Woman sexually abused by Salvation Army members finally gets justice

Almost 20 years after going to the police, the men who attacked her as a young girl are convicted of offences from the 1970s

This is a follow-up to an article Saba Salman and I wrote on Lucy Taylor’s story for Society Guardian in 2014.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Woman sexually abused by Salvation Army members finally gets justice” was written by SA Mathieson, for The Guardian on Wednesday 11th April 2018 05.00 UTC

Four years since speaking out publicly about being abused as a child by members of the Salvation Army, Lucy Taylor (not her real name) says she feels she can finally start to move on.

Taylor, 57, went to the police in 1999 to report sexual abuse by four men, but it wasn’t until last month that they were convicted of charges of indecent assault, gross indecency and attempted rape. On 22 March, a Preston jury found Salvation Army members William Tomkinson, Trevor Worthington and his son Philip guilty of a total of 23 offences involving the sexual abuse of Taylor and another girl in the 1970s and 1980s. The fourth man, Derek Smith, who she had met when he was in a Salvation Army band, had earlier pleaded guilty to three charges of indecent assault against Taylor. All four are due to be sentenced later this month.

Taylor had first been abused by William Tomkinson, at that time the treasurer of the Salvation Army’s Blackpool citadel (its local branch headquarters), when she was about 11 years old. When she first approached the police, all four men were arrested and interviewed by Lancashire constabulary, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided against charging them. After an interview with the Guardian in 2014, Taylor again approached the force, on the advice of the CPS. But she says police officers initially discouraged her – “They were very rude to me.”

In 2015, on the verge of giving up, she called the NSPCC, which passed her report to a helpline set up by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA). It referred the report on to Operation Hydrant, which coordinates the police response to allegations of historical sexual abuse nationally. Within 24 hours, Operation Fervent, Lancashire constabulary’s own dedicated historical abuse unit, contacted Taylor.

She says its police officers were “amazing” – “they told me from the beginning they believed me”. In February 2017, the four men were summonsed to appear at Blackpool magistrates’ court based on the original arrests and interviews from 2000.

Simon Morris, one of the unit’s investigating officers, says: “We had very little to do on top of what was done before. It was just really getting it into court, and for the victim to have her day in court, which is what she wanted. In fact, all she wanted at the outset was an apology from the Salvation Army, and had she had that, there may well never have been a court case.”

Taylor says the process was extremely daunting. She spent five days giving evidence. She praises the prosecuting barrister, who got her to reveal her autism to the jury – she wanted them to understand her behaviour, such as staring or lack of eye contact. The court provided her with an intermediary, but she found the process harrowing. Dealing with the defence barristers over one and a half days “nearly killed me”, she says. “Even so, I kept my composure.” Taylor was screened from the defendants and the public, the court was cleared before she entered and left, and she waited in a separate room. Yet Taylor, who uses an electric wheelchair, once found herself in a corridor with the wives of the defendants. “They stood and stared at me,” she says, “like they were trying to bore a hole in my head.” Taylor’s daughter was also confronted. After that, both were accompanied by security staff. But with the case heard in a court on the building’s top floor, furthest from the entrance, just getting into the room was fraught. “A bit of forethought as to the needs of that victim would have put them on the ground floor, nearest the lift,” says Lesley Connor, who also worked on Taylor’s case. “She’s shown remarkable resilience and she’s carried on, despite having barriers put in front of her.”

Once the four have been sentenced, the Operation Fervent team hopes others will come forward. “We had other inquiries in relation to some of the suspects, but they led nowhere because the victims didn’t want to take it any further,” says Morris. Lancashire was the first police force to set up a dedicated historical abuse unit, in January 2015. It is staffed by six retired detective constables and led by a former detective inspector. Not all forces in England and Wales have such units. Over the last three years, Operation Fervent has handled about 380 cases involving faith-based organisations, other institutions and prominent people. Morris says having a dedicated unit not only takes the pressure off frontline police officers, it also works better for victims. “The main difference is that we have a bit of time to see the job through from start to finish, and a lot more time to dedicate to the victims,” says Morris. “Because of our ages and our experience, we’re not frightened to query decisions made by the CPS, whereas perhaps younger officers are a bit more reluctant to do that.”

