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Historic abuse compensation claims – helping survivors of non-accidental injuries

We understand it can be very difficult for people to contact a solicitor and speak about the abuse they suffered. In some cases, it may have taken years, even decades, for a survivor to come to terms with what happened before communicating about their suffering.

At Digby Brown, our Non-Accidental Team specialises in helping people affected by these traumatic and life-changing incidents. Not just to help them secure compensation but to help them access the best support and services to take back control of their lives.

We are committed to providing the best possible independent legal advice so survivors are empowered by choice and can make informed decisions.

Although “historic abuse” is a commonly used term we understand there’s nothing historic about the suffering that continues to affect a survivor. That’s why we also refer to “non-accidental abuse” because this reflects the deliberate behaviour of perpetrators and it is also where the Non-Accidental Team gets its name.

What is classified as historical abuse?

Historic abuse - also known as “non-recent abuse” or “non-accidental abuse” - relates to any physical, sexual or emotional attack inflicted on a person. These attacks may have taken place in a single incident or be repeated over a period of time.

In our experience, we have found that abuse most commonly occurred when the abusers occupy positions of power such as:

  • School staff attacking pupils
  • Young people abused in children’s homes
  • Foster families, step-parents or guardians attacking children in their care
  • Football coaches preying on children in their coaching teams
  • Youth group leaders singling out children (often on trips away from home)
  • Religious staff attacking children 
  • Spouses, former partners, relatives or wider family members
  • Other individuals who engage in campaigns of stalking or harassment​​​​​​​

It can be upsetting to think of these situations but the unfortunate reality is they are more common and affect more people than the general public may be aware of.

This is why national spotlights like the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry or the SFA Inquiry are so vital. By investigating and shedding light on atrocities of the past they can provide answers, hold perpetrators accountable, give survivors the recognition they deserve and help prevent future abuse.

How do I claim compensation for historical abuse?

If you have been subjected to abuse at any point in the past, you may still be experiencing the aftermath and its consequences. Depending on your circumstances, you might be able to claim compensation from the person who caused the harm or the organisation that failed to protect you and was responsible for it, this is known as a civil claim.

Alternatively, in cases where there are no organisations or individuals to pursue, you may be eligible for compensation through the  Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) or the Redress Scotland scheme, both of which are government-sponsored and compensate survivors.

To seek help in confidence, and begin your claim for historical and sexual abuse compensation, you can contact us using the means below.

  1. Call us today on the number listed at the top of the page to speak to our Legal Enquiries Team
  2. Use our contact form to begin your claim online and someone will be back in touch with you at a time which is convenient for you.

Do I need to provide evidence when claiming for historical abuse? 

If you are considering making a claim for historical sexual abuse, it is generally helpful to provide evidence or information to support your claim.

It is important to note that evidence can take various forms, and the legal system recognises that in many cases of historical abuse, direct evidence may not be readily available.

Evidence can include various forms of documentation, such as medical records, diaries, photographs, or any other relevant documents that could support your claim. 

Additionally, witness statements from people who may have knowledge of the abuse or circumstances surrounding it can be valuable evidence.

However, do not hesitate to get in touch with us  if you feel that you lack evidence to support your claim, our non-accidental team can offer support and guidance in order to help you secure this evidence. 

How long have I got to make a claim?

The time limits for making a claim were removed by The Scottish Government in 2017 through the introduction of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill. Therefore, now there are no time limits for seeking help and making a civil claim in Scotland. However, we do suggest you seek help as soon as possible after you feel ready to do so. You can read more about this on our page for the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill

While the time limits for civil actions were removed there are still time restrictions in place for government schemes like CICA so it is advised to get in touch as soon as possible. 

How to report historical abuse?

We understand that not everyone feels ready to talk about the abuse they experienced. This is a personal decision for you. Some find that reporting gives them a sense of closure and helps them to start moving on. A report to the police can strengthen your civil case and, crucially, it may lead to your abuser being brought to justice. 

If you decide to report to the Police, you can do this by calling 101 or attending a police station. The police will put you in touch with their specialist team that deals with historic abuse cases. Alternatively, you can complete the online reporting form: Contact Us form | Police Scotland. You can read/watch their survivor information leaflet (attached) and animated video, which is available via the following link: Adult survivors of child abuse - Police Scotland

Historical abuse cases are typically investigated and proven through a combination of legal procedures, evidence gathering and witness testimony.

