Submitted by Gwent Local Authorities Social Services Department (CA 61)
Whenever there is evidence to suggest that a crime has been committed the Police are under a statutory duty to investigate. This should equally apply to complainants of physical and sexual abuse of children and young people who were resident in children's homes even though the complaints are of an historical nature. In response to the issues raised my comments are as follows:
Do police methods of "trawling" for evidence involve a disproportionate use of resources and produce unreliable evidence for prosecution?
If there is evidence to suggest that children/young people were physically and sexually abused whilst resident at a children's home, this simply cannot be ignored especially if the alleged perpetrators continue to have access to children/young people. The methods used are very resource intensive but I can see no other alternative. It is also a stringent policy of operation "Flight" that when they speak to a former children's home resident he is simply asked if he has anything to say about the time he spent at the establishment. If he wishes to make a Statement he has the right to do so, if he does not, this is completely respected. There have been many trials and many convictions which have been upheld by the Court of Appeal. Furthermore, others have appealed against their sentence but not their conviction.
Is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted?
Experience has certainly suggested that the Courts are not happy to convict in relation to physical assaults only. The establishments concerned were operational at a time when the culture of physical punishment was acceptable. However, in the case of R v Taylor, the Court acquitted Taylor of physical assaults. In relation to a number of subsequent complaints of serious sexual assaults, the CPS advised there be no further action and I think the reasoning behind this should be seriously queried.
Is there a risk that the advertisement of prospective awards of compensation in child abuse vases encourages people to come forward with fabricated allegations?
There is always this possibility but this can equally apply to other criminal investigations. This has not been the case in any of the proceedings we have dealt with. This is an attack the Defence are using in every trial of this kind. Of the 380 complainants of Operation "Flight" only 29 have made claims for compensation. However, as in any criminal proceedings this is something to which the victim is entitled. It is important to carefully consider each individual complaint and the probative value of the evidence.
Is there a weakness in the law on "similar fact" evidence?
There has been no reluctance on the part of the CPS or Counsel in the application of "similar fact" evidence. Operation "Flight" has not encountered any difficulties in this area.
Should there be a limitin terms of number of years since the alleged offence took placeon prosecution of cases of child abuse?
We are concerned with serious offences against very vulnerable children/young people by perpetrators who were members of staff and in a "position of trust". Many of the alleged perpetrators have continued in the caring profession and remain at large in the community. One person convicted for serious sexual offences was found to be working in the Care system and still abusing children. Paedophiles have seriously damaged if not ruined the lives of many people. Why should they be given the protection of the law if they are not discovered within a specific period of time. It is recognised, however, that convictions are more difficult to obtain with the lack of corroboration evidence.
The role of social services departments in co-operation with the police in such cases
Operation "Flight" is a joint Inquiry by Gwent Police and the five Gwent local authorities social services departments. A Social Services Investigations Team is based within the Inquiry led by the Social Services Investigations Manager. This team works within clearly defined protocols, procedures and parameters agreed by the Gwent Police Authority and the five Gwent local authorities. The role of the Social Services Investigations Team is defined as follows:
1. Examination of social services case files. A very clear protocol governs this. Only information relevant to the complaint is identified and entered into the social services file examination pro-forma which is then handed to the Police Team. The Police Team have no access to social services case files.
2. Examination of personnel files of suspected perpetrators the process of which is the same as in 1 above.
3. Risk assessment of suspected perpetrators.
4. Victim Support. This is done within a clearly defined protocol which purely focuses on support for the victims.
After three and a half years this joint arrangement has worked very well and recognised by the courts in the trials we have had.
The scope of Operation "Flight's" Inquiry has been children's residential establishments in the former county of Gwent. The main focus of the Inquiry has been Ty Mawr Community Home School, Gilwern, Abergavenny, which closed in 1993.