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.