The recent media row over the alleged therapy techniques used by the abuse survivors charity, the Lantern Project, which led to the withdrawal of funding is a dangerous precedent.
The row pushed essentially by two newspapers by the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail ( see article here) could have much wider implications than just in the Wirral where the charity is based.
Essentially the allegations centred around two high profile survivors Esther Baker and one known as ” Darren” . Esther’s allegations are currently being examined by Staffordshire Police in a very detailed investigation which has already led to one arrest and another person being interviewed under caution.
I am not going to comment further on the investigation particularly as the Solicitor General, Robert Buckland, has warned the media of ” the risk of publishing material that gives the impression of pre-judging the outcome of the investigation and any criminal proceedings that may follow, or which might prejudice any such proceedings.”
Indeed I am frankly surprised that both papers thought they could comment on an active police investigation by casting doubt on the credibility of a survivor and perhaps there may be a case of drawing this to the attention of the Attorney General.
What more concerns me is the decision of the Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group to withdraw substantial funding for the charity in the wake of the Sunday Times allegations.
The reduction appears to be part of a £20m cut affecting other services but by withdrawing the £150,000 and stating firmly they disagree about the use of the therapy -Unstructured Therapeutic Disclosure – which some people think can cause false memory syndrome- is specifically aimed at cutting support to survivors. As it says “There is no recognition or recommendation of this approach by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).” And it questions whether the Lantern Project has the skilled staff to do this – even though the charity itself refers people back to the GPs in these cases- and also is challenging the NHS body on its use.
However the effect of the withdrawal of the money is not confined to just two high profile survivors – one of whom-Darren – doesn’t seem to have received the therapy anyway.
It turns out that the charity has been helping at least 200 to 400 other families and provides or did provide a website forum for some 1000 survivors in the area. Wirral, faced with these other cuts, is not going to provide any money to other organisations – even if they could provide the services, which they can’t anyway.
Also its stance on staff could have implications for other groups that provide counselling to survivors. The Wirral decision on staffing required could provide an excellent excuse for a cash strapped NHS to withdraw support from other charities by saying they should employ psychotherapists as well as trained counsellors. And it is clear that the NHS is going to face a grim winter just providing basic high profile services to the elderly and sick.
Those who have been concentrating on attacking the charity for supporting these two high profile cases seem to be totally unaware of the effect on other survivors who will now lose support.
They have not entirely been successful either. Norfolk Police Commissioner’s Office which is distributing the £7m to survivors organisations earmarked by the home secretary, Theresa May, is NOT withdrawing money from the Lantern Project, despite being briefed by Wirral CCG. And subject to a professional audit will continue to do so next year.
And the Daily Mail and Sunday Times coverage has had an unintended consequence- the Lantern Project has received £55,000 in two large donations from survivors or their families helped by the project. The money is part of large compensation payments awarded by the courts on other cases taken up by the Lantern Project.
This means that the charity can continue to do some – but not all of its work. But the damage to services helping survivors has already been done.
UPDATE: Since publication of this blog the Sunday Times has partially retracted the main thrust of its story and in a correction today says it accepts that Esther Baker did not receive the controversial therapy until months after she had already made the allegation of child sexual abuse.