“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.”
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.