Police Scotland yesterday officially unveiled its new National Child Abuse Investigation Unit, which will have 50 dedicated officers across Scotland.
Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said a key objective of the unit was to encourage abused children to come forward now instead of waiting until adulthood.
But Alan Draper, an academic who has helped lead the campaign for a public inquiry into historical abuse, said he expected that potentially thousands of victims could come forward once the inquiry’s terms of reference are known, leaving the police unable to properly investigate all the allegations.
The launch of the new unit came as the Crown Office said sexual crime, including child sex offences, now accounted for up to three-quarters of cases prosecuted in the High Court.
Based in Livingston, the police unit will also have officers working in Inverness, Aberdeen and Dalmarnock in Glasgow.
Assistant Chief Constable Graham said: “Emergent forms of child abuse, such as child sexual exploitation, have demonstrated the need to have suitably skilled people able to provide assistance with these often complex inquiries.
“We welcome the object of a public inquiry. We’ve yet to see what the exact terms of reference will be, but we will support it fully and one of the requirements to support it will be that police will provide information about activity that we’ve been responsible for as legacy forces in the past. That job will come to the unit as well.
“It’s impossible to give a number of how many historical investigations are taking place because every day people are coming forward and reporting that something has happened to them at some point in the past. There’s a whole range of very good reasons people would delay in reporting, particularly with this type of abuse.
“We know that most children will wait until they are an adult to report they have been abused. Part of the remit of this unit is to turn that around, to make sure children can forward and report at an earlier stage.”
Assistant Chief Constable Graham said the new unit would also make its easier for the police to coordinate national investigations, such as the inquiry into Jimmy Savile.
But Mr Draper, a representative of the group In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), who compiled a report for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland on how to deal with historical child abuse, said he was worried the new unit was under-resourced.
He said: “We’re pleased that it’s getting off the ground. Our concern as a group is the resources they have been allocated.
“Here we are, we have a national public inquiry. I think that if the inquiry scope is right, then thousands of survivors will come forward. Are the police geared up [for that]? You can’t go back decades without getting thousands of victims, given the sort of appalling criminal behaviour that has taken place.”
He added: “Survivors will still be suspicious of people in authority because they have been let down so often over decades.”
Speaking at the launch of the new unit, Kathleen Harper, head of the Crown Office’s National Sexual Crimes Unit, said sexual crime had gone from making up around a quarter of prosecutions in the High Court less than a decade ago, to between 65 and 75 per cent today.
She said: “There’s been an incredible increase in these cases, sexual abuse of children and adults. When I first started prosecuting in the High Court some seven or eight years ago, sexual crime was 25 per cent of the prosecution rate, it’s now something along the lines of 65 to 75 per cent. A large proportion of that will be in relation to child sexual abuse, so we are dealing with a large increase in this sort of crime.”
Education secretary Angela Constance is expected to set out further details of the public inquiry into historical abuse next week.