 Here's an overview of the process:

  1. Reporting: The first step is for the victim or a concerned party to report the historical abuse to the appropriate authorities. This could involve contacting the police, social services, or a specialised organisation dealing with historical abuse cases.
  2. Investigation: Once a report is made, the authorities will initiate an investigation. They will gather evidence, interview the victim, and potentially identify and interview any witnesses or individuals involved in the alleged abuse.
  3. Evidence gathering: Evidence can take various forms, depending on the nature of the abuse. It may include medical records, photographs, written correspondence, diaries, or any other relevant documents. Documents in the form of social work records, medical records, or independent statements such as police statements, which we can use to build a picture of what happened and the impact that it has had on you over the years.  If there has already been an independent investigation into an institution, for example by the police, local authority, or by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, this will assist in proving your case.
  4. Witness testimony: Testimony from victims and witnesses is a crucial part of proving historical abuse cases. Investigators will interview those involved, taking detailed statements and documenting their accounts. Witness testimonies can corroborate the victim's version of events and provide additional evidence.
  5. Criminal convictions: if a person has been convicted by a criminal court then this criminal outcome can be used as evidence to help prove your historic abuse claim. The strongest civil cases are those where the offender has been convicted in a criminal court but they are rare and it is NOT essential to have a criminal conviction. 

It's important to note that the specific process can vary depending on the nature of the abuse, the time that has passed since the incidents occurred and any applicable laws or regulations. 

Different types of historical abuse, such as child abuse, sexual abuse, or institutional abuse, may involve additional considerations or specialised investigative procedures.

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What is the abuse compensation claim process?

We know each client is unique so that means each case and the service we provide is unique because it’s tailored to suit a client’s individual needs.

However, there are a few key steps and milestones each case shares so below is an idea of what you can expect when you come to Digby Brown for help.

The first step is getting in touch with our Legal Enquiries Team whether by the enquiry form or phone number listed at the top of this page.

A legal adviser can then note down the key information relating to you and your case – but don’t worry, you will only need to share what you feel comfortable at this early stage. They will also explain to you how our no win, no fee funding model works. Then if you’re happy to proceed they will put you in touch with our Non-Accidental Team.

One of our specialist abuse lawyers will then contact you to discuss your case and our services in more detail so we have an idea of what the best route may be for your claim.

After confirming and signing the paperwork that confirms us as your solicitors we will then set to work immediately. The first step is usually an in-depth phone call or face-to-face meeting to discuss the particulars of your case. If you wish you may also have a friend, relative or partner with you for moral support if you worry you may become overwhelmed – whatever makes you comfortable.

From there we will liaise with experts and the authorities to gather any evidence relevant to building your legal case, such as:

  • Police reports
  • Court documents 
  • Medical reports 
  • Witness statements 
  • Any other relevant evidence like social work reports, historical records, etc

We do appreciate that in some cases there may be limited reports available to access however this does not mean your case cannot proceed – we will just look elsewhere for supporting evidence.

We will continue to keep you updated on your case every step of the way and when we do it will be done jargon-free and in plain English so you know exactly what’s happening.

We then conduct any negotiations with the defenders on your behalf.

There is no fixed time on how long it will be before your claim settles. It is an important and thorough investigation that needs to be done methodically and to a high standard. But this is the best way to help you make informed decisions about the progress of your claim.

Understandably, many clients can be anxious at the thought of the case going to court. But going to court only happens on rare occasions as most claims actually settle by negotiations.

What experience does Digby Brown have with abuse cases?

We don’t think it’s fair for survivors to spend years coming to terms with what happened only to be met with silence or inaction.

This is why we do everything we can to make sure you get the compensation and recognition you deserve.

One significant result was that of AB - he was abused as a child while resident at St Ninian’s School in Falkland, Fife. Not only did we secure AB £1.4million in damages but the evidence provided led to a judge ruling the abuse did happen, giving AB the recognition he deserved.

We helped three siblings secure £1 million in compensation against the Church of Scotland – thought to be the highest sum ever paid out by a religious group in Scotland.

A “significant sum” was secured from Celtic FC after a youth player was abused by Jim McCafferty.

The legal action of three sisters against Glasgow City Council where they were abused while in foster care was also widely reported.

The BBC highlighted the legal action of our client who is suing the Catholic Church in relation to the abuse he suffered as an altar boy.

And we also recovered a £240,000 settlement for a survivor who was abused by Sister Alphonso at Nazareth House.

This proven track record is why hundreds of survivors continually seek Digby Brown’s help every year. Many of which are survivors who come to us after losing faith in the abilities of the firm they previously signed up to.  


What are the effects of non-accidental abuse/injuries?

At Digby Brown, we know that every survivor is unique and the way abuse impacts survivors is different too. However, studies show that the impact of abuse may last a lifetime. 

