Submitted by Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council (CA 176)
Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council are involved in two major police inquiries, Operation Goldfinch and Operation Flight, (both are still ongoing) as a result of children from the former Mid Glamorgan County Council being placed in relevant Children's homes across South Wales. The inquiries have now identified cases for homes directly in the control of Rhondda Cynon Taff and more recent causes for concern.
Operation Goldfinch has had to define its areas of enquiry, such was the extent of disclosures made, and concentrate on the serious end of sexual and physical assaults. The remainder are noted but not sent to the CPS for decisions on prosecution. The information held on their data base is accessible by other inquiries that may have similar allegations against the same professional.
Operation Flight works in a similar brief but looks at Children's homes in the Gwent Police area.
RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS RAISED
1. There has been a recent audit of Operation Goldfinch by an independent senior police officer and he has found no evidence of trawling for evidence or any mismanagement of information received by the officers.
The remit of the inquiry implies that trawling has occurred and this seems to be influenced by those who have appealed their convictions and those who have done so in our investigations have not been able to sustain that issue on appeal before the courts.
2. The difficulties of timescales to make claims are two fold. Firstly that the information needs to be retained for forensic examination and the difficulty in storing the delicate information in an accessible manner compliant with the Data Protection Act and other regulations.
These claims come to the attention of authorities much later than the last contact with the subject even a diligent and complying authority may well have destroyed the information necessary to assist in the detection of the veracity of the claim or found it to be stored in such a manner as to be of little value.
Secondly, the information currently recorded is not appropriate to the claims brought, in that there is rarely the type of corroborative information on file and this makes the issues even more difficult to get to the burden of proof in criminal cases.
3. The information presented to us by the investigating team is that the publicity of the charges brings forward new claimants and that they have not seen an increase in new disclosures following the awards given for the trauma suffered. It is therefore difficult to sustain the argument that people are encouraged to fabricate events to obtain a financial advantage.
In the organisation of the investigation there has been co-operation between Social Services and Police but this has been hampered by the failure of a national protocol for the release of confidential information held by social services on the victim and this has been identified by the legal advisers to the local authorities at National Assembly and Government level (via the Task Force set up under the Waterhouse report recommendations).
In so far as Operation Goldfinch is concerned there are two protocols for disclosure in use, one has been signed by five authorities and other by two authorities and they differ to the extent that the police are not allowed access to information in the five authorities that they are allowed in the other two. This has caused obvious annoyance to all parties but eventually an acceptance that two protocols were better than none.
In so far as Operation Flight is concerned they have set up their team in a different manner but we are not able to amend our protocol to fit with their procedures and so they believe we are standing in the way of effective investigation methods.
These protocols took two years to finalise and the need for them caused resentment by the police to the refusal of access by the authority and an implied belief that the authority was being uncooperative and potentially protective of staff who may be in positions of abuse.
This tension was even more apparent as the senior members of the local authority staff were in some cases responsible for the original placement of children who now allege abuse in the homes where they state the abuse occurred. This caused those professionals to examine their responsibilities with the benefit (or otherwise) of hindsight and they wished to be seen to be transparent in the investigation process and were hampered by the rules of confidentiality to some extent.
This issue reflects the comments made by Waterhouse in his report and is the main area which this authority and our fellow authorities would wish the committee to discuss. The concern is that without central government guidance which has a statutory basis, there will be a myriad of protocols across the country and the possibility that evidence of an important nature is left undisclosed which is to the benefit of appropriate prosecution and defence of cases of this serious nature.