Submitted by Detective Chief Inspector Gareth Tinnuche, Senior Investigating Officer, Operation Goldfinch, South Wales Police (CA 193)
1. Do police methods of trawling for evidence involve a disproportionate use of resources and produce unreliable evidence for prosecution?
Operation Goldfinch was launched on the 21 April 1997 and emanated from the first ever historic institutional abuse enquiry conducted by South Wales Police; the investigation of the Taff Vale Children's home Cardiff, Operation Duffy.
This operation was commenced in September 1996 following a formal request from the Director of Social Services in Cardiff. The request came after the arrest and subsequent conviction of a former care worker of that establishment for indecent assault on children under his care and the findings of an internal investigation, commissioned by the Director of Social Services which raised concerns over possible paedophile activity at the home.
In conducting the investigation of Taff Vale, former residents were seen and allegations were made against former members of staff of that establishment as well as against individuals who had been employed in other care homes in South Wales and other police areas.
By April of 1997 it became clear that a volume of complaints had been received which fell outside the remit of the Taff Vale enquiry, which included referrals to investigate complaints from the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal. These factors were the catalyst for the launch of Operation Goldfinch.
One of the issues that has been the subject of national and local debate since the inception of historic child abuse investigations has been the process referred to as "trawling."
Critics suggest that "trawling" is a modern day witch-hunt perpetrated by the police resulting in a widespread and indiscriminate search for alleged victims without any concern for the rules of evidence or the reliability of witnesses or complainants.
On the issue of "trawling" for complaints, the Police & Criminal Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedures & Investigations Act dictate how investigations should be conducted. The latter clearly dictates that officers conducting investigations into criminal allegations should pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry, whether they point towards or away from a named suspect and attempts to corroborate or undermine an allegation must be made. These procedures are followed on Operation Goldfinch.
It is a misconception that the only way the police receive complaints from former residents is through what some perceive to be "trawling." Complaints are made in a variety of ways and include those who contact the police direct, those that are seen during the investigative phase and those that contact the police following letters sent to them by solicitors acting for defendants.
In July 1997 following the first media appeal of the enquiry 122 individuals contacted the police help line direct. An accepted process of identifying witnesses and victims and frequently used in major crime investigations such as murders and rape for example.
Of this number many were former residents of care homes who wished to discuss their time in care with the police. Some had complaints to make of physical and sexual abuse whilst others only wanted to pass on information which may assist the police investigation. Additionally former members of staff also contacted the police to offer support and information.
During the investigative phase the investigating team would endeavour to verify the time line of the complainant and the suspect at the establishment concerned and wherever possible through available records identify all other people resident and employed at the establishment during these periods.
Subject to each individual case and dependent on relevance to the investigation, a random sample of 10 per cent of the resident population are contacted across the time line of the offender so that a true picture of offending or non-offending can be shown.
By applying these principles a career Social Worker who had worked at a residential home was sentenced at the Cardiff Crown Court in May 1999 to 12 years' imprisonment. This followed his plea of guilty to three counts of buggery and seven counts of indecent assault on boys under 16 years whom he had abused pre his employment with Social Services, during his employment at the residential home and post his employment at that home.
Similarly, a former House master at another residential home was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment at the Cardiff Crown Court in December 2000 following his plea of guilty to 10 counts of indecent assault and three counts of buggery on boys under 16 years. Again, this conviction showed offending over a considerable number of years pre, during and post his employment at the establishment.
It is a fact that when visiting those who have been named by other witnesses or have been identified through the random representative sample that some may disclose at the time or later that they were subjected to abuse themselves whilst in care. If this is the case we, as police officers, cannot ignore them because it is considered by some to be a negative process to scope the offenders criminality.
It is important to understand that many victims of sexual abuse have refused previously to come forward for a variety of reasons, none more so than the fear of not being believed. Since the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal and the publication of the Waterhouse report there has been a change in the climate of fear. Victims are now more confident of coming to the police with their complaints in the knowledge that they will be listened to, taken seriously and dealt with compassionately and professionally.
