Thursday, 4 September 2014

Sexual exploitation in Cheshire gets more attention from the police.

Chief Constable of Cheshire, Simon Byrne
I was interviewed on BBC Merseyside this morning about the Cheshire Police announcement of a new initiative to take a more protective and proactive approach to the possibility of sexual exploitation in Cheshire by announcing that each Children's Home will have its own designated officer.

I hasten to add that there is no suggestion in the police press release that exploitation is going on right now. It is more a case of prevention rather than cure, which has to be prudent and insightful bearing in mind what we have heard in Rochdale and Rotherham.

At QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden we have, in the past, dealt with large scale Cheshire Police enquiries into children's homes which are now closed such as Danesford in Congleton, Greystone Heath in Warrington, St. Aidan's in Widnes, St. Joseph's in Nantwich, Newton Hall in Frodsham, and Kilrie in Knutsford. They all involved abuse by care workers many years ago. I think I am right in thinking that most of the homes were closed by the Thatcher government in the 1990's, if not before, for various reasons including cost.

Now we notice that Cheshire Police, after consultation with young people and relevant organisations about what their requirements are have assigned a special officer to each children's home so that young people can talk about anything they want to in safety, which has to be a good thing. It is a shame that the same thing didn't happen many years ago at the homes where abuse took place.

A similar initiative was attempted at Danesford in Congleton many years ago by a child advocacy organisation called NYAS on the Wirral. The idea was that the children should have their own independent voice and means of support outside the home. It was planned that they should have their own telephone number to ring. The move failed, of course, because the care workers within were, at that time, abusing the boys. The last thing they wanted was an outside body coming in to discover what was going on.

If there are any potential sexual exploitation incidents of children being taken out of the homes for sex, then the police force will be able to show that they have done anything they can to prevent issues before they start happening, or take root.

The big difference between sexual exploitation and other crimes, is the difficulty of the police force to bring prosecutions because the victims are:-
  1. Young and vulnerable
  2. Threatened in a most aggressive way by the abusive gangs.
  3. Unwilling to give evidence out of fear and intimidation.
  4. In need of intensive witness protection.
Thus the police have to go out looking for crimes rather than waiting for the victims come forward to them. It is therefore resource intensive and difficult to detect. Most forces are advised to have a specialised unit assigned to this crime. It is against the grain for the police to go out looking for crime. They are taught to believe that they should be reactive to complaints and investigate rather than "trawl".

It is the Jimmy Savile scandal that has brought about a whole new attitude to the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse, and long overdue it has been. Historical abuse has now a higher priority than it used to, and hurray for that.

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