Crime: Abuse case witnesses call for help

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The Independent Online
More than 20 alleged victims of child abuse who have given evidence to the North Wales tribunal are receiving therapy. And 105 witnesses have been counselled following the experience of reliving the trauma of the abuse they suffered two decades ago.

But the victims, who have now largely completed their evidence to the tribunal, say what is on offer is insufficient and want more long-term help made available. They say that some people have been forced to the verge of suicide by their experiences, and point to the cases of a number of young men known to have killed themselves over the last 20 years after being abused in care.

One of the witnesses said: "A lot of us have given evidence about what we went through and we have relived what happened to us for no personal benefit. It is very traumatic experience. We think there should be counselling and therapy for as long as it is needed, not just cut off. And we shouldn't have to wait months to get help. Some, those who don't have anyone to talk to, are worse off than others. All they want to know is that somebody cares."

A number of witnesses say they felt under great stress giving evidence to the tribunal, particularly under cross-examination by lawyers representing alleged abusers. "They seize on the slightest tiny mistake, which is easy to make after 20 years, and try to make out that you are a liar and that everything you say is a lie," said one witness. "When you have taken a long time to decide whether or not to give evidence in the first place and been persuaded to because it might stop others being abused, it is like being abused all over again."

Yesterday The Bridge Consultancy, which is contracted by the Welsh Office to provide counselling, ended its physical presence at the tribunal. Its chief executive John Fitzgerald said: "The witnesses now are organisational and that is not part of our brief. We will however be keeping the service operational on a different basis to make sure that all the witnesses we have got are able to be kept supported, however long it takes.

"Until now we have had two members of staff at the tribunal every day, and they are not there any longer. We have supported 105 witnesses outside the tribunal and we have been there every day so most witnesses who have gone through the tribunal has been given support. If they need long-term therapy we will support them until we have found that for them and set it in place."