A statement of complaint will be dealt with in accordance with Section 9 of the Police & Magistrates Court Act, and each complainant will have been made aware of the declaration at the start of each statement. Post taking of the statement it is our duty to thoroughly investigate in order to determine the legitimacy or otherwise of the complaint in accord with the rules and procedures prescribed by law. Every aspect of the complainant's statement will be examined in detail and every effort is made to seek corroboration to the allegations made.
All lines of enquiry are followed and explored to the nth degree irrespective of whether they point towards or away from the suspected abuser. It is only when all the relevant enquiries have been concluded that an assessment is made of the evidence available to determine whether there is sufficient to arrest and interview the suspect offender.
The taking away of a person's liberty is not a matter that is taken lightly by investigating officers and there is a realisation by all of the dramatic impact that an arrest for "child abuse" can have on an individual and their family.
Post arrest, consultation will continue with the Crown Prosecuting Solicitors dedicated to the enquiry who, armed with all the available information which both supports and undermines the prosecution case, will advise on what if any charges are to be preferred.
After committal, disclosure of material relevant to the case which both supports and undermines the prosecution case and assists the defence will be made available to the defence team of the defendant which is normally led by an experienced Queen's Counsel.
Prior to any trial taking place there will be "plea and direction hearings" and "abuse of process hearings" in which the trial judge will determine whether the matter will proceed to trial.
Trials are presided over by senior Judges who oversee and are able to advise and direct the members of the jury as the need arises. Each witness is subjected to a rigorous examination of their evidence as well as their lifestyle, motivation, credibility and previous convictions. Throughout the process repeated challenges will be made as to their integrity, memory and motivation all before a judge and a jury of their peers.
To convict, a jury has to be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that the allegations put before them have been proven before returning their verdict.
With those process and safeguards in being, can the detractors be correct in their assertions that the majority of witnesses are committing perjury aided and abetted by police officers who are engaged in a witch hunt?
DISPROPORTIONATE USE OF RESOURCES
Pre the launch of Operation Goldfinch a small team of officers consisting of a sergeant and four constables was put together to investigate referrals from the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal and those allegations referred from Operation Duffy.
In conducting their investigations additional complaints were received in respect of four other establishments and it soon became apparent that a dedicated team of officers would have to be assembled to pursue these investigations.
Following media appeals in July and December 1997 over 175 responses were received at the Major Incident Room and in responding to these the number of allegations and establishments where abuse had allegedly occurred increased dramatically.
The resources allocated to the investigation at this time was inadequate to efficiently respond to the volume of callers and in April 1998 the South Wales Police Authority approved a business plan to investigate "historic allegations" of child abuse and the establishment strength was agreed. This allowed us to recruit officers with the requisite skills and abilities to investigate and invest in further on the job training in the relevant and specialist skills required and for them to gain experience in a consistent manner.
At the peak of the investigation the establishment strength was a total of 62, which comprised of 51 police officers three police civilian support staff and eight retired police officers employed as authorised enquiry officers.
The investigation was lead by the Major Crime Support Unit and supplemented by additional officers provided by the then 10 Basic Command Units of the Force.
To ensure that not one Basic Command Unit was prejudiced by the provision of officers a system of proportionality was developed so that the burden was shared equally across the force to minimise disruption to day-to-day policing.
It would have been grossly unfair to the victims of abuse not to have committed the resources commensurate with the size and complexity of the enquiry and our failure to do so would have undoubtedly given strength to "abuse of process" arguments succeeding at court.
Commensurate with the process of the investigation the establishment strength now stands at 31 police officers eight retired police officers and one civilian support staff. A total strength of 40.
