This week the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse heard from the second most senior figure in the Church of England, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. Given the harrowing testimonies of people who have been scarred for life, suffering from trauma and depression, all due to the sexual abuse they faced at the hands of clergy, it is no surprise the Inquiry summoned the Archbishop. He, after all, had been alerted to shocking tales of abuse within his Archdiocese by the very victims themselves.
Archbishop Sentamu admitted under questioning that support for victims had been ‘shabby and shambolic’. He was then directly asked if he now thought that he personally had made mistakes in handling such horrific cases: “Hand on heart I don’t think so. Where there have been disclosures I have been willing to apologise to the person and do the best to support them” he replied.
I for one am outraged. An ordained member of the clergy in a very senior position and all he talks about are “disclosures”. No, Archbishop! These victims came for justice and protection. You know sexual abuse is a crime and you had direct access to senior police officers, yet you did not lift the phone.
You must have heard the distress in the voices of these victims and while you had direct access to agencies that can offer psychological support, all you did was give them a cup of tea and sympathy. Worse than that, as you sent them on their way – alone and broken – you lifted the Persian Carpet in your study, and swept those sordid tales of abuse under, thereby permitting your fellow clergy who had been accused, to continue in their wicked dominating perverted ways.
If this is the example of Jesus Christ; that English Archbishops emulate in their daily lives, then truly the moral fibre of our establishment is rotten at the core.
This ingrained attitude of society not taking responsibility was writ large for me again at the trial of Darren Pencille who has been given life for the murder of Lee Pomeroy on a south London commuter train in January this year. While I am as horrified as anyone at this needless and brutal stabbing, made all the more gruesome as we know the victim’s 14-year-old son watched on helplessly as his father bled to death, one crucial aspect seems to have been brushed over.
Mr Pencille was diagnosed in 2003 with paranoid schizophrenia. In fact, he had a recorded medical history of hearing voices in his head and threatening to kill people in the past. To make matters all the more tragic, he had been reviewed by an NHS Psychiatrist 24 hours before the fatal incident, and deemed ‘no risk to himself or others’.
The Thatcher government began the process of closing mental health residential care facilities as soon as it came to power. The overriding concern was capping public expenditure and selling-off these vast old asylum properties and landscaped grounds to the private sector. As such, patients with even the most complex mental health needs were to return to their communities and seek care from home as out-patients at underfunded mental health departments of local hospitals.
We have had a catalogue of needless deaths, trials and inquests since then – adherence to medication cannot be controlled when the patient is not in medical care. Indeed Mr Pencille had declared to his psychiatrist that he no longer took his schizophrenia drugs and preferred self-medicating with cannabis. This in itself should have triggered a warning bell – a patient with diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia was treating it with a compound that is known to induce psychosis in users.
Our entire NHS Mental Health system needs an urgent Review. Too many innocent victims are being killed either through stabbings or being pushed under tube trains. Too many families are left ripped apart. Too many children are left without a parent. And if we really are a compassionate and caring society, we should be outraged that too many mental health sufferers are not getting the adequate level of medical care they so deserve. A level of care that used to be provided until market-driven Thatcherism took hold and Blairism took it even further.
Mental health sufferers should be seen as patients, not part of ‘profit and loss’ spreadsheets. Because of systemic failures in our Care in the Community programme, they then become part of the Criminal Justice system, when it should really be within the Public Health system.
For a safer, kinder, more caring Britain we need to reflect on the root causes of why Lee Pomeroy died, and why mentally ill men like Darren Pencille will be remanded behind bars where we know mental health treatment is even more lacking. Broken Britain urgently needs a fix.
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