In a sign-post ruling which gives useful guidance in respect of compensation claims brought under the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), a young man (the claimant) who sued a local authority (the defendant) after he was beaten up and catastrophically injured by a 'rampaging' child in care has failed in a £1.6 million damages claim.
The claimant was aged 13 when he and his girlfriend were attacked on a beach in Torquay by youths who had absconded from a local children's home. He suffered serious brain damage after his head was kicked and stamped on and his 13-year-old girlfriend was repeatedly raped. Two of the couple’s assailants were later convicted of rape and causing grievous bodily harm and were jailed for life.
In the first case of its kind, the claimant sought damages from Bedfordshire County Council which was responsible for accommodating one of the youths (AH) who was aged 15 at the time and in voluntary care as a ‘looked after child’ under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
There was no claim against the council at common law; however it was submitted that it had failed in its duty to suitably accommodate and supervise AH and that this amounted to a violation of the claimant’s right to respect for his home and private life, enshrined in article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It was argued that, given AH’s history of disturbed behaviour, violent offending and absconding from children’s homes, it was reasonably foreseeable that he would pose a threat to members of the public unless suitably restrained and kept under close supervision.
However, in dismissing the claim, the Court noted that the proceedings had been instituted outside the one-year time limit prescribed by section 7(5)(a) of the HRA and that there was no good reason for extending time. The Court also ruled on the evidence that, even had the case been permitted to proceed, the alleged failings on the part of the council had not been established.
The court noted that one could only speculate as to the reasons why AH committed the appalling offences and that it was easy to conclude that he was so dangerous that he was bound to go on the rampage sooner rather than later. However, such a view could only be reached with the benefit of hindsight and it had not been shown that the council had failed in the duty that it owed to the claimant.
The council’s lawyers had pointed out that it did not have parental responsibility for AH who was not the subject of a formal care order. It was argued that he was kept 'under a high level of supervision' at the time and that it was hard to see what further steps could have been taken to protect the public in the absence of any legal power to 'lock him up'.