On the 6th August the College of Policing and Operation Hydrant published an updated version of its advice to Senior Investigating Officers examining allegations of non-recent institutional or high profile cases of child sexual abuse.
The updated advice take account of the changes which came into place following the review of Operation Midland published by Sir Richard Henriques in 2016. It addresses all aspects of an investigation, from the receiving of reports, through to the creation of victim and witness strategy, victim support, interview strategy and investigation management.
Clear communication at each stage of the investigation is the cornerstone of the new advice, as well as continued support for victims, witnesses and investigators.
Those involved in and with overall responsibility for the investigations are also advised that victims should be thoroughly supported throughout the investigation and the criminal justice process. It is also recommended that when they are devising a victim and witness strategy, they should consider whether a social worker should join the investigation team, to ensure victims are safeguarded, while also giving them the opportunity to speak to an alternative point of contact, if they are hesitant about speaking to police.
The College of Policing are of the view that the new advice is careful in striking the balance between the need to support victims and witnesses to give their evidence and ensuring that an impartial investigation takes place.
David Tucker, Head of Crime at the College of Policing said that “I am pleased to be able to publish our updated advice. Allegations of child sexual abuse are sometimes difficult to investigate, particularly when incidents happened some time ago and when there is additional public interest given the high public profile of the investigation. I hope that the advice provides assistance and support to senior investigating officers in the difficult task that faces them”.
The National Coordinator of Operation Hydrant said that “The policing approach to investigating allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse has evolved considerably since the first surge of allegations following the death of Jimmy Savile, almost a decade ago”. He goes on to say that the updated advice “…represents five years of captured learning and developed good practice. It ensures that investigators can benefit from the most up to date policy and practice, that suspects are treated fairly, and that investigations are impartial and thorough”.
The College of Policing says that the updated advice will set that the standard for these investigations going forward and make it clear that once victims have taken the difficult decision to report non-recent child sexual abuse to police, they will be treated with empathy and support, their allegations taken seriously, and a proportionate, thorough and impartial investigation will follow.
However, there will be others who on reading the updated advice, will be concerned that in striking the balance between the need to support victims and witnesses to give their evidence and ensuring that an impartial investigation takes place, this new updated advice does not adequately reflect the concerns highlighted by Sir Richard Henriques in his review in 2016. In that review relating to the allegations made by Nick/Carl Beech which were investigated as part of Operation Midland Sir Richard Henriques called for the instruction to police officers investigating allegations of no-recent child sexual abuse that victims are to be believed be withdrawn because suspects are innocent until the allegations against them have been proven and they have been found to be guilty.
Sharon Moohan, Partner, BLM