As a trustee of the charity One in Four, I recently attended a meeting with Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child abuse investigations, and his colleagues from Operation Hydrant. The purpose of the meeting was to provide an update on the operation to charities that specialise in working with victims of abuse.
In the wake of the Savile scandal in October 2012 it was decided that a co-ordinated approach to allegations of child abuse in the UK needed to be established. The police needed to respond to the allegations and to disseminate best practice amongst forces going forward. It became evident that there was the potential for different police forces to investigate allegations against one offender who may have moved from one location to another. To avoid duplication and to ensure effective information sharing, therefore, Operation Hydrant was born.
The main focus of the Operation is non-recent abuse, that is, any offences that are alleged to have taken place over one year ago. All forces now forward details of victims, suspects and witnesses relating to live investigations (assuming that they meet the criteria of non-recent abuse) to the Operation Hydrant incident room where they are logged and cross referenced on the main database for all police forces to access.
Key Message of Operation Hydrant
The Chief Constable provided us with very honest feedback about what the police are doing today for victims of abuse.
He advised that after the news about Savile broke, the police service nationally saw a surge in the number of adults coming forward and reporting the abuse that they had suffered – an 80% increase. This is of course extremely positive and also allowed for the police to undertake further safeguarding issues with many abusers that continued to offend into old age.
However, he also noted that three quarters of adults were still not disclosing offences against them for fear of not being believed, according to the figures released by the Crime Survey of England and Wales in August 2016.
He went to great lengths to point out that the police now take ‘a victim centric’ approach and that victims who report abuse offences will be listened to and will be believed. He advised that this is now the national policing position laid down by the College of Policing which sets police standards and practice. After a report is made, an impartial and thorough investigation will then take place and they will go wherever the evidence takes them.
Changes to the Police Approach
The Chief Constable was also very upfront about the fact that ‘we’ve got it wrong in the past’ and stressed that the police now have a real commitment to getting it right in the future. He acknowledged that police had made mistakes and left people in positions of authority to carry on abusing children and taking advantage of the fact that no one would listen to a victim, with their shame and guilt deepening their silence. He described it as a ‘perfect storm’ and said that the police in the past had responded in exactly the way that abusers wanted.
He was passionate that this was no longer the case today, that the police had worked hard to change their approach and that they ‘would leave no stone unturned to protect the children of today from becoming victims of tomorrow.’
He advised that the police had learnt their lessons of the past and changed their approach as ‘every victim who comes forward is listened to.’
He also confirmed that officers have been given further training and have an increased awareness and understanding of the issue of child abuse. Officers are now actively engaging with victims and victims will be treated with compassion and respect. In his opinion, there is now a first class service across police forces and nothing less will do.
Scale of Operation Hydrant
As of June 2016 Operation Hydrant had 2,777 suspects in the database. The Chief Constable advised that of this, 585 are unknown or unidentified and 318 are deceased. The most significant group is made up of 627 teachers, followed by 517 care workers and 355 clergy/faith workers. Approximately 350 suspects are of public prominence which includes those who work in the field of TV, film and radio and accounts for 12% of the total amount of suspects in the investigation. There were 99 suspects who were politicians which equates to 3% of the total number of suspects. The database records 1,084 institutions of which schools, children’s homes and religious institutions were amongst the largest groups. There were 2,539 victims recorded on the database.
Operation Hydrant also has other functions in addition to the staff in the incident room that deliver operational co-ordination. It has teams that span investigation, public protection, safeguarding and research all of which provide advice and support to forces undertaking the investigations. To be clear, the Operation itself does not investigate allegations, this is the responsibility of forces across the country. Rather the role of the Operation is to disseminate best practice to those forces and to ensure a national standard.
The Operation also acts as an interface between the police and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The Chief Constable noted that 125 new reports of abuse are being made a month and I am hopeful, as is he, that the truth hearings will encourage further victims to come forward.
The latest crime survey figures show that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Bailey believes that Operation Hydrant has a long term future and with victims of abuse still coming forward on a daily basis, I would agree. The police will continue to consistently enforce the message that victims will be believed which is absolutely key to disclosure. They will continue to work to prosecute abusers and to improve their service to victims.
It is important, he said, that the police continue to be accountable for their approach to child sexual abuse and continue to move forward so that they can say ‘that was then, this is now’ illustrating a clear distinction between lessons learnt and current practice. I was really heartened by Bailey’s honesty in the meeting and his reflection of how investigations have been carried out in the past compared to today – in my opinion, and his, positive progress is being made.
I found the meeting to be encouraging, not least because the attendees at the briefing were given the opportunity to put questions to the Chief Constable which he considered carefully and answered where he could. It was also noticeable that where he was unable to answer a question or was given some suggestions for improvement he agreed to go away and think of how these could be incorporated into the national police approach to victims.
Operation Hydrant will now hold its second national conference in a few weeks time which I shall be attending. I will therefore be able to provide further updates and information shortly.