Submitted by Chris Davies, Director of Social Services, Somerset County Council (CA 165)
In Somerset there have been a couple of establishments where the police have been involved in the investigation of allegations. Most recently this has been in respect to a home now closed west of Taunton. In each case, only one member of staff was charged, despite very extensive enquiries.
The police method of "trawling" for evidence does seem to involve a huge amount of staff time and that of other agencies. It also potentially produces a lot of cases of what would seem under today's standards minor abuse but in the context of the time it happened was not seen as abusive.
In respect to the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted in the cases within Somerset, this appears to be the case. It would be difficult to generalise from this.
There is a risk that the advertisement of prospective awards of compensation in child abuse cases can encourage people to come forward with fabricated allegations. On the whole however, we would consider this as an acceptable risk given the difficulty there may be in people testifying in such cases.
Having said this it does seem that there is a weakness in the law on "similar fact" evidence and this in turn does encourage "trawling" for any information which may corroborate any form of aberrant behaviour on behalf of staff rather than relating to specific cases and instances.
In our view there should not be a limit on the number of years since the alleged offence took place in respect to a case of child abuse.
Having said this it is important to understand how the standards and practice have changed over the last 20 or 30 years and be able to view any allegations in the light of what was normal and acceptable practice at the time.
In the past two years there has been a police investigation into the activities of an ex-member of staff of Olands Observation and Assessment Centre, a centre offering care to teenage girls and boys aged 9-14. The allegations related to the period 1986-87 and focussed on one member of staff. He was brought to trial in October 2001 and sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for approximately 32 offences against male ex-residents. The home closed in 1993.
The member of staff had been employed from 1976 and a large number of children had been at Olands during this period (the average length of stay being three-four months). The police contacted the majority of the male ex-residents and examined the Social Services files relating to them all (with their permission).