Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda



MEMORANDUM 13

Submitted by Cheshire County Council Social Services Department (CA 140)

  The evidence of Cheshire County Council Social Services Department is based upon the experience of managing a large number of inquiries, some jointly with Merseyside Authorities, since 1993. The Home Affairs Committee might wish to note that Cheshire Social Services Department and Cheshire Constabulary have maintained a Joint Investigation Team since that date and foresee the need for this arrangement to continue for at least another year. A brief summary of the outcome of the work of the joint team is attached as an Appendix to this evidence.

  The Cheshire views in respect of the specific issues raised by the Home Affairs Committee are as follows:

1.  Do police methods of "trawling" for evidence involve a disproportionate use of resources and produce unreliable evidence for prosecution?

  A number of investigative practices appear to have been subsumed under this heading. On receipt of a complaint a decision is required to set the scope of an initial Police/Social Services investigation and to chose the appropriate investigative methods—these may range from interviewing all residents of a home during a period, through "letter drop" to a selected sample to interviewing only the complainant and immediate peers. The investigation will be looking for witnesses as well as additional complainants and needs to take into account the numbers of children potentially involved, staff group size and turnover. Any decision to alter the scope of an investigation in mid stream will then be a matter for the managers at the time. Ideally the decision in respect of scope of an investigation and method will be taken in an inter-agency forum and will take into account the resources likely to be committed over a period of time as well as the likely of potential outcome of the investigation.

  Decisions to broaden investigations are generally taken when factors that relate to both the need to safeguard children who might currently be at risk from particular offenders and to obtain best evidence of what actually happened are taken into account. Experience from major investigations has shown that child abusers have gone to great lengths to ensure their victims remain silent, so it seems reasonable to look beyond the original complainant and to assume victims shared little of their experience with their peers. It is not possible to say that the various "trawling" techniques involve disproportionate use of resources: each investigation has to be judged on its own merits and appropriate management decisions made.

2.  Is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted?

  The experience in Cheshire is that CPS invariably made decisions that were understandable and reasonable. They were prepared to offer advice in all levels of seriousness of cases, even in respect of discontinuation for single low level assaults. The success rate from prosecutions for Cheshire investigations that went to trial was over 90 per cent. However, the assessment of the capability as witnesses of some complainants as a result of their mental ill-health, unpredictability and on occasion learning disability led directly to decisions not to proceed in cases that police and Social Services Departments believed to be strong in other respects.

  Cheshire Constabulary and Social Services would have preferred a dedicated CPS prosecutor attached to the team given the scale and complexity of material at some points, but this was not possible by virtue of the limited resources available to CPS.

3.  Is there a risk that advertisement of prospective awards of compensation in child abuse cases encourages people to come forward with fabricated allegations?

  The Criminal Injuries Compensation Award scheme is a matter of public policy and as such cannot be kept secret from certain classes of victim. Furthermore, it is hardly news that the civil courts are available to those who wish to sue. Unless both approaches to compensation are to be scrapped for all types of victim, this question appears to have little merit for the Home Affairs Committee inquiry.

  Cheshire has a policy that police officers and social workers will not raise any discussion concerning compensation with potential victims. If any victim raises the matter they are referred to a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau. Almost all the complainants appearing before the courts to give evidence were directly challenged by defence council that their motivation was financial. Such suggestions were invariably strongly refuted by the complainants, quite often supported by statements that they had not taken action to achieve compensation. The latter was the case with over 70 per cent of complainants at the point at which they gave their evidence. The investigating teams did identify a very small number of potentially false allegations through the inconsistencies and doubtful accounts in the allegations. On these occasions, the case was not proceeded with.

4.  Is there a weakness in the current law on "similar fact" evidence?

  Ultimately this is a question for the courts and the legal system. However, Cheshire's experience was that in the major prosecutions, the CPS chose allegations for the main indictments that stood in their own right. The "similar fact" allegations tended to provide support in respect of an offenders modus operandi, to confirm a pattern of abuse in a particular establishment or threats or treats offered to ensure silence of a victim. In these circumstances the courts were ready to accept "similar fact" evidence.

5.  Should there be a limit—in terms of number of years since the alleged offence took place—on prosecution of cases of child abuse?

  Cheshire's experience is that generally the older the allegation the more complex the decision is as to whether to pursue it. Alleged offenders cannot easily defend themselves against very old allegations and documentary and witness evidence for the prosecution tends to be unavailable or of poor quality. With each allegation, no matter how old, a robust investigation should be carried out to enable a risk assessment to be made of the potential harm to children currently in public care. For example, an abuser in their mid 20s 30 years ago will still have 10 years normal employment before retirement age in which to abuse children, so even a 30 year limitation can present risks.

6.  The Role of Social Services Departments

  Cheshire seconded a service manager and up to three experienced social workers to work directly with a police team. The size of the team varied according to the amount of work currently being undertaken. The decision to establish a joint team undoubtedly facilitated faster and more comprehensive investigations and it gave police insight into Social Services structures and procedures. Social Services team members also took on considerable roles in assisting the tracing of former residents and staff and the discovery of information from written records.

  Cheshire County Council was instrumental in establishing a protocol for disclosure of information to the courts, which resulted in their staff assisting in the retrieval of information from files, whilst protecting the relevant but sensitive information from public scrutiny.

  More widely, Social Services took on a liaison role with other Departments to obtain information and subsequently attended inter-agency risk assessment and strategy planning meetings for serving staff. Invariably the social work staff undertook both child protection as well as investigative roles in the inter-departmental processes.

February 2002

APPENDIX

 

COMPLETED MAJOR INVESTIGATIONS—SIX ESTABLISHMENTS

People identified as victims

695

Alleged offenders identified

237

Alleged offenders arrested

58

Interviewed under caution

31

NFA by CPS

93

NFA by SIO

29

Successful prosecutions

22 (20 found guilty and 2 pleaded guilty)

Defendant too ill to stand trial

2

Trials discontinued at court

6

Trials discontinued at abuse of process

1

Acquittals

5

Alleged offenders deceased

23

Alleged offenders unidentified

51

Alleged offenders not traced

3

Alleged offenders waiting to be dealt with

6

Alleged offenders unlawfully at large

2

 

CURRENT MAJOR INVESTIGATIONS—ONE ESTABLISHMENT

People identified as victims

49

Alleged offenders identified

4

Alleged offenders deceased

5

Alleged offenders unidentified

34

  The team has also carried out a large number of investigations of individual historic allegations in establishments, which have not exposed evidence to warrant a full, major inquiry.

 


 
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