EDITORIAL – Child sex abuse: Investigating the police investigation

“It is totally unacceptable for there to be failings such as these in the investigation of a child sex abuse allegation. I expect the RCIPS to conduct a thorough and objective investigation … to determine what went wrong. Those found responsible for the failings must be dealt with quickly and appropriately.”

— Governor Helen Kilpatrick, Sept. 16, 2016

Governor Kilpatrick has spoken with clarity, authority and righteousness. It’s an auspicious beginning to an arduous process of truth-seeking.

Most of our readers are well aware of what has sparked the governor’s ire: The recent acquittal of two suspects accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl, more than four years after the initial complaint was made to police.

While nobody knows what will be uncovered by the internal investigations (one a police review specifically into the aforementioned case, and one a broader audit of all ongoing child abuse cases), it appears obvious that there were significant individual and systemic failings within the police service, which allowed for the case to “go cold.”

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During trial, Grand Court Justice Timothy Owen skewered the police investigation as “grossly incompetent,” not only for the inordinate delays, but also for significant gaps in evidence presented in court. The investigating police officer lost notes about the accuser’s first account of the abuse, allegedly by an uncle and cousin. Then the police never attempted to collect witness statements from anyone living in the house when the abuse allegedly occurred.

While we support the launch of the broader audit into child abuse cases by new RCIPS Superintendent Peter Lansdown, any serious probe into these issues must also extend to the Department of Public Prosecutions and into the judicial system.

How many criminal cases — not just of child abuse — are derailed for reasons rooted in ineptitude, politics, policies, who’s related to whom, who’s friends with whom, or, most broadly, the flawed architecture of the system itself? Certainly, the problems go far beyond the RCIPS.

For example, it is deeply troubling whenever we see, apparently against all odds, a case involving allegations of abuse or violence (particularly against children, women or other “vulnerable” people) make it from the police, to public prosecutors and all the way in front of a judge — and perhaps even for a guilty verdict to be handed down … only to be accompanied by a sentence so lenient that its deterrent effect fades away before the defendant has sauntered out of the courtroom and back onto the street.

On the subject of the RCIPS internal investigations, it is less than ideal for police to be investigating “their own” (particularly when the officers being investigated have not been placed on administrative leave). However, those concerns are mitigated by Superintendent Lansdown’s position and reputation, and the fact that new Police Commissioner Derek Byrne’s tenure begins in November.

The best practice might be to invite independent experts from overseas to conduct the investigations, but our memories of Operation Tempura and its spin-off Operation Cealt are far too fresh for us to conclude that “outside investigators” are a panacea in these cases.

Ultimately, the investigation will be judged not by its procedural setup, but by its thoroughness, its timeliness, its objectivity and, above all, its unredacted conclusions.

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  1. Case files being held to the wind has been very common for a few years now; and I blame the end results on supervision. Like any other government department a “supervisor” or person in charge got that name for a reason. “To supervise” If you have these persons, who are in-between the TOP and BOTTOM charge, and not doing their jobs properly, and just sitting behind a computer until quitting time then things out of the ordinary will happen.
    Take for instance the “Case now in question”. There are a few things which could have taken place. either, “There was corruption”, which has become a common thing; either I am acquainted with one of the parties involved, or we go to the same church “Conflict of interest”. Notes lost, files gone to the wind. Incompetent, or there was someone who just did not know how to compile that case file. In that instance is where the person who was in-charge, or supervisor of those persons failed, by not keeping record and checking upon the officers work.
    Too late, this case has been done aired out and hung to dry, so sweeping it under the carpet is out of the question. All should be made to answer for the incompetence that caused this case file to go to the wind.

  2. Unredacted conclusions – what makes you think that any report will ever see the light of day. There is still no word on the investigation into how they managed to lose over 5oKg of drugs from an evidence locker – an incident the then COP admitted had inside support – why do you think the outcome here is going to be any different.