Glasgow City Council ordered to pay over £1.3 million to man abused in foster care

A judge in the Outer House of the Court of Session has ordered a local authority to pay over £1.3 million in damages to a man who was abused by his foster carer.

The pursuer, A, now aged 50, averred that Glasgow City Council was vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of his carer, referred to as WQ, with whom the defender placed him between 1983 and 1988. The defender disputed the quantum of damages in respect of past and future wage loss the pursuer claimed was a result of his psychological trauma from his period in care.

The case was heard by Lord Brailsford. Milligan QC appeared for the pursuer and Mackenzie QC for the defender.

Childhood stolen

The pursuer was taken into foster care in 1972 when he was 21 months old and remained in local authority care until he turned 18 in December 1988. He lived with WQ, and sometimes their wife CQ, from around August 1983 until 1988. During this time, he obtained four Highers and a place at Glasgow College of Printing, but he did not take up that place and instead went to Reading and then London for work.

In his evidence, the pursuer stated that he had been consistently abused by WQ, including sexual molestation and rape, threats of violence and of being placed back into care. WQ was convicted of lewd, indecent and libidinous practices in February 2019, and the pursuer received £22,600 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority as compensation for the abuse he suffered. He stated that the charges of which WQ were convicted were “just a sample” of the daily abuse he had suffered and felt his childhood had been stolen from him.

In respect of his claim for lost wages, the pursuer’s position was that he had been “confused” after leaving WQ’s home and found his situation difficult to deal with, causing him to buy a bus ticket for the furthest destination for which he could afford the fare. He struggled with flashbacks and intrusive thought patterns during his employment in various places, including several years working for BT, which he believed were an impediment to his ability to obtain employment.

It was submitted that the defender was vicariously liable for the conduct of WQ during the stated period. Counsel noted that the pursuer spoke fondly of his time in care before being placed with WQ and had been described as “a well-adjusted boy with good self-control”. A claim for wage loss was made based on the proposition that, had it not been for the pursuer’s ongoing problems, he would have followed a career in the communications sector and earned an above average income.

In response, the defender acknowledged that the pursuer was entitled to be awarded a substantial solatium due to WQ’s abuse, however in respect of the claim for lost wages he had not proved that WQ’s abuse had resulted in a loss of educational attainment or employability. Any loss arising out of WQ’s fault was so vague and indeterminate that the court should ‘swing a broad axe with a blunt edge’ at the pursuer’s claim for patrimonial loss and award a lump sum.

Unchallenged evidence

In his decision, Lord Brailsford said of the pursuer’s evidence: “I am satisfied first, that I have no objective basis to reject or doubt any evidence of the pursuer on the basis that it was either incredible or unreliable. Second, that following from that conclusion I am entitled to accept the pursuer’s accounts both of his childhood, education and employment history as accurate and reliable.”

He continued: “Given that there is no evidence available to the court either by witness testimony or documentary evidence contradicting the pursuer, the results of my conclusions in this matter are that I will accept the pursuer’s accounts of those matters.”

Turning to whether there was a causal link between WQ’s abuse and the pursuer’s problems in later life, he said: “On his, essentially unchallenged, evidence the flashbacks, nightmares and disturbed memories he has experienced throughout his life that have occasioned him difficulty in both development, interpersonal relationships and employment all relate to his time spent in the care of WQ and, more pointedly, the abuse of a sexual nature that he sustained over a lengthy period at that person’s hands.”

He concluded on this point: “I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the difficulties experienced by the pursuer in both his personal life and in relation to employment have been proved to be causally linked to the CSA perpetrated by WQ upon the pursuer and that the defenders are, as a matter of admission, vicariously liable for the consequences of that conduct.”

Reasonable basis for award

On the matter of quantum, Lord Brailsford noted: “There is no dispute that [the pursuer] was the victim of serious sexual abuse at the hands of WQ. The gravity of WQ’s behaviour is plainly spoken to by the fact that he was convicted of offences involving the pursuer and sentenced to a period of 10 years imprisonment. I have to take into account that beyond that conviction the pursuer gave evidence, which was not challenged, that the charges of which WQ were convicted were a sample of more extensive conduct of a similar nature.”

Addressing the wage loss element, he said: “The approach the court takes to the award of wage loss to the pursuer will be dependent upon the view of that person’s evidence. I have already stated in this opinion that I accept the evidence of the pursuer. It follows that I am satisfied that the court has sufficient information upon which to base an assessment of wage loss. I further accept that the approach to patrimonial loss and the figures advanced by counsel for the pursuer are a reasonable basis upon which to make an award in this case.”

Lord Brailsford therefore awarded the pursuer solatium of £135,000, as well as awards for past wage loss of £584,874 and future wage of loss of £370,561, in addition to pension loss and treatment costs. The total award amounted to £1,339,185. The case was put out by order to hear submissions on the question of interest.

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