Police Commissioner Derek Byrne, left, and RCIPS Inspector Kevin Ashworth discuss the findings of an independent report that reviewed 92 police Family Support Unit investigations. Serious problems with evidence and/or delays were found in three of those cases. - Photo: Brent Fuller

Overall mismanagement, rather than specific individual officers’ failures, was the primary reason a number of child sexual abuse cases investigated by local police will never get to court, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Commissioner Derek Byrne said Friday.

Following a review conducted by three U.K. officers who looked at investigative delays and issues at the RCIPS Family Support Unit in the past five years, Mr. Byrne said, it was determined that two child sex abuse cases would likely be abandoned, while a third, which also had serious errors, may still go to court.

“The organization has to accept there were corporate failures in this, not just individual failures,” Mr. Byrne said.

The independent review, a summary of which was released on Friday, painted a picture of stressed out, overworked, under-resourced police officers at the Family Support Unit. The officers, Mr. Byrne said, were trying to get through too many cases at once, and dropped the ball on a few.

The review found that of the 92 investigations it considered since 2012, 89 were satisfactory. The three that were “red-flagged” occurred between 2012 and 2014 and are still pending a final decision.

“You had people working down there … [in] small teams, [case] referrals being made, people running from one case to another without finishing it, not supported by any process, or any structure, or any audit, or any regular meetings,” Mr. Byrne said. “This is the failure. I don’t think it’s that [the cases] weren’t taken seriously. I think you had a volume of work that people couldn’t cope with.”

One police constable and one police supervisor were reassigned from the unit as a result of the review. Mr. Byrne said their careers at the RCIPS were “not over” and that no officers had been fired because of the investigative blunders.

“There was an over-reliance on some persons; some persons had a better capacity to manage their work. Other persons, unfortunately, didn’t have that self-management capability or capacity,” Mr. Byrne said. “Not everything was wrong; we’ve had some very good prosecutions.”

However, the commissioner noted, the investigation of Family Support Unit cases is still one of the major “risk” areas within the police service, and he said the RCIPS must remember who really suffers from these failings. “While we’re getting it wrong, it impacts upon the victim at some level,” he said.

The U.K. officers’ review was ordered after police discovered a number of problems in the investigation of sexual abuse cases, highlighted by a September 2016 not-guilty verdict in Grand Court from two suspects alleged to have assaulted an underage girl. The initial complaint of abuse was given to police in 2012, but the case did not come to court until July 2016.

During court proceedings it was revealed that police had delayed their investigation into the matter for some 18 months and could not fully explain why that had occurred. Judge Timothy Owen said the police investigation into the matter had been “grossly incompetent.”

Commissioner Byrne said that case represented a “watershed moment” for the RCIPS and led to a complete re-evaluation of the police department’s handling of family unit cases. The new department unit, called the MASH Unit, provides a more focused approach and seeks to work more closely with other government and civil society organizations involved in the protection of children.

MASH, which stands for Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, includes eight social workers, a Health Services Authority psychologist and eight police officers tasked with coordinating other public agencies’ responses to allegations of abuse.

With the reorganization of the Family Support Unit, Mr. Byrne said, an additional follow-up review will be done in November to check RCIPS’s progress.

For now, he said, all the RCIPS can do is apologize to the victims of crimes for the delays in cases where they may never receive justice.

“We have not met our obligations in the past, but we’re moving forward,” he said.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The organization must take responsibility for the incompetence of the all
    the Departments involved , why there was so many cases brought forward and only one or two prosecuted .
    But how can these Police Officers be overworked and stressed out that they can’t do their jobs ? I can’t imagine what would happen if they had a population of 120,000 people to deal with .

    That should give Government something to consider before they issue anymore PR / WP especially now that the criminals are robbing the very little jerk stands .
    I hope that the COP see that Officers needs to be held accountable for their actions / jobs. And that Child sex abuse can’t and shouldn’t continue to go in the direction that it is going in now .

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  2. The big problem is that child abuse, which according to some people I know has been going on here for decades, has always been a taboo subject. I can remember ten years ago RCIPS launching a very detailed awareness programme that promptly disappeared without trace. If memory serves me right the officer who’d headed it suddenly found herself transferred to other duties – that’s the mentality CoP Byrne is dealing with. As a former senior officer in the Garda he must be painfully aware of what can happen (Murphy Commission of Inquiry) when attitudes like that are allowed to prevail.

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  3. Sexual abuse in the Cayman Islands is an issue of urgent national significance. Protection of children in this country from sexual abuse is of paramount importance.
    Government must provide strong leadership on this issue, and that this be expressed publicly as a determined commitment to place children’s interests at the forefront in all policy and decision-making, particularly where a matter impacts on the physical and
    emotional wellbeing of children. 
    Meantime the Cayman Islands Government is SILENT.

    Sentencing in child-sexual abuse cases should not end with a prison time for a perpetrator. It must include court ordered assistance for its victim(s).
    A defendant(s), for example, as part of his plea agreement, may agree to forfeit his residence or other assets and provide money in a trust for the benefit of the victims(s).

    Judicial system in this country must step in, set up a precedent , making sure that victims of sexual abuse receive proper therapies and education (preferably off island) , which would go a long way and benefit their own future children. Parents and family members should not be able to stop a child-victim from attending mandatory therapy sessions.

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