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James Counsell QC in second successful claim against Jehovah’s Witnesses for historical sexual abuse

In a judgment handed down on the 20th January by Chamberlain J, a claim for damages against Watch Tower, the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation, was upheld with an award of £62,000 made for the psychiatric injuries suffered by the claimant, with damages for some other losses still to be assessed.

The Court heard that the claimant, known as BXB in this case, had been a member of the Barry congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and had been instructed by an elder of that congregation to provide support and a “shoulder to cry on” for the elder’s son, Mark Sewell, also an elder of the congregation, whom was suffering from depression.  Mark Sewell abused his position as an elder first by attempting to engage BXB in intimacy and finally, when drunk, raping her when she came with her family to support him at his home.  BXB was 29 at the time but was not able to report the assault because she was fearful that she would not be believed and of the effects that disclosure would have on her family.  It was only some years later, when she discovered that Mark Sewell had been taking advantage of his position as an elder to abuse others, including two of his own young nieces, that she went to the police and gave evidence in a crown court trial.  Mr Sewell was convicted of rape and other sexual offences and is currently serving a sentence of 14 years in prison.

In giving judgment for the Claimant, after a trial in November lasting five days, the Court upheld her claim that Watch Tower was vicariously liable for the assault committed by its elder and permitted the claim to proceed despite the earlier expiry of the limitation period.

This claim is the second claim in which James Counsell QC has successfully represented a claimant against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The first involved sexual abuse of a child by a ministerial servant of the organisation  and ended in judgment being given in the claimant’s favour in November 2015 by Globe J.  Permission to appeal that decision was refused.

The judgement for BXB v (1) Watch Tower & Bible Tract Society of  Pennsylvania (2) Trustees of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witness [2020] EWHC 656 (QB), LTL 24/3/2020 : [2020] 3 WLUK 321 can be read here.

James was instructed by Thomas Beale at Bolt Burdon Kemp. Alongside his Clinical and Professional Negligence practice, James specialises in acting for victims of historical sexual abuse. James is currently instructed in cases against football clubs and other sporting bodies, religious and educational organisations and the Scout Association. To instruct James or find out more, please contact Graham Woods or Chris Rowe on +44 (0)20 7353 6381.

News 30 Jan, 2020


James Counsell KC

Call: 1984 Silk: 2017

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