial himself for sexually abusing children in care – a witness at Beck’s trial also claimed that he’d been abused by Janner. Beck was later sentenced to seven life terms. The allegations against Janner did not go away and it was eventually revealed that the CPS had in fact had enough evidence to prosecute him many years ago but had failed to do so on a number of occasions. In April 2015 Saunders herself made the decision not to prosecute Janner on child sexual abuse charges despite his meeting the evidential test for prosecution. Saunders cited his poor health as the reason for not prosecuting Janner – although some of the medical evidence presented was challenged. In June 2015 Saunders’s decision not to prosecute Janner was overturned –  the decision marked the first time that a DDP has had a major prosecuting decision reviewed and overturned. Because Janner was deemed to be suffering from dementia and unfit to stand trial, it was announced that there would be a ‘trial of the facts’. Janner died before that happened. Since Janner’s death, many more people have made allegations that they were sexually abused by him and Leicestershire Police have placed the blame concerning the failure to prosecute him very firmly on the CPS. A number of the alleged victims of Janner have stated their intention to sue his estate. Janner’s family continue to maintain his innocence and his son, a barrister like Janner himself was, recently stated that the family will oppose attempts to sue his father’s estate. Janner’s daughter Marion is a mental health campaigner and is frequently wheeled out by Radio 4’s programme ‘All In The Mind’ as a ‘service user campaigner’. Much is made of the need for Marion to be accompanied at all times by her ’emotional support dog’ and indeed Marion, the dog and Greville used to make collective appearances until those sexual abuse allegations refused to disappear from the headlines. Marion launched a campaign entitled ‘Star Wards’, which seemed to involve complimenting dreadful services on their ‘care’ – indeed she managed to visit north east Wales a few years ago and noted the ‘excellent services’. Marion is now the proud possessor of an OBE. Oh well her dad netted a peerage…

After all that Janner business, there were calls for Saunders to resign. She didn’t.

There is another high profile female lawyer who also comes under attack from sections of the right-wing press for her alleged militant feminism and that is Vera Baird. Vera has a very impressive pedigree as far as feminist lawyers go. She was a colleague of Michael Mansfield’s, she acted for Greenham Common women, for striking miners in 1984-85 including for those involved in the Battle of Orgreave, for numerous women in domestic abuse and rape cases and worked with dear old MIND to make courts ‘more responsive’ to the needs of people with mental health problems. Vera is generally a very big name in terms of radical lawyers. Vera was elected as a Labour MP when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. She was eventually appointed as Solicitor General for England and Wales and her boss was Lord Falconer aka Charlie Falconer, Tony Blair’s former flatmate. Falconer had been appointed Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs by Blair in the wake of the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor. The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs became the sponsoring Department for the Secretary of State for Wales.

One of New Labour’s achievements that Charlie – and Vera – really enjoyed boasting about was the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act they stressed gave people redress if they were, for example, in ‘care’ settings and were being treated with a lack of dignity, let alone being abused or neglected. But Charlie did something else that Vera supported which received much less publicity. They made it virtually impossible for anyone to gain access to the Legal Aid needed to bring a case under the Human Rights Act. Charlie Falconer touched my own life about ten years ago when he came to give a public lecture at Bangor University – he had been invited there by Betty Williams, the Labour MP for Aberconwy who had ignored many complaints from constituents about the abuses in the Hergest Unit. I was in the audience – and so were two local lawyers, both people who had represented many mental health patients. Charlie waxed lyrical about his achievements in Government, particularly the Human Rights Act, and gave a touching little theoretical example of an old lady who in a nursing home who was being left too long sitting upon a commode. She could now sue under the Human Rights Act thanks to New Labour! As we listened to this, I and the two lawyers all wanted to make the same point – that little old lady had effectively been prevented from suing the nursing home for anything unless she was very rich indeed, because you Charlie have just effectively abolished Legal Aid. Charlie finished his lecture – and Betty announced that Charlie would not be taking questions because he had another important appointment. I later found out that what Charlie actually did immediately after the lecture was to attend a drinks party with a select number of academics from Bangor who presumably had been invited on the grounds that they could be relied upon not to ask him any difficult questions. After Charlie’s visit to Bangor, the abuses at the Hergest Unit continued and some people died. No-one sued Hergest for anything under the Human Rights Act.

