In October 2012, Commander Peter Spindler of the Metropolitan Police said:
"We are dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale. The profile of this operation has empowered a staggering number of victims to come forward to report the sexual exploitation which occurred during their childhood."
The investigation of such cases is complex, the decision for Crown Prosecutors as to whether to prosecute is very difficult and the conduct of a trial presents formidable difficulties in ensuring that, many years after the alleged events, the defendant receives a fair trial.
It is not appropriate to comment about any specific cases which may be likely to go to trial. However, it is to be hoped that those involved in these cases have read the incredibly impressive study by Professor Penney Lewis - "Delayed Prosecution for Childhood Sexual Abuse." The book is available for purchase - here.
The book looks at the response of the criminal justice systems of common law jurisdictions to these challenging cases. Matters considered include: the reasons why complainants may delay reporting abuse for many years; the debate over whether long-delayed criminal prosecutions should be brought; the common law remedy of abuse of process which can ensure that unfair or oppressive prosecutions do not proceed.
book's focus then turns to the trial of delayed childhood sexual abuse
allegations, considering the use which can be made by the prosecution
and defence of evidence of complaint and delay in complaint, and the
methods by which the jury can be informed of the reasons why
complainants may delay. The role of warnings to the jury about the
absence of corroboration and the forensic disadvantage or prejudice
which the defendant may have suffered as a result of the complainant's
delay in coming forward is scrutinised. Particular problems raised in
cases involving recovered memories, and those involving multiple
allegations are analysed. Finally, retrospective assessment of trial
fairness and the safety of convictions is considered.|
In 2009 the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) published Guidance on Investigating Child Abuse and Safeguarding Children
See also - Crown Prosecution Service - Prosecuting cases of child abuse and Safeguarding Children - Guidance on Children as Victims and Witnesses. The CPS notes that, in relation to historical cases, the following issues may arise: loss or deliberate destruction of evidence; witnesses deceased or untraceable; previous indication that no prosecution would follow; delay in making a complaint; trawling; collusion; compensation; changes in legislation.
In 2002, the Home Affairs Committee published Conduct of investigations into past cases of child abuse in children's homes and the government's response (2003) is here.
It is right that the book is not closed on such cases but it must also be right that investigations are conducted meticulously, prosecutions are only brought after the most thorough consideration and that trials are conducted by judges and lawyers well versed in this aspect of the criminal law. Even the allegation can be damning for an individual and the consequences of conviction will be immensely serious.
Some cases from the Channel Islands are also of interest since, in 2009, a decision was taken not to prosecute certain of the cases.