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Woman abused in foster care wins Supreme Court fight against local authority

Natasha Armes Photo: BPM Media/ Mark Fear

A woman who suffered physical and sexual abuse after being placed with foster parents has won a battle at the UK's highest court against the local authority which was responsible for her care.

Natasha Armes, who waived her right to anonymity, was aged just seven when she was taken into care in February 1985 by Nottinghamshire County Council.

She had previously lost actions at the High Court and Court of Appeal in her claim that the local authority was liable for the abuse she suffered.

By a majority of four-to-one, Supreme Court justices in London ruled in her favour on Wednesday.

They said the next stage of the litigation was for damages to be assessed.

The issue before the justices was whether the local authority who placed her into foster care could be held liable in respect of the physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by the foster carers, even though the council was not negligent in connection with the selection or supervision of them.

The 40-year-old, who was in the care of Nottinghamshire from the age of seven to 18, was placed by the local authority into foster care with two couples in the 1980s.

The court said she was physically and emotionally abused by a "Mrs A" in the first placement, and sexually abused by a "Mr B" in the second.

Natasha Armes pictured centre with solicitors Francesca Paul and Billhar Uppal Credit: BPM Media/ Mark Fear

In their ruling, the Supreme Court justices found the local authority was "vicariously liable" for the abuse committed by the foster parents. Lawyers representing children who have been abused by foster carers reacted to the ruling saying it had "finally put right a terrible injustice".

Others pointed out the financial implications could be "wide-ranging".

Her lawyers, Nottingham firm Uppal Taylor Solicitors, described the ruling in a statement on their website as "landmark".

They said:

Today, the long-awaited judgment found that local authorities are vicariously liable for the actions of foster parents.

The judgment means that claimants who have been abused in a foster care placement by their foster parents have now been provided further and clear clarity as to the imposition of vicarious liability.

– Uppal Taylor Solicitors

Kim Harrison, a lawyer from Slater and Gordon, which represents children who have been abused by foster carers, said:

This judgment has finally put right a terrible injustice which has denied so many victims a legal redress that is widely available to other survivors of abuse.

Until now local authorities had effectively been able to avoid responsibility for the devastating consequences of placing a child in the care of an abusive foster parent.

This removes the arbitrary distinction which meant local authorities could be held vicariously liable for abuse if it took place in a children's home, but not if it took place in a foster carer's home.

With this ruling, survivors will be able properly to hold to account the authority which so badly let them down.

– Slater and Gordon, Kim Harrison

The ruling in Ms Armes' favour was made by Supreme Court president Lady Hale, along with Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke and Lord Reed.

Lord Reed, giving the majority's reasons for finding there was vicarious liability, said the local authority carried out the recruitment, selection and training of foster parents, paid their expenses and supervised the fostering.

The "foster parents with which the present case is concerned cannot be regarded as carrying on an independent business of their own".

He said:

Although the picture presented is not without complexity, nevertheless when considered as a whole it points toward the conclusion that the foster parents provided care to the child as an integral part of the local authority's organisation of its child care services.

It could "properly" be said that the acts committed against the child "were committed by the foster parents in the course of an activity carried on for the benefit of the local authority.

– Lord Reed