As new allegations of historic child abuse are being uncovered, police investigations up and down the country are escalating to unprecedented scales, but exactly how well are police forces dealing with this pressure?
It has recently emerged that Scotland Yard’s commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has claimed that his detectives have been confused by an ‘official policy’ to “believe the victim,” suggesting that this is weakening their investigations into senior public figures alleged to have committed sexual abuse.
The head of the police watchdog, Sir Tom Winsor, has criticised these comments, stating that the policy is clear: the complainer must be believed for the purpose of recording the crime and statistics, but that the investigation must be carried out “objectively, professionally and with an open mind”.
This is not only a matter of good practice, but imperative in supporting the victims that have courageously come forward with abuse that they have never revealed to anyone and memories that they have tried to supress for years. These victims have the right to know that their allegations will be believed and investigated, but also that those investigations will be carried out with the utmost rigour in order to ensure that any convictions secured are safe.
And this is after all, the policy that is in place; the concern is that the Metropolitan Police seem to be confused about the implementation of this policy, and it is hoped that Sir Winsor’s recent clarification will now see the correct implementation.
The Metropolitan Police have also faired badly in a report prepared by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) on all 43 police forces in England and Wales; the report found the Met Police require improvement.
As part of the same report, Nottinghamshire Police received a rating of ‘Good’ although they were found to be “not yet sufficiently prepared to tackle child sexual exploitation.” Whilst this is concerning, it is hoped that now that this deficiency has been highlighted in a police force that is otherwise effective, it will be addressed by Nottinghamshire Police and will ensure child sexual exploitation cases will be better handled in future.
Thames Valley Police were another force that received a ‘Good’ rating; however it was found that their child abuse investigation unit was understaffed and unable to keep up with demand. Inspector Zoe Billingham commented however that “they are ahead of the curve for tackling child sexual exploitation…” and have utilised their previous experience from ‘Operation Bullfinch’.
It is promising to see therefore that police forces in England and Wales are quickly learning from their experience and are facing the challenges of the unprecedented scale of these investigations head on. More than half of the police forces in England and Wales have been rated by HMIC as being good or outstanding, and those that require improvement have been given clear direction of how these improvements can be made. It seems therefore, that the police are coping, despite the increase in these investigations, and victims coming forward will be heard.