As new guidance for police officers investigating allegations of non-recent sexual abuse is published, Dame Vera explains why she thinks belief is the right policy
During a recent court case, when sentencing an abuser to 12 years imprisonment, a Crown Court Judge said: “The victim was told by you that they would never be believed and they were threatened by you. You told them that you would deny what you had been doing until your dying day.”
The offender was convicted of 13 offences, and the Judge noted that the child was repeatedly abused before the offences were brought to light.
This is not an uncommon scenario – in fact, it is far too common to be ignored. Many, many victims of child sexual abuse are told by their abuser that no-one will believe them. This threat stays with the victim, they lack the confidence to speak out. The abuser is not brought to justice, and other children remain at risk.
Policing has listened to these voices, and I welcome the publication of national advice to investigators which clearly states that victims who find the courage to come forward and report abuse will be believed and treated with empathy.
Of course, policing has not always got it right. However, the approach has changed much since the first surge of allegations made after victims had the confidence to speak out because their powerful abuser – Jimmy Savile – had died.
Savile is one of many paedophiles who use a position of trust or power, to threaten, control, and coerce victims. He committed his offences in plain sight, knowing that the word of his victims would never be believed against his own. And most of his victims believed that too.
Next year marks a decade since Savile’s death. The policing approach to victims of child sexual abuse has changed considerably in that time.
The views of Sir Richard Henriques are fundamentally flawed.
They fail to recognise that this position is not a construct of policing, and to take account of the evidence base which clearly endorses the importance of belief, of creating the right environment for victims to have the confidence to speak out, and the supporting views of professionals engaging regularly with these victims.
Sir Richard is apparently basing his views on one case – Operation Midland and the fantasist Carl Beech – which he was asked to review by the Metropolitan Police.
This case is in many aspects unique – and not representative of the hundreds of similar cases progressed by the police every year – many, many of which result in the conviction of a child abuser as we saw in the case above.
There will be a small number of fantasists who make false claims. This will always be the case. However, they are in the minority, and our reaction to the lies of a skilled manipulator like Carl Beech should not cause us to reach a position where the trust and confidence of genuine victims to speak out is damaged.
Sir Richard also states that blind belief by the investigating officer causes an investigation to commence from a presumption of guilt. This is a surprising position for a former high court judge, someone whose career was based on judging the evidence brought before a court by investigating officers, to adopt.
In reviewing the learning from Operation Midland, and how it has been embedded in policing, the policing inspectorate earlier this year were clear that officers undertook investigations impartially and with an open mind.
Belief of the victim at the point the crime was reported, did not rule this out.
Sir Richard would do well to appraise himself of the findings resulting from his own recommendations.