Three U.K. child abuse investigators have been recruited to review and reform the police’s Family Support Unit after a judge condemned its investigation into alleged sexual assault on a child as “grossly incompetent.”
The U.K. officers, with extensive expertise in child abuse investigations, will help clear a backlog of cases identified in an internal review of the Family Support Unit following the judge’s criticism.
They arrived in the Cayman Islands this week and will begin work immediately.
The shake-up follows public outcry after it emerged that officers in the Family Support Unit had taken 18 months to follow up on a report from an 11-year-old girl who claimed she had been sexually abused by older relatives. The officer who took notes on the girl’s first interview lost those notes, it emerged at trial.
Justice Timothy Owen said the “wholly unexplained and inexcusable delays” and the “truly lamentable” quality of the police response had harmed the chances of justice for both the child and her alleged abusers. Both men were found not guilty in September.
The recruitment of outside support follows an internal audit of the Family Support Unit’s cases and procedures by Detective Superintendent Peter Lansdown in the aftermath of that case.
His audit highlighted other cases in which further investigation was required, according to a statement from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. It also revealed “critical risks in the resourcing and rising workload of the FSU,” the statement indicates.
Derek Byrne, Cayman Islands’ new commissioner of police, said, “Clearly, we need to make some fundamental changes in this area of our law enforcement work.”
The U.K. officers will review all open investigations currently assigned to the Family Support Unit.
According to a statement from the RCIPS, “In the course of this review, estimated to last about three months, cases will be assessed and completed in as timely a manner as possible, and referred to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for charges where appropriate.
“The officers will focus on open investigations, and primarily child abuse investigations, but will also be reviewing RCIPS policies and procedures and advising on the implementation of international best practices in this area.”
Mr. Byrne said the arrival of the officers would coincide with the establishment of a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub this month, which will bring together police, social services and other relevant agencies.
“This will provide us with a good basis for needed changes and improvements, as will the input of the officers who joined us yesterday,” he said in a statement.
“We must respond to the changing needs of the islands with proper support for child abuse investigations going forward, which are among the most sensitive and difficult for any police service.”
The multi-agency unit will work with the Cayman Islands Child Safeguarding Board, which will oversee joint operations between police, the Department of Children and Family Services and Health Services Authority counseling services.
“Having these structures in place will enable faster progress toward a strong child protection regime through timelier interventions, and overall, greater prevention of child abuse and the lifelong damage caused by it. This is our ultimate goal,” Commissioner Byrne said.
Following Justice Owen’s verdict in September, police said they accepted the judge’s criticism.
At that time, no one had been suspended in connection with the case, though three officers involved in the investigation, including two supervisors, were transferred to different roles pending disciplinary reviews.
There was no update Wednesday on the status of those reviews.