Belfast Telegraph

Woman abused by stepmother fails in bid for compensation

By Alan Erwin

A Belfast woman whose stepmother subjected her to child cruelty has lost a High Court battle over being refused compensation - because they shared the same home.

She challenged a scheme that denies payouts to victims of historic abuse who lived under the same roof as perpetrators.

But a judge dismissed her case after ruling that the exclusion was not due to a legal oversight or irregularity.

Sir Paul Girvan said: "Due deference must be accorded to the legislature in its policy choice."

The woman, who cannot be identified, alleged she was subjected to "appalling" physical and sexual abuse as a child nearly 40 years ago.

The court heard it began after her mother died and the assailant moved into the family home to live with her father.

Initial physical abuse involved hair pulling, tripping up the applicant and throwing her clothes on the floor. It was claimed that after her father was imprisoned the abuse worsened until she was taken into care.

Decades later her stepmother pleaded guilty to child cruelty and assault offences. Charges of sexual abuse were left on the books.

Proceedings were launched against the Department of Justice after a criminal injuries compensation panel turned down the victim's application for recompense.

Under legislation dating back to the 1970s, payouts were not made in cases where the abuser and perpetrator lived in the same household. The rationale was based on difficulties in establishing the facts, and to ensure no benefit to the offender.

Although the law has since been amended, the bar remains in place for historic cases.

Seeking to judicially review the authorities, her legal team argued that the policy breaches her human rights.

Counsel claimed it was unfair to deny her when it has already been established beyond reasonable doubt that she was the victim of physical abuse.

It was contended that if she had been abused by her next door neighbour she would be entitled to compensation.

But dealing with the issue of justification, Sir Paul backed the department's case.

After rejecting further submissions made on the woman's behalf, the judge confirmed: "In the result the application is dismissed."

Belfast Telegraph

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