Another Victim Says He Will Sue Hodge; Margaret Hodge's Attempts to Defend Her Position Land Her More in Hot Water

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 12, 2003 | Go to article overview

Another Victim Says He Will Sue Hodge; Margaret Hodge's Attempts to Defend Her Position Land Her More in Hot Water


Byline: DAVID COHEN

A MAN who survived horrific child abuse yesterday told the Evening Standard of his intention to sue Margaret Hodge, the Minister for Children.

But today we reveal that Demetrious Panton - whom Hodge has sensationally tried to discredit with an astonishing attack on his character is not the only victim to be considering legal action.

Douglas Fitch, 28, also a survivor of Islington care, and whose tragic story the Standard published earlier this year, says that he, too, has approached lawyers to sue Hodge for the abuse he suffered, and which he alleges she

could have prevented - if only she had listened to senior social workers when she was leader of the council.

"I hold Hodge responsible for what happened to me and I will not rest until I get justice," says Fitch.

And as the touchpaper over Hodge threatens to re-ignite, yet another victim has come forward to tell - for the first time - her story of abuse while in the care of Islington social services, and of her subsequent battle for compensation.

She is Yvonne Williams, who could have met Demetrious Panton many times in the late Seventies, for their time care overlapped, and for a while, she was housed in a care home around the corner from Panton's.

In a pre-emptive strike, Hodge had attempted to discredit the testimony of Demetrious Panton, now 35, whose story was to appear in BBC Radio 4's Today programme, branding him "an extremely disturbed person".

Even if this were accurate, it would be an unusually callous thing for a Children's Minister to say of someone who suffered abuse as a young boy.

But what is so shocking about Hodge's attack on Panton is that it appears to be entirely without foundation, raising disturbing questions - once again about the judgment and character of ourminister for Children.

"Margaret Hodge has defamed me both as a human being and as a professional," says Panton.

"I have never been sectioned under any mental health legislation.

have never been my doctors for clinical depression. I have no convictions, and I do not have a criminal record.

"Hodge has plainly libelled me. I have appointed solicitors and will be seeking redress through the courts."

Korieh Duodu, a barrister at David Price Solicitors and Advocates, confirms he is looking into the legal position on behalf of Mr Panton.

Mark Stephens, a libel solicitor at the law firm Finer Stephens, says that because Hodge's comments were made on the Today programme - and not in Parliament - it is easier for her to be sued because she cannot hide behind ministerial privilege.

"The fact that the comments were originally made in an apparently private letter to the BBC is no defence either," Stephens adds. "Unless it can be shown that Mr Panton displays serious mental health problems, the potential is there for her to be sued."

When challenged by the Standard to provide substantiating evidence for her statement, the Minister had nothing to offer.

"Margaret Hodge isn't saying anything more," her press officer insisted.

The problem for Hodge is compounded that the professionals who have actually met Panton flatly contradict her.

Detective Superintendent John Sweeney, who led the investigation into Panton's Islington care-home abuser, serial paedophile Bernie Bain, who is now dead, describes Panton as follows: wouldn't say Demetrious was disturbed at all. He certainly wanted justice, to see Mr Bain in a dock in a British court and [for him] to go to prison for what he had done.

"That's what his quest was for, and that's totally understandable.

"I wouldn't call that disturbed in any way. I found Demetrious to be very articulate, and very measured about what could, and couldn't, be done."

Is Hodge's attack on Panton - as some are now suggesting - the rash act of a self-serving minister who will say anything to protect her career? …

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