Abuse victim given apology by Portsmouth City Council after eight-year campaign

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IT was the apology Les Cummings thought he would never see.

But after an eight-year fight to get Portsmouth City Council to say sorry for the abuse he suffered while under its care, the 70-year-old finally had his day of justice.

Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones and Les Cummings. Picture: Allan Hutchings

Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones and Les Cummings. Picture: Allan Hutchings

Clutching a letter of apology written for him by Cllr Donna Jones, the new leader of the council, Mr Cummings declared he could now finally move on and put his troubled past behind him.

Mr Cummings is one of 19 known victims who were abused at the former Children’s Cottage Home in Cosham, in the 1950s, with the list including members of his family.

The 70-year-old, of Landport, was also mistreated while in foster care.

An overwhelmed Mr Cummings said: ‘I am emotionally exhausted and spent – but this has lifted me.

‘It makes me feel good that finally, the right thing has been done by good, honourable people.

‘I thank Donna Jones and her colleagues for giving this very important apology and I now consider this situation to be finally closed.’

Cllr Jones decided with her Conservative team to write an apology after reviewing council files showing evidence of Mr Cummings reporting abuse when it happened.

She said: ‘Mr Cummings’ story is a deeply sad one, as are those of other victims of the Children’s Cottage Home.

‘The very least that we could do was to give Mr Cummings his apology as a matter of urgency, out of a sign of respect for what he and others have been through.’

Cllr Jones has also written an apology to the other victims.

As reported, a draft apology was made by Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson in 2011, then council leader, but it never came to light since it didn’t have the full backing of the Lib Dem administration, and there were fears over the council being at risk of legal challenge.

This came despite city solicitor Michael Lawther giving the all-clear at the time for an apology, saying there was no longer a big risk of victims coming forward with large compensation claims if an apology was made.

Mr Cummings’ sister Janet died in 2012 having never been given an apology.

Cllr Eleanor Scott believes this will usher in a new era of compassion.

‘It opens the door for the council to be compassionate and believe victims,’ she said.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said he would need to see a copy of the letter before making a comment.

Leader’s apology in full

Dear Mr Cummings,

I write this personal letter as a sign of respect and concern for you as a child who was in the care of Portsmouth City Council.

I have reviewed the documentation that was provided to you under the Data Protection Act from the council’s records, which evidenced the sexual and other abuse which you suffered during your time in the care of this authority in the 1950s.

Whilst only those directly involved will know the details of what happened, I accept that you feel that you were maltreated as a child when in the care of the city council.

I am writing to you in my capacity as leader of Portsmouth City Council to apologise for the care that you received. Every child has the right to feel protected when growing up and you feel the city council failed you and others, and for this I apologise on behalf of this authority.

I was dismayed to find out that an apology letter had been drafted a few years ago but for whatever reason, the previous leader chose not to send it.

I know that an official apology is important to you, which is why I have made this one of my first priorities since becoming leader, and it was clear that there was no legal impediment in my doing so.

I only wish an apology was made sooner before one of your brothers and your sister, who were also looked-after children, passed away. I want to reassure you I am committed to making sure no child is failed by this authority. I hope that this apology brings you comfort and some sense of closure.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Donna Jones

Leader of the city council

Campaign to be acknowledged took a bumpy road

ABUSE victim Les Cummings has already been given a £3,000 settlement by the council for what happened to him, but never got a sense of closure from that.

His campaign for an apology, which started in 2006, has seen him upset people along the way.

In 2011, he was convicted for producing leaflets falsely claiming Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock was 
a paedophile.

He is due to appear in court later this year over claims he stalked Mr Hancock last year.

A book he wrote about the abuse he suffered called Forgotten has also been published.