Abuse has wide-ranging effects on your life, including on your health, relationships and education. The effects can be short term but sometimes they last into adulthood.

The long-term effects of abuse and neglect can include:

  • emotional difficulties like anger, anxiety, sadness or low self-esteem
  • mental health problems, eating disorders, self-harm or other distributing thoughts and memories
  • problems related to drugs or alcohol
  • poor physical health
  • struggling with parenting or relationships

Who can Digby Brown take action against?

We will investigate any individual or organisation which has either perpetrated abuse or failed to protect people in their care.

It doesn’t matter if they are a high-profile individual, a public authority or a powerful organisation. You deserve justice and recognition and we will do what we can to make this possible.

It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened. The passage of time does not dilute the suffering of survivors so we believe it should not prevent perpetrators from being held accountable.

During the legal process, any individual or groups we take action against are known as “defenders” and to date, we have already successfully secured compensation against:

  • Local authorities
  • Public bodies
  • Religious organisations
  • Charities and welfare groups
  • Football clubs
  • Businesses
  • Private schools
  • Youth clubs
  • Care homes and children’s homes

In the cases where we take action against an organisation, we use a legal argument called “vicarious liability”. This is when an employer can be held accountable for the actions of an abuser if the abuser used their job to groom, attack or abuse a victim. This, for example, is why football clubs can be held liable for staff or the Church can be liable for the acts of a priest.

In cases where there is no organisation to sue we may seek to recover damages from the abuser’s own assets. For example, if the abuser is a wealthy individual who owns lots of properties or bank accounts with large cash deposits then we can seek court orders to freeze his money so that it can be used to compensate you for your suffering and losses.

In cases where there are no organisations to sue and no individual to claim against, we may instead be able to obtain damages through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) or the Redress Scotland scheme. These government-led processes can be difficult to navigate but we have the experience and reputation needed to overcome the obstacles.

What our clients say about us

We put our clients at the centre of everything we do and are committed to providing the very best service. The hundreds of five star reviews we have received on Trustpilot is a reflection of this approach.

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Meet the Non-Accidental Team

Richard Pitts
Richard specialises in legal cases against public bodies like the Ministry of Defence and local authorities. He has a reputation for winning even the most difficult of cases (including cases where other firms previously thought a claim wasn’t even possible).

Colin Moffat
Colin is experienced in civil litigation and pursuing claims in Sheriff Courts and the Court of Session – the highest court in Scotland – to help survivors of life-changing trauma.

Catherine Hammond
Catherine’s whole career has been focused on litigation and after also previously holding a position on the Children's Panel she can use her experience to help non-accidental victims.

Michelle Young
Michelle joined Digby Brown after working as a prosecutor with the Crown meaning she brings a wealth of knowledge from criminal law that can help survivors in civil actions.

Rachel Brown
Rachel has worked in the CICA so knows how to help survivors navigate the scheme and acts in an advocacy role on behalf of clients at tribunals to challenge CICA decisions if we think they have not awarded clients enough compensation.

Digby Brown campaigning for survivors' rights

For years we have fought alongside charities and campaigners to amend improper, unfair or inappropriate legislation that prevented people from accessing justice.

Abolition of the “same roof rule” - between 1964 and 1979 the CICA frequently refused compensation to abuse victims if they still lived in the same house with their abuser (such as a spouse or relative). The CICA claimed the reason for refusing such claims would prevent the abuser from trying to steal the compensation for themselves. This meant lots of survivors were left without damages which sadly would have been the very tool that could have helped them escape their abuser and set up a safe home elsewhere. Thankfully this rule has also now been abolished. This means if you were previously refused a CICA compensation claim between 1964 and 1979 you now have the right to re-claim and we have the expertise to help you do so.

The Limitation Act (no more time limits) - In October 2017 the Scottish Government brought in a new law called the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act meaning anyone who was emotionally, physically or sexually abused after 1964 can now make a claim. More information on the new limitation laws can be found our complete advice page.

Redress Payments – These payments are made to survivors who can prove they were abused as a child while in care in Scotland. However for a person to be eligible the Scottish Government demands they must agree to waive their legal right to taking future legal action. We do not believe ‘cash for silence’ waivers are fair and do not reflect justice, and do not reflect the values of a compassionate and democratic society. Our campaign to fix the Redress scheme has been extensively reported in the national media including The Scottish Sun and The Times and we have taken part in several committee meetings at Holyrood to try and improve this process.

The reason for campaigning on these issues is simple: access denied is justice denied.

So long as there are obstacles in the way then we will continue to try and right any wrongs, close the loopholes that allow perpetrators to escape and improve the quality of justice that survivors expect, deserve and rely on.


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