For decades a significant number of boys have joined the Boys’ Brigade hoping for the opportunity to experience camping holidays and residential activities and learn new skills and make friends. For most of them their experience and memories are happy ones. Sadly, there are some for whom their memories of the Boys Brigade are marred by experiences they would rather forget.
Since it was originally founded in 1883 the Boys’ Brigade has grown into a worldwide movement. There are a number of groups across the UK which are run by committed and enthusiastic adult volunteers. They are entrusted with boys and girls, keen to get involved in fun and adventurous activities for whose welfare they are responsible.
On the odd occasion, one sees media reports of Boys Brigade leaders who have abused their position of trust within their organisation and have been convicted of sexual offences against those in their care. In January 2020, the media reported on the trial and sentencing of William Campbell Bissett (referred to as William Bissett throughout this article), a Boys’ Brigade leader.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s William Bissett was a Boys’ Brigade leader and involved with church activities at the Methodist Church, Church Road, St Annes where the Boys’ Brigade weekly meetings took place. Bissett was thought to be a trusted member of the community, gaining the trust of boys and their parents. He used his position of trust to gain access, groom (often a precursor to sexual abuse), and sexually assault vulnerable young boys, who he saw as easy targets. These assaults would take place at the Methodist Church hall where the Boys’ Brigade would meet, and at outside activities and residential camps.
Two of Emmott Snell Solicitor’s clients (referred to in this article as XY and XZ to protect their identities) have successfully obtained out of court settlements after bringing compensation claims against the Boys’ Brigade for sexual assaults they suffered at the hands of William Bissett, whilst members of a Boys’ Brigade group in Lancashire. Both were young children at the time.
William Bissett sexually assaulted XY and XZ at a Boys’ Brigade summer camp and during Boys Brigade activities. William Campbell Bissett would return to the boys’ sleeping quarters after lights out and sexually assault the boys as they lay in their beds. William Bissett (who was also a band leader) also sexually assaulted XY during music lessons and attending music festivals/galas.
Our courageous clients reported their abuse by Campbell Bissett to Lancashire Police in c. 2019 who investigated. William Bissett was questioned and denied the allegations, forcing his victims to give evidence at trial and causing them further trauma and distress.
Following a criminal trial which took place at Preston Crown Court, William Bissett was found guilty of 17 counts of indecently assaulting four boys in the 1980’s and 1990’s, three counts of gross indecency and six counts of indecent assault against a fifth boy. He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. During the hearing, Judge Altham highlighted the profound effect of sexual abuse on victims, and commended the victims for their “tremendous dignity” in the face of a man who went on to “tell a pack of lies”.
The civil claims
Following Campbell Bissett’s conviction, XY and XZ decided to pursue civil actions claim against the Boys Brigade, to recover compensation for the lifelong suffering they had endured as a consequence of childhood sexual abuse.
Technically, XY and XZ were out of time for bringing their claims. The basic rule in English law is that an adult who is harmed or injured must bring their claim within three years from the date of their injury. This means their claim must be registered at court by the third anniversary of their injury. If a child is harmed, they must register their compensation claim before their 21st birthday. These rules have been in force since the Limitation Act 1980, and the legal principle is known as ‘limitation’. Emmott Snell Solicitors explained to XY and XZ that the court has discretion to allow claims through and that we believed the court may exercise their discretion in their cases, due to Bisset’s convictions XY and XZ’ claims were founded on the argument that the Boys Brigade was legally responsible for the crimes committed by William Campbell Bissett.
The police and medical records and any available court documents were collated. In the course of the civil proceedings each claimant was examined by a psychiatrist, who provided the medical evidence to support and quantify their claims.
The medical evidence showed that XY and XZ had been affected by their sexual abuse by William Campbell Bissett. Diagnoses included Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic Adjustment Disorder, and drug misuse. The expert found that many aspects of their lives had been adversely affected as a consequence of the abuse. Treatment for XY was recommended.
Following service of the medical reports and schedules setting out each client’s financial losses, negotiations began towards out of court settlements. Negotiations finally resulted in both claimants achieving five figure settlements.
Whilst no amount of money can make up for the harm that XY and XZ suffered and the effect it had on their childhood and adult life, it is hoped that the settlement they received will find some closure and provide important recognition for the injury they suffered at the hands of William Bissett.
Emmott Snell Solicitors have successfully represented many victims of sexual abuse who have been abused in a variety of settings. By courageous survivors like XY and XZ taking civil action, it is hoped that the Boys’ Brigade and other similar youth group organisations will be more vigilant in their safeguarding, and children will be better protected from abuse by perpetrators such as William Bissett.
If you have suffered childhood sexual abuse by William Campbell Bissett or others and are wondering what to do about it, please don’t hesitate to contact us for an informal initial chat, or download our eBook which we hope may be of some assistance to you. We will be pleased to assist.