Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720-739)
MR TERENCE GRANGE, MR GARETH TINNUCHE, MR MICK HOLLAND, MR MIKE LANGDON AND MR NIGEL DUGGAN
TUESDAY 18 JUNE 2002
720. Mr Tinnuche, it is not in dispute that we are dealing with matters which are of great concern, indeed it is difficult to think of any greater injury to children than sexual abuse, that is not in dispute, at least I hope it is not, between anybody who has given evidence to us but, as you know, this inquiry is looking into the possibility that action has been taken that should not have been taken and innocent people have been hurt. Are you saying in effect that you would dismiss allegations that there are fabrications from those who were in children's homes, who are now obviously adults, who are motivated by the possibility that they will receive a substantial sum of money?
(Mr Tinnuche) I have got no doubt that if we were aware that a person was making a statement and his motivation was compensation but that the abuse had actually happened then it is most certain that we would identify that to the Crown and they, most likely, would not use that individual because of his or her motivation. We certainly have had instances where a person has contacted us via his solicitor for us to go and see him and he has quite openly said "I understand I can get loads of money for this". We have not told him that, we have been directed to that individual via his solicitor. That is included in the statement that we take from him, the fact that he has advice from his solicitor to suggest that he could be entitled to compensation. We document that in the statement and the likelihood of that individual ever, ever being used to give evidence is totally remote.
721. What is the working relationship between the police and civil compensation solicitors? Allegations have been made along the lines that there is a very close relationship, or there has been, between the police and solicitors who represent the victims of sexual abuse.
(Mr Tinnuche) I think the relationship is obviously a totally professional one. Yes, the SIOs sat here and throughout the country will have contacts from solicitors acting on behalf of former residents of care homes where they allege that they have been abused. Our policy is that we will not disclose any information to them until such time as all the criminal aspects of that complaint have been finalised at court. Invariably thereafter we would release the statement of the victim to the acting solicitors at the conclusion of any criminal proceedings, that is our policy.
722. In the Panorama programme which I mentioned previously, In the Name of the Children, reference was made to one John Robbins who worked investigating these cases in the Merseyside area. Is that not the position?
(Mr Langdon) Mr Robbins was a Detective Superintendent who was the senior investigating officer for Operation Care, as you say, with Merseyside Police.
723. Was he employed for sometime in these investigations?
(Mr Langdon) Yes, he was.
724. Do you know what he is doing at the present moment?
(Mr Langdon) He is currently working for the solicitor firm, I think it is, Abney Garsden, who you have received evidence from.
725. Eyebrows have been raised, if I can put it like that. I am sure Mr Robbins has