Police under attack for £5m sex abuse inquiry
A THREE-YEAR police investigation into sexual and physical abuse at 61 children’s homes has been criticised after resulting in only six convictions despite 530 allegations against around 200 care workers.
Operation Rose was conducted by Northumbria Police, at a cost of £5 million, after a woman in her twenties disclosed to a social worker that she and a friend had been abused as children in care.
Initial inquiries identified six victims who alleged abuse, dating from the Sixties, by eight suspects at seven homes in four local authority areas.
Police embarked on a process of “trawling” for information by writing to 1,800 former residents explaining that they were looking into homes where they had once lived.
As a consequence homes runs by two voluntary agencies and all six local authorities in the force area – Northumberland, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland – came under investigation.
A total of 277 residents and former residents made allegations against 223 care workers for alleged offences including rape, buggery, indecent assault and physical assault.
Of 32 people who were charged with a total of 142 offences, five were found guilty, one pleaded guilty, 12 were found not guilty, nine had cases withdrawn, four died before their cases were heard and one remained on file.
Court reporting restrictions, which previously prevented publicity of the Operation Rose trials, were lifted at the conclusion of the final case this week.
Esme Allenby, 54, of Cramlington, Northumberland, was told she would not face trial for nine counts of indecent assault, dating back 27 years, which she denied.
The prosecution at Newcastle Crown Court told Judge Maurice Carr that it was in the public interest that the trial did not proceed because vital documents were missing.
The North-East branch of Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers, an organisation set up after instances of unproved allegations elsewhere in the country, attacked the police approach to gathering complaints.
Ray Johnston, the co-chairman of Fact (North East), said: “Scores of carers and teachers have had their lives ruined and the lives of their families destroyed by these actions.”
Mr Johnston was suspended from his post as a senior teacher at Netherton Park in Northumberland in August 1997. He said: “I was just fully aware I hadn’t done anything to justify being suspended at all and thought it was thoroughly wrong.”
Mr Johnston learnt from colleagues that a girl had accused him of physical assault and eight months after his suspension he was arrested and later charged with five counts of child cruelty and two of physical assaults.
After years of court adjournments Mr Johnston’s case was dismissed after a judge ruled that the three and a half-year delay in the case had breached his human rights. He has now submitted a complaint to the Police Complaints Authority citing victimisation and malicious prosecution.
A former teacher, Derek Gordon, from Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, said Operation Rose had left him “marked for life” even though he was acquitted of child abuse charges.
Northumbria Police defended Operation Rose. The assistant chief constable John Scott, said: “It was a thorough and professional investigation. Six people involved in child abuse have been put behind bars as a result of our investigations.”