The failings identified in the Jimmy Saville case could happen all over again, says Chief Constable of GMP Sir Peter Fahy. He said the many reports and comments made on this and other cases of serial sexual offenders are not addressing some of the fundamental underlying issues and rather seek individual members of staff to blame.
Sir Peter said: “Although we now have had a police national database operational since 2011 to enable forces to share intelligence it has to be acknowledged that having 43 separate police forces in England and Wales and no national headquarters for policing makes achieving consistent national standards all the more difficult. The management of intelligence always involves some degree of subjectivity in assessing the reliability of that intelligence and its veracity – this is not an exact science. When links are identified which cross force boundaries and periods of time there are some inevitable tensions in deciding which force will take on the investigation
“There is also understandable public concern about police recording unsubstantiated intelligence particularly when this related to allegations of sexual offending and how this affects people when they are vetted for jobs. We have recently also seen material relating to unconvicted people removed from the DNA database because of concerns over civil liberties. There is always a difficult balance between the need to record suspicions and uncorroborated information and the rights of the subject.
“Police forces have significantly improved the way that victims are treated but the fact is many, many victims do not come forward or if they do are reluctant to support a prosecution. This highlights another issue in the way our adversarial court system treats victims. Whatever other evidence is collected prosecutions for sexual offences rely hugely on the evidence of the victim. In a case of burglary the victim will not be blamed for leaving the front door unlocked. In sexual offences the behaviour of the victim, whether they had been drinking, any weaknesses of character how they were dressed may well be picked over at great length in the court room. Where the details are particularly salacious or the case involves a celebrity then these very intimate detail will received full publicity in the media but the main impact is the trauma the victim will go through in the court room. This was sadly highlighted by the recent case involving Frances Andrade and the Chetham’s School of Music.
“This pressure on the victim and the way any weakness will be exploited means that prosecutors and police officers are cautious in taking cases to court. This is understandable although the DPP has recently issued new guidance on this.
“Sexual predators will inevitably pick on vulnerable victims who often have other problems in their lives and suffer from low self-esteem. The nature of the abuse will further damage them and it is not surprising therefore that they are reluctant to come forward and that those concerned with their welfare worry about the additional significant trauma if a not guilty verdict results and the abuser is seen to win.
“Great developments have been made in child welfare and there are many dedicated professional and volunteers involved but the fact is the system still struggles to safeguard vulnerable young people who are determined to be on the street or are determined to continue with inappropriate relationships. The care system does its best but unless society is prepared to turn children’s homes into prison and care workers into wardens which would not be acceptable we will still have cases of young people who go missing many time during a year or out of the control of their families who themselves are often in difficult circumstances.
“We can continue to criticise individual members of staff for individual failings but this ignores the complexity of these issues and the way that our system of criminal justice affects the victims of sexual offences. There is little public support for a national police force as is being created in Scotland but while localism has many strengths it does make it more difficult when cases cross boundaries and when we are trying to achieve national standards.”