Thursday, 13 February 2014

Trawling rears its ugly head again

Bryn Estyn, Wrexham
I notice that  a Huddersfield MP Labour's Barry Sheerman has claimed that the National Crime Agency (NCA) is using controversial "trawling" techniques to find evidence against teachers and social workers in its investigation into historic child abuse in North Wales care homes.

This is an old chestnut used in opposition to the care home investigations back in the 1990's, which resulted in a flawed Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry in 2003 at which many complaining care workers, who had been investigated by the police, suggested that they had been the victims of a witch hunt. In response to the enquiry's findings that trawling was a method which was the reverse of normal police methods whereby they wait for complainants to come to them, the Home Office rejected most of the findings.

The result was, unfortunately, that the police put child abuse investigations, particularly those concentrating on events from many years ago at the bottom of their list of priorities, until Mr Savile reared his ugly head. Suddenly it became a political priority, and something requiring much police attention.

Then we had the Rochdale Taxi Driver's case where a genuine complaint of sexual grooming was not proceeded with by the CPS due the reliability of the witness. There had been no investigation to see if there were others involved.A more thorough investigation in 2012/3 discovered that a gang was involved, something which was missed originally.

Then Keir Starmer, when he was in charge of the CPS, took the lead to find new ways of investigating allegations of abuse from the past saying that the police would concentrate on making the victims case better, and should look for evidence to support the claims - in other words he was not using the word "trawling" because of its connotations, but rather saying that there was nothing wrong with looking for corroboration.

Abuse is a crime which happens in secret where both the perpetrator and victim want to keep it quiet for different reasons, and where, if it is to be investigated properly, the police must take a pro-active approach to uncover the crime.

I was speaking at sexual grooming conference in Birmingham where the police involved were pointing out that the force had to go out looking for this sort of crime, because it would not come to them. Girls in a sexual grooming abuse ring would rather keep quiet for fear of being killed by gang members if they speak up.

Let me make it clear, I don't blame the police for the change in policy after the Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry. They were responding to political, and alleged abuser led pressure. There is always more crime to investigate than officers available.

I am afraid that Barry Sheerman appears to be speaking up for a constituent who seems to be on the wrong end of the new investigation into North Wales Care Homes - Operation Pallial. There is no doubt that the original investigation into abuse during the 1990's did not uncover all the allegations, and that a lot of victims, who were not able to disclose all those years ago for very good psychological reasons, are now coming forward.

Obviously the alleged abusers involved don't like it. That is no surprise.

I act for one of the North Wales victims who is part of Operation Pallial who is claiming compensation for the horrific abuse committed upon him. It is very easy to criticise the vulnerable. They generally don't fight back. Let us hope that this complaint doesn't get anywhere.

At the recent sentencing of Peter Wright, the headmaster at Caldicott Prep School who was just sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for his part in a paedophile ring, but more accurately for several acts of abuse at the school over many years, Judge Cutts QC, when referring to a previous flawed police investigation in 2003, commented "It is clear to me that the police fear of being accused of trawling for evidence prevented the proper investigation of this case at that time."

Any victim reading this who needs advice can contact our abuse department via our website or email us to 

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