POLICE Scotland’s new national child sex abuse unit has been involved in 65 investigations across the country since it began work in January, it has been revealed.
Its 48 specialist officers, based in Livingston, Inverness, Aberdeen and Dalmarnock, have lent their expertise to inquiries involving abuse carried out in institutions and elsewhere, as well as to operations into child sexual exploitation (CSE). Their work has spanned both historical and recent allegations.
The child sex abuse unit was set up after the report into failings in the investigation of CSE in Rotherham found 1,400 children had been abused between 1997 and 2013.
Its officers – who have specialist training in areas such as interviewing vulnerable witnesses, crime scene management and digital technology – are drafted in to give short-term support to divisional officers involved in complex, protracted or cross-border investigations or those which involve people who are well-known or in positions of trust. Twelve of the 65 inquiries were led by senior investigating officers from the unit.
The last few years have seen an explosion in the number of child sex abuse cases throughout the UK. Scandals involving religious orders and high-profile figures such as Jimmy Savile have put abuse in state-run and other institutions in the spotlight, while Rotherham has exposed the scale of the country’s CSE problems.
Earlier this year, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) revealed sexual crime, including sexual offences relating to children, accounted for 75 per cent of cases at the High Court, while figures released in June showed allegations of child sex abuse were burgeoning, with 3,742 offences recorded in Scotland in 2013/14.
One of the challenges for the unit has been to strike a balance between investigating historical and contemporary cases in a febrile atmosphere. “Clearly, the non-recent inquiries have to be resourced and investigated, but at the same time you can never forget about the cases that are here and now,” said Det Supt Alan Crawford, Police Scotland child and adult protection lead.
Det Chief Insp Elaine Galbraith added: “If it’s not someone who is posing an immediate risk – or indeed, who is dead – then absolutely we will still investigate, but we can take a more measured approach.”
DCI Galbraith said the unit was working closely with third sector bodies, such as Barnardo’s, to ensure victims were given adequate support through the judicial process and beyond.
Crawford said officers investigating historical abuse had been involved in trawling through previous investigations by legacy forces and in interviewing retired detectives about their decisions.
Police Scotland’s child abuse unit is also the point of contact for Operation Hydrant – a pulling together of more than 600 investigations by police forces throughout the United Kingdom.
Inquiry: Survivors ‘kept in dark’
Child sex abuse survivors have criticised a “lack of communication” from the public inquiry set up to examine historical offences involving children in care in Scotland days before its official opening.
The inquiry – to be chaired by Susan O’Brien QC – will be launched on Thursday when a website detailing how the process will work and encouraging victims to come forward is expected to go live. But survivors from several support groups, including In Care Abuse Survivor (Incas) and White Flowers Alba, are angry they have not been kept up to date with, or consulted on, any of the preparatory work that has taken place since O’Brien’s appointment in May.
In particular, they believe they should have been informed of progress in the recruitment of a panel to sit alongside O’Brien.
“We are concerned by all the uncertainty and the lack of communication,” said Alan Draper, parliamentary liaison officer for Incas. “When the chair was announced, we were told the inquiry would commence on 1 October. But the last we heard was that they weren’t interviewing [prospective] panel members until early September. It seems to me if you are appointing some of the worthy and the good, and if they are already in employment, they will have to give due notice, so they might not be available for several months.”
Shadow justice secretary Graeme Pearson, who campaigned for the public inquiry, said there had been no constructive communication with survivors in the past few months.
“Certainly survivors would expect to know who the members of the panel are by now, and to know what the forecast was for the coming months. But there has been no attempt – on the part of the Scottish Government or the inquiry officials – to keep me briefed about what is going on.”
The Scottish Government insists a brief period of silence was inevitable after O’Brien’s appointment as she busied herself with behind-the-scenes work.
“This government is committed to supporting survivors of abuse, including through the establishment of the statutory public inquiry,” a spokesperson said.