Submitted by Nigel Duggan, Liaison Consultant, Operation Goldfinch (CA 59)
You may well be aware of the fact that the South Wales Police are currently undertaking a major investigation into alleged abuse in Children's Homes in this locality under the code name of Operation Goldfinch. This Operation began in April 1997 with the brief of investigating four residential establishments, which had been named in relation to allegations of abuse. However the scale of the inquiry quickly grew to the extent that a total of 82 establishments (the vast majority of which are residential) have now been, or are in various stages of being, investigated. The operation was originally set up as a result of "spin off" information that had been received from two main sources: Firstly from the North Wales Tribunal and secondly from an earlier inquiry by the South Wales Police into allegations of abuse at a Children's Home in the Cardiff area.
To give you an idea of the scale of the inquiry an establishment of 46 police officers and support staff are currently engaged in investigating allegations stretching back over the past forty years. Latest information indicates a total of 1356 allegations of abuse made up of 704 sexual allegations and 652 physical allegations. There have been 65 arrests thus far and 13 convictions, with sentences ranging from nine months suspended to 15 years.
From the beginning of the Operation there has been close and productive liaison between the seven South Wales Local Authority Social Services Departments and the South Wales Police. Regular meetings take place between senior representatives of the Agencies in order that information can be shared and relevant issues debated. In addition legal advisers have been involved in the drawing up of written protocols to cover matters of particular significance.
The Local Authorities have also funded the engagement of myself as a Social Services Liaison Consultant to undertake a primary role in facilitating the smooth running of day to day co-operative arrangements. I am actually based with the police investigatory team and am fully involved in all relevant aspects of the Operation.
In relation to the specific issues raised in the letter I would offer the following comments:
I do not have sufficiently specialized knowledge to provide an informed response on the issues of "trawling" for evidence or the law as it relates to "similar fact" evidence. I believe that these questions can only be comprehensively addressed by those who possess expertise in those particular fields.
With regard to the other matters raised I would offer a personal view in relation to the decision making process of the Crown Prosecution Service. It is my belief that the Service in this locality is drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted. I feel that mature decisions are reached after a process has been undertaken whereby careful consideration has been given to all relevant information and full and appropriate consultation has taken place.
There will always be a risk that prospective awards of compensation will encourage unscrupulous individuals to make false allegations of abuse. This is an issue which has been debated in some detail in our various forums and there is no doubt that it is something of which investigatory police officers are acutely aware. Indeed the Senior Investigating Officer and management team of Operation Goldfinch have issued strict guidelines to all personnel as to how they should deal with any issue of compensation raised by victims of abuse.
Finally, I do not believe that there should be a time limitation on the prosecution of cases of child abuse. I am aware of the heartache and anguish that such abuse can engender, even when many years have elapsed since the events actually took place. The overwhelming impact which child abuse can have on the victim, and indeed on the victim's family and friends, in my view categorize it as an issue which is so profoundly significant that it should not be the subject of time limitation.
There are clearly other factors which need to be taken into account when a decision is made about criminal prosecution in such circumstances. For example is the timescale such that little or no relevant documentation any longer exists or are significant witnesses no longer available. Indeed it would also seem fair to take account of the age and state of health of the accused. However I believe that these issues should be considered on an individual basis rather that be determined by the arbitrary imposition of a time limit.