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'Kicked while I’m already down': The child sexual assault victim denied compensation over a petty crime

Kim Mitchell went to police three times before they believed her

Harriet Agerholm
Monday 30 July 2018 08:43 BST
Kim Mitchell aged seven, 11 months before she was attacked
Kim Mitchell aged seven, 11 months before she was attacked

“I walked in and the lights were all down,” Kim Mitchell says, describing the night she was sexually abused by her PE teacher. She was eight years old and the children at her grammar school were watching a film. Out of the shadows in the TV room, lit only by the glow of the screen, Norman Hogbin beckoned her over.

“There was nowhere for me to sit, so he plonked me in on his knee,” she says. “I was abused then and there on his lap while the other the children sat watching the telly.” She froze, she says, and silently willed someone to turn around and see what he was doing. They didn’t.

Over the next 26 years, Ms Mitchell went to her local police station in West Sussex twice, but says she was “fobbed off” each time. She tried again in 2016, this time in Northumbria, and was finally believed. Last year, Hogbin was sentenced to 15 months in jail, which after she appealed was increased to the maximum sentence for a crime committed in 1990 – three years.

After spending almost three decades seeking justice, she says she feels angry. She has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has been suicidal, but says she is unable to access long-term mental health treatment on the NHS.

Victims of sexual assault are able to claim from £1,000 to £44,000 from the Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), to pay for expenses relating to their attack such as the cost of psychotherapy.

But the authority regularly refuses victims who have criminal convictions of any severity. Last year, Ms Mitchell was handed a community order after threatening a former employer for withholding wages from her. According to the compensation authority, that means she is not entitled to compensation.

Norman Hogbin was jailed for three years in 2017

“To constantly have to fight and struggle to get justice and then constantly be slammed down one time after another – I feel like I’m being kicked while I’m already down,” she says. “I didn’t commit a crime when I was eight.”

The compensation system, which is overseen by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), has come under heavy criticism from campaigners for imposing arbitrary rules to save money. Last year, it emerged CICA was refusing compensation to victims of child sexual abuse on the basis they “consented” to it. Following pressure from sexual abuse and children’s organisations, the authority changed its guidelines.

CICA has also come under fire over its so-called “same-roof” rule, which denies compensation to domestic abuse victims who were assaulted before 1979. The law was initially introduced to prevent the money benefiting abusers, but in a landmark ruling on Tuesday, the court of appeal decided the rule was “incompatible” with human rights laws.

Ms Mitchell says she went to the police three times before they believed her

“The scheme discriminates against some of the most vulnerable victims of sexual crimes in several ways,” says Lisa Longstaff, from Women Against Rape. “Convictions, even for minor crimes like shoplifting, or an unpaid TV licence, are used to refuse an award.

“To punish us twice – first for the crime that we committed, and secondly for the crime committed against us – is unfair and disproportionate given the serious, often life-changing effects of sexual violence. And many victims end up criminalised as a result of rape trauma.”

Last year, figures obtained by The Independent revealed at least 398 alleged victims of sex abuse have been refused payments since January 2015 because they were convicted of some sort of crime.

Ms Mitchell is mounting an appeal against the CICA decision. After years of being accused of lying, she wants the authority to officially recognise what happened to her.

When she first reported the abuse at the age of eight, a social worker at West Sussex police station said she was not telling the truth “because of the way I described the incident using my fingers”, she says.

Now, aged 36, “I’m the sort of person that will drop herself in it even if that means telling the truth because if my integrity. I will never have that questioned again,” she says.

Prior to Hogbin’s 2017 conviction for indecently assaulting Ms Mitchell, he was convicted of three counts of sexually abusing another girl over a period of three years. That abuse occurred between 1999 and 2002 – nine years after Ms Mitchell was assaulted. “I feel guilt – if they had listened to me in the first place, that may have never happened to that other little girl,” she says.

West Sussex Police said in a statement it did not hold records from crimes reported in the 1990s, so it is not possible to formally confirm Ms Mitchell’s allegation was received and investigated at the time.

“However we did receive a call from the victim in 2012 asking for the case to be investigated,” a spokesperson said. “This was carefully looked into but from background enquiries we made at that stage it was concluded that the matter had been adequately investigated in 1990 and that the victim had not provided any new information. She was informed of this.

“In November 2015 we were contacted by Northumbria Police who had received a call from the victim asking for this matter to be investigated and providing new information. We then began an investigation which resulted in the conviction and sentencing of Mr Hogbin in 2017.

“We are glad to have helped achieve justice for the victim even after all these years.”

An MoJ spokesperson said: “This was an awful crime and we have every sympathy for Ms Mitchell.

“The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme clearly sets out that payments may be reduced or refused if an applicant has an unspent conviction.

“We are looking at concerns about the compensation scheme as part of our work on a victims strategy which will be published this summer.”

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