Judge ‘astonished’ by delays in sexual abuse investigation

A judge has condemned “inexcusable delays” by police in investigating allegations of sustained serious sexual abuse made by an 11-year-old girl against older male relatives.

Justice Timothy Owen said the 18-month delay in pursuing inquiries following an initial report the girl made to police in November 2012 had clearly impacted the quality of evidence in the case. The two men, now ages 21 and 38, have denied charges of attempted rape and indecent assault.

As the Crown and defense counsel made their closing submissions on the final day of a trial in Grand Court on Thursday, Justice Owen interjected on numerous occasions to express concern.

He said it was “astonishing” that even after the investigation resumed following the unexplained 18-month hiatus, it took another two years for the matter to be brought to trial.

“We can be sure if this case had been investigated promptly and brought to trial promptly, the quality of the material evidence and the ability of the court to decide on where the truth lies would have been better,” he said. “That seems to be obvious. Delay is [the] enemy of justice.”

Justice Owen, who presided over the judge-alone trial and will now deliberate before delivering a verdict, likely some time in September,  repeatedly expressed concern over the way the allegations had been handled.

In another interjection, he said, “I cannot understand how a case as serious as this could not be treated very seriously and given the resources and energy to make a charging decision and bring it to trial. I just don’t know why that happened.”

A police officer who gave evidence earlier in the trial was unable to explain the delay between the first interview with the girl in November 2012 and the follow-up interview in May 2014.

Justice Owen suggested further inquiries and evidence would have been necessary to determine precisely who was to blame for the delays, though he said that inquiry did not fall within the ambit of the criminal trial.

The sensitive trial, in which neither of the defendants can be named in order to protect the identity of the child, centers on allegations, first made to a volunteer at an after-school club, that the girl was repeatedly sexually abused by the two men over a sustained period of time.

Prosecutor Scott Wainwright, summing up the Crown’s case Thursday, acknowledged there had been “unacceptable delays” in the investigation.

But, he said, the court could still be sure of the reliability of the girl’s account in the first videotaped interview with police in 2012, which he said was consistent with what she had told a school counselor around the same time.

“Of course, there has been inappropriate delays in this case but please consider the best evidence of the complainant, the consistency in terms of what she said in interviews and her credibility vis-a-vis the defendants.”

He argued the delay in following up on the allegations had not impacted the defense of the two men, who were making a blanket denial that would not have been assisted by a more precise memory of events.

He claimed they were both “caught out” under cross-examination during the trial, not because they couldn’t remember times and events but because they were telling “barefaced lies.”

“A lie in 2012 is a lie in 2016,” Mr. Wainwright said.

Dennis Brady, representing one of the defendants, said the girl had been the victim of physically violent abuse from her mother, had lived in close quarters with her parents, and had at times witnessed sexual activity between them.

He said she had described herself as a “Cinderella” figure who was beaten for not doing chores and suggested she was looking for a way to escape her home environment.

He said she was an avid viewer of the TV show “Law and Order” and would have seen, through that show, how victims of sexual abuse were quickly removed from their homes.

That, he said, could explain why she had created a “contrived story of abuse” to escape the home environment, rather than simply reporting her mother’s alleged physical abuse.

Justice Owen adjourned the case to consider his verdict.