This man was crippled by crime, now they would give him just pounds 7,500

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The Independent Online
KATHY HOGAN went into a north London public lavatory on a May morning four years ago and was raped by a man who had been lying in wait in the next cubicle.

Her attacker leapt over the partition and landed on her head and neck, leaving her stunned. His assault on her lasted almost an hour.

In February last year, almost three years after she was raped, she received pounds 44,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, including pounds 28,000 in recognition of lost earnings. Under the new compensation system which the Government plans to start on 1 April, the payment would have been just pounds 7,500.

This sort of glaring difference has had victim-support groups, the legal profession, trade unions and police joining in opposition to the new government scheme, which is designed to save pounds 250m annually by the year 2000.

The compensation board currently decides how much to pay victims of crime, based on individual assessment of their injuries and loss of earnings. From April, cases will be measured according to a 25-tier tariff of fixed payments. Awards will range from pounds 1,000 for a chipped front tooth up to pounds 250,000 for paralysis of all four limbs. The figures are based on an average of recent payments but, crucially, no separate award will be made for loss of earnings or medical costs.

The Home Office insists that 54 per cent of victims will get the same or more compensation. But the gravest victims of crime - relatives of murder victims, those who suffer multiple injuries or have to give up their job - will be hurt most by the changes, opponents say.

Kathy Hogan says her compensation allowed her to rebuild her life. At first she carried on with her book-keeping business, but about six months later, in court, her life began to crumble. 'I was fortunate that he was pleading guilty, but I decided to go to court. Hearing them describe what happened to me brought the reality home. I fell apart.'

She was 43 and bringing up her daughter alone. Her business collapsed. For more than two years she survived on sickness benefit.

She said: 'I will always be scarred from being raped, but I felt justice was done eventually. The man was sent to prison and I was compensated. I would have felt it was very unfair if I hadn't got compensation for loss of earnings. The money gave me security, there was no pressure on me to head back out into the world.'

With the support of family and friends, she feels she has now come to terms with the attack. Kathy considers the pay- out on offer to rape victims under the new scheme unjust.

'Having a set rate for people makes it seem like an insurance claim for your car, or a piece of furniture. It is completely unjust.

'I would feel totally victimised, not just by the man, but by society as well, if I was given such low compensation.'

Electrician Bob O'Neill stands to receive compensation totalling pounds 25,000 for injuries he suffered on a quiz night at his local pub in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. He has not worked since the attack, in November 1990 - yet under the provisions of the new system, his injury would be considered to be worth pounds 7,500 in compensation.

Bob's kneecap was broken into four pieces after he went to help the pub landlady deal with two drunken teenagers. One of the youths picked up a fire extinguisher as he left the pub and, fearing he might throw it through the window, Bob followed him out. In a scuffle which followed, the teenager landed on Bob's leg.

Mr O'Neill, 52, has just come off crutches. He has endured four operations and expects he will need a replacement kneecap within four years.

He has had interim payments totalling pounds 9,500 from the compensation board and hopes to get a final settlement this year, taking loss of earnings into account, which will boost the total to around pounds 25,000.

'I've already lost over pounds 40,000 in wages, that's apart from the fact that I'm crippled for life,' Bob said. 'I've been told these new rules would mean I would get pounds 7,500 and that's it. I think that's disgusting when I've lost 15 years of my working life.'

Few claim the existing compensation system is perfect. More than 43 per cent of cases take 12 months or more to resolve, and the compensation board still had a backlog of 86,951 applications at the end of March 1993.

The board consists of a chairman with wide legal experience and 19 other legally qualified members who consider applications from victims of crimes of violence. Since the scheme was introduced in 1964, the board has paid out pounds 909.5m, with pounds 405m paid in the past three years. The Government estimated that payments would reach pounds 500m a year by the end of the century unless the system was reformed.

Helen Peggs, spokeswoman for the charity Victim Support, said: 'We think what currently exists is appalling, but it is being replaced by something even more appalling.'

She claimed the Government was steam-rollering through an ill-thought-out scheme, prepared without consultation. Victim Support has drawn up its own blueprint for a new compensation scheme. It includes a tariff system, but set at higher levels and guaranteed to rise with inflation.

It would also include a special pension for the victims of murder and manslaughter and the introduction of employers' insurance schemes to compensate people injured at work.

Martin Thomas QC resigned from the compensation board in protest at the Government's proposals. He calls the changes outrageous and nauseating, motivated purely by the desire to save money.

He said: 'The tariff scheme was around in Anglo-Saxon times and we seem to have gone back to that. The law has moved on since Alfred the Great's time, and in all fields of damages or compensation the individual circumstances of the victim are what count.

'It is just unacceptable that a young girl with a scar on her face would get the same compensation as an elderly man, or that a policeman who loses his career through attempting to prevent crime gets no more than an unemployed person in a pub brawl.'

(Photograph omitted)