Connor says Operation Fervent has a lighter workload than regular police, both in caseloads and in avoiding the time pressures intrinsic to new cases, such as collecting forensic evidence before it decays or interviewing suspects within legal time limits. Historical sexual abuse cases usually require locating old medical and social services records. “There’s been a sea change in how the police approach cases like this,” says Connor, who works in the unit. “Victims are more likely to be believed now, and more credence is given to their accounts.” Twenty years ago, sometimes “they would perhaps be put on the back burner, perhaps not given as much precedence as they are now”.

In accordance with CPS file retention policy the original file concerning the 2000 referral has not been retained and the reasons for the decision are not available, a CPS spokeswoman says. She adds it has made several improvements to how it prosecutes sexual offences in recent years, including rape and serious sexual offences units in each CPS area, specific policies to help prosecutors understand the context of offending and issues around consent, and training to recognise victim vulnerabilities and the traumatic impact of offending. And evidence can be given in court via video link or behind a screen.

Morris says: “I just think it was a very different mindset in 2000. People are more willing to take a chance and put a case before a jury, which is the way it should go, rather than somebody taking a decision to take it no further.”

Richard Scorer, head of abuse law at Slater and Gordon, says that in 20 years of representing abuse survivors he has seen police responses and attitudes transformed for the better. But he says significantly more allegations, coupled with cuts to force budgets, are leading to investigations taking longer. Despite the workload and investigatory pressures, Scorer supports mandatory reporting of abuse claims, with legal sanctions for failure to do so, adding that faith-based organisations should also seek external oversight of their safeguarding work. The Boys’ Brigade has a safeguarding panel chaired by former judge David Aubrey, while the Salvation Army says it is “advised by an independent risk-management corporation” on safeguarding work. The latter adds that it acts on all disclosures with a policy of referring allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse to the police.

However, in recent evidence to IICSA, Scorer pointed out that the Church of England does not have external oversight of its safeguarding work. He says that faith-based organisations have particular problems accepting claims of abuse and have been slower to adapt than other types of organisation.

“There is huge deference to clergy or ministers,” he says. “The driver for change, for a better response to victims and survivors, has come via pressure from survivors, and media pressure. It’s not been driven from within.”

According to Operation Hydrant, there are 242 investigations of abuse at religious institutions, involving more than 550 suspects. Of these, it has recorded allegations made against 16 named individuals within a Salvation Army setting, although this is not an accurate total as forces are not obliged to specify which faith organisation when providing data. Taylor’s case is not the first against the organisation in the UK that has led to a conviction. James Ernest Summers, an ex-Salvation Army volunteer from Didcot, Oxfordshire, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2012 for raping three girls under the age of 10.

Taylor says that for many members the Salvation Army is a huge part of their lives, and others who have suffered abuse may not be prepared to risk losing this. That’s why she remains angry and continues to believe that “the Salvation Army hasn’t done enough”. “I hope it’s just this citadel,” she says. But she fears their close-knit culture means similar abuse may have happened at others.

The organisation says it publicises its safeguarding work, including providing contact details for external organisations, and that key leaders at every church are expected to attend training to recognise signs of abuse. During this training, a survivor of abuse within a Christian church speaks frankly of their experience. If anyone should disclose either historical or current abuse, church leaders should encourage the complainant to report any allegation to the police and would provide them with pastoral support to do so,” says a Salvation Army spokesman. “The culture of the church should be such that everyone is expected to report behaviour which is not in line with the safeguarding guidelines that are in place. Volunteers, staff and church leaders must meet various levels of safeguarding checks and attend training before they are allowed to begin work.”

Taylor, who was not in court for the verdict, was phoned by Connor. She says she had prepared herself to hear “innocent”. “I spent the first 12 hours trying to feel sorry for feeling happy. But yes, I feel happy – bittersweet happy – and thankful that the jury came to the decision they did,” she says.

She urges anyone who has suffered abuse to fight to have their story heard by a jury. “Don’t let go, be the British bulldog, be tenacious. I would tell anybody out there to trust in the British justice system. Yes, it’s crazily weird, but you will get justice.”

  • IICSA helpline 0800 917 1000. Anyone with further information about the Blackpool citadel can contact Lancashire constabulary quoting log number 0609/270318.
  • Additional reporting by Anna Bawden

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