Charlie Falconer also worked very hard to amend procedures to make it easier for Government depts to refuse to release information in response to Freedom of Information requests. Indeed I have been refused access to documentation relating to the North Wales Hospital Denbigh and the now defunct Mental Health Act Commission under clauses introduced by Charlie.

Vera, Charlie’s right hand woman, is now Dame Vera, on account of her services to ‘women and equalities’. Vera is now Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumberland. Unlike her situation when she was a Labour MP, Vera cannot now be voted out.

There are is another example of a female layer who also did very well for herself on the basis of her commitment to equalities and that was Constance Briscoe. Briscoe made much of being one of the few black women judges and achieved notoriety when she wrote a particularly grim misery memoir entitled ‘Ugly’, in which she detailed how she was horribly abused as a child by her mother and her stepfather, her mother memorably calling her ‘Miss Pissabed’. Briscoe’s misery memoir was featured in ‘Take A Break’ magazine which one would not have thought was standard reading for members of the judiciary – Briscoe was a recorder specialising in, among other things, children’s welfare and Mental Health Tribunals. Briscoe was a darling of the Daily Mail and was frequently featured in there discussing the enormous amount of cosmetic surgery to which she was subjecting herself on the grounds of her poor self-image that had resulted from her abusive childhood.

The tabloids and women’s magazines who lapped up Briscoe’s ‘inspirational’ story didn’t seem to notice that not only was all this rather unusual behaviour for a judge, but there were a few other worrying things happening around Briscoe. Her mother had come forward claiming that ‘Ugly’ was a pack of lies and that Briscoe had never been abused – her mother attempted to sue Briscoe for libel. Her mother lost, whereupon other members of Briscoe’s family then spoke to the media maintaining that Briscoe was indeed a liar and was abusing her position as a lawyer. However, abusive families sometimes do collude against any family member who exposes them and this was very much the line that the media took after Briscoe’s family went public. But then former colleagues of Briscoe’s who had worked with her at Mansfield’s  chambers – Briscoe had been given a pupillage by Mansfield, being a black female lawyer from a disadvantaged background – began to say some not very flattering things about her. Helena Kennedy was asked her opinion regarding her memories of working with Briscoe and was not half as rude as everyone else had been. Briscoe flattened her, making some very unpleasant comments regarding Kennedy’s attempts to look after the junior members of the chambers at that time. Then Briscoe became embroiled in yet another extraordinary court case. She maintained that she had been walking through London when a cab driver had yelled out of his window at her that she was a ‘black c***’. Briscoe jumped in the cab behind, pursued him through London, caught up with him, performed a citizen’s arrest and had him prosecuted. The cabbie protested his innocence but he lost the case – Briscoe was hailed as a heroine for her brave battle against racism and subsequently gave media interviews about the evils of a white man who couldn’t bear to see a black female judge. No-one pointed out the obvious – that it would be highly unlikely that a cabbie would actually have ever heard of Briscoe, yet alone recognised her. Furthermore, London is full of well-dressed professional black women, she wouldn’t have stood out at all. And if I know anything about traffic in central London, it is more than a little fortuitous that there just happened to be yet another cab available, just behind the alleged offender, for Briscoe to jump into in order to pursue and then apprehend him.

The next time that Briscoe hit the media it elicited rather less flattering headlines. In the wake of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce’s acrimonious marital breakdown, it was alleged that Briscoe, a friend and neighbour of Pryce, had perverted the course of justice in an attempt to ensure that Huhne was imprisoned. Briscoe was found guilty of lying to a police officer, lying in a police statement as well as providing a forged document and was jailed. The career that Miss Pissabed had built on the basis of her ‘inspirational’ fight for ‘equality’ ended. Vicky Pryce also went to prison but constructed herself as the female victim of her oppressive husband. Pryce was not a single mother on benefits, she was one of the country’s leading economists and an advisor to the UK Government. After serving her prison sentence she was soon back on the ‘Today’ programme, ‘Any Questions’ etc, such are the downtrodden.

The sort of ‘militant sisterhood’ displayed by the people whom I have written about above is about as genuine as the outbreak of feminism in Plaid recently, when Leanne and a few of her mates decided to shaft Neil McEvoy, for making a ‘bullying’ comment. At the time I understand that McEvoy was representing a woman who was in danger of being evicted.

Are these Sisters Doing It For Themselves or are these simply Sisters In It For Themselves?