2. Is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted?
From the outset, a multi-agency approach to the investigation was established which involved the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, Social Services Departments and seven Unitary Authorities of the South Wales Police area. Other statutory and voluntary agencies have also been involved in the investigative process.
Memorandums of understanding and working protocols were developed with our partner agencies in order that both the needs of the investigation and that of the victims and witnesses were met and regular liaison, consultation and formal meetings were held with these partners.
From the outset the Crown Prosecution Service has been directly involved with the investigating team in setting out policies and procedures as well as advising on individual cases, before and after charge. Two Senior Crown Prosecutors have been dedicated to the enquiry until recently, and the services of a chamber of Barristers were secured to ensure continuity in the presentation, delivery and prosecuting of cases.
Throughout there has been an unprecedented level of consultation between the enquiry team, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Barristers advising and prosecuting on cases arising out of this enquiry.
In determining whether the Crown Prosecution Service is drawing a sensible line on which cases should be prosecuted the following is applicable in respect of these enquiries:
fourteen individuals have been convicted, of which six pleaded guilty at court;
eight individuals have been acquitted after trial;
the CPS have advised no further action in relation to 66 individuals suspected of sexual abuse; and
the CPS have advised no further action in relation to 20 individuals suspected of physical abuse.
3. Should there be a time limitin terms of number of years since the alleged offence took placeon prosecution of cases of child abuse?
My personal view is that there should not. It can take many years for victims to come to terms with abuse they have suffered and it would not be fair to prevent an enquiry commencing and justice being dispensed with because of this.
4. Is there a risk that the advertisement of prospective awards of compensation in child abuse cases encourages people to come forward with fabricated allegations?
I do not know of any police investigation into historic allegations of abuse on children, which had advertised prospective awards for compensation to victims of such abuse.
Each and every officer working on the enquiry is issued with an Aide Memoir which contains guidelines on how to deal with witnesses during the initial meeting and thereafter. They are advised that reference to the word "abuse" by them should be avoided until such time as the witness gives an indication to them that they were abused.
Since the very first investigation conducted by the South Wales Police clear instructions have been given to all officers engaged on such enquiries as to how they should deal with the issue of compensation. This has continued and clear guidelines endorsed by prosecuting counsel exist as to how this subject should be dealt with.
Because of the area of contention that surrounds both of these issues officers engaged on the enquiry are constantly reminded through senior management and team meetings of their conduct in these circumstances.
To my knowledge no officer involved in the taking of witness statements from complainants who have appeared and given evidence in court where the accused has been convicted had ever been challenged by defence counsel on the manner in which they took the statement of complaint.
Unfortunately we now live in a world which has a culture of compensation. "Where there's blame there's a claim" are the words that regularly appear on our television screens, but these are not the words of the police investigating child abuse but of businesses set up specifically to pursue compensation on behalf of others for monetary gains.
In any event if an individual has been abused as a child he or she is entitled by law to have compensation. Should these victims be any different to victims of rape, assault or burglaries, where government-approved leaflets are routinely handed to victims informing them of their right to redress and compensation.
The question posed is equally applicable to all these crimes and the words "child abuse" could be readily replicated by rape, assault, burglary, criminal damage and many more crimes where the victim has suffered either physical of mental harm or financial loss.
Of one major establishment investigated by our enquiry, 133 former residents made allegations of abuse of which 35 have given evidence in court. From records available to me only 32 of the 133 complainants from this establishment have made any claim for compensation.
5. Is there a weakness in the current law on "similar fact" evidence?
From my experience of investigating allegations of historic child abuse what is clear is that the availability of any forensic or eye witness evidence to support the allegation is highly unlikely. However, what does lend support to one allegation are similar allegations made against the same suspect from another independent source.
This tends to confirm the modus operandi of offending by the abuser and is invaluable in cases such as these. It is incumbent on us as investigators to exclude the possibility or collusion of conspiracy between complainants when such similar allegations are made and having done so it is for the court to test and consider the value of this similar fact evidence.