British Airways should be liable for abuses against children carried out by British pilot Simon Wood through charitable activities sponsored by the airline in East Africa, leading law firm Leigh Day has said today.

The pending case is lauded as a watershed moment for the rights of child victims abused by British nationals abroad to seek justice and reparations through British courts. 

The mother of one alleged victim told the Daily Mail in 2013 that her daughter was abused at a five-star hotel in Nairobi and that the girl, now 14, had since threatened suicide. "I trusted him completely because he seemed so good and so kind. I trusted him with everything, even with my daughter," she said. 

Simon Wood is alleged to have sexually abused children during stopovers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Law firm Leigh Day has claimed that Wood played a key role in administering donations to schools and orphanages on behalf of British Airways.

Leading children’s rights charity ECPAT UK has documented numerous cases detailing how British nationals exploit charitable activities in schools and orphanages in developing countries to access and sexually abuse children.

“Companies involved in charitable programmes with vulnerable populations abroad have a responsibility for child protection. It is clear in this case that the policies and systems in place failed these children,” said Bharti Patel, CEO, ECPAT UK. 

"We have specific laws to prevent the sexual abuse of children abroad. Under Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, British national’s travelling or residing abroad can be prosecuted for such offences against children, but time and time again we are seeing cases where known or alleged abusers have been allowed to travel and have abused children with impunity. Questions have to be asked how the Government is managing and coordinating information on cases and what steps it is taking to prevent abuses against the world’s most vulnerable children. The travel industry too has a responsibly to ensure their employees and customers are aware of the laws on sexual abuse of children and the rights of children wherever they may operate."

In June of this year, a roundtable of leading legal experts joined ECPAT UK to conclude that victims of abuse by UK nationals abroad often do not have access to the kind of support that victims of abuse in the UK receive. According to ECPAT UK, an improved system of support and care, particularly for victims of transnational abuse, would give them the confidence to report incidents, thereby helping to bring offenders to justice. 

Lawyer Nichola Marshall, of Leigh Day, said: “In terms of remedies for the victims, the sad fact is that as they were abused in the developing world, access to free counselling services or support groups is very limited or non-existent. This is in stark contrast to what UK children would be able to access having been abused in the UK. Part of the legal claim against British Airways is for compensation to ensure the children that Simon Wood abused in Africa are able to access private counselling and therapy services should they wish.”

Wood was first arrested over an indecent assault allegation in November 2001, but prosecutors ruled there was insufficient evidence against him to bring a case. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reconsidered the case in July after receiving new details of the similar alleged offences committed overseas.