Submitted by Janet Donaldson, Executive Head of Children's Services, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (CA 118)
My submission is based on the direct experiences of Barnsley Social Services and of my own experience within another Yorkshire region Local Authority Social Services Department over the past five years.
1. Do police methods of "trawling" for evidence involve a disproportionate use of resources and produce unreliable evidence for prosecution?
Within Barnsley there have been three significant historical abuse investigations during the last five years. It has been our experience that without exception these enquiries have been managed through inter-agency strategy meetings which are used to plan the investigation and agree the different roles and responsibilities of the key agencies involved. Within Barnsley these strategy meetings have consistently considered whether and how far a trawl for other potential victims and/or witnesses should take place and these have always been considered to be appropriate within the scope of the local authority. On occasions it has been decided not to conduct a full trawl but to start for example by reconsidering basic checks such as police and Department of Health Consultancy Index checks on staff working within relevant parts of the Local Authority.
In one case where allegations were made against foster carers dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, previous employment checks were made because they linked to the foster carers' previous work within a residential children's home in another part of the country. That investigation is ongoing, but again there is no evidence of inappropriate trawling by the police.
We have no evidence that work on these cases takes up a disproportionate amount of resource or that it produces unreliable evidence for prosecution.
2. Is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted?
Again it is my experience that the Crown Prosecution Service have generally made sensible decisions in these cases. It has been our experience within Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council that historic cases have not generally resulted in CPS deciding to proceed with a prosecution, although my experience within another Local Authority in the region has been different. In one particular case the CPS made a decision to proceed with the prosecution, which was successful and resulted in the perpetrator receiving a custodial sentence.
3. Is there a risk that the advertisement of prospective awards of compensation in child abuse cases encourages people to come forward with fabricated allegations?
In my 26 years' experience in social work, I have on occasion come across young people who have made false allegations against staff within residential children's units. However, it is my firm belief that we should always start from the point of believing the child and then working with the child to ascertain evidence to support their allegations. It has been my experience that when the allegations have been fabricated it has always come to light during the investigation process and it has been very rare that a young person has persisted with a fabricated allegation once the investigation has got under way.
I think there is a risk however that the advertisement of prospective awards of compensation could produce an increase in fabricated allegations or, more likely, allegations which have been enhanced by the victim to make them appear more serious than the real event. As professionals with responsibility for the protection of children however, we must not let this factor influence our decisions about robustly investigating all allegations of potential abuse and we must trust the judgement of the professionals working in an inter-agency capacity when making decisions on such cases.
4. Is there a weakness in the current law on "similar fact" evidence?
I do not wish to provide evidence in relation to this matter.
5. Should there be a limitin terms of years since the alleged offence took placeon prosecution of cases of child abuse?
I feel very strongly that this should not be the case. Children and young people who have been the victims of abuse have inevitably suffered severe trauma, they may be tempted to tell adults at the time of the abuse and, particularly with some of the historical cases, were not believed at the time. This will have an impact on their ability to tell again in the future. It is my experience that there is a significant life event which triggers the adult coming forward either for the first time or coming forward again if not having been believed as a child with an allegation of abuse. In one case, the victim came forward with an allegation some 17 years after the abuse had taken place. He had attempted to tell staff within the residential children's unit where the abuse took place and his social worker, of the abuse which occurred at the time. This victim came forward to tell of his abuse again at the point at which his eldest child was about to start school. The factor which triggered his disclosure at that point was a sudden anxiety about his child going out into the world and being vulnerable and unprotected in relation to the professionals who would be caring for her. Despite the passage of time since the abuse took place there was a full and detailed joint investigation between the Social Services department and the police which ultimately resulted in the member of staff being dismissed from his post as a social worker and ultimately receiving a custodial sentence, having been found guilty of gross indecency with a child under 16. If the law were changed to put a time limit on such cases then this victim would have had no access to justice and subsequently to the healing process which took place for him.
Finally, you ask for comments on the role of Social Services departments and co-operation with the police in such cases. I stated earlier, my experience in this area has been positive. The critical factors have been that at the start point before the police investigation commences and before the Local Authority made decisions with regard to any managerial actions which needed to take place an inter-agency strategy meeting has been called. It has been important that the police representation at the inter-agency strategy meeting has been from the police Child Protection Unit and that a senior manager within the Social Services department has taken personal responsibility for the Social Services department's input into the investigation.
Within Barnsley there have been three historic allegations made within the last five years. In the first case, two young adults approached the police in different parts of the country and made separate allegations which were later proved to be linked. The allegations were made independently of each other and there is no evidence that the young people had colluded in any way in either the timing or the substance of their allegations. The allegations related to sexual abuse whilst living in a children's home within the district in the 1980s. In this instance, a file was sent to the CPS who decided not to take any further action.
Approximately four years ago, the father of a young person who was tragically killed in a road traffic accident came forward shortly after his son's death and made allegations of physical and emotional abuse relating to a number of staff working within a residential children's unit in the borough. Through the inter-agency strategy group process the police quickly determined that there was little if any evidence on which they could proceed with an investigation. However it was decided that the concerns raised by the young person's father should be fully investigated and in that instance the NSPCC were commissioned to carry out an independent investigation into the management and staffing of the children's home concerned. The manager and a number of staff members were suspended during the period of the investigation but were reinstated without any formal management action at the end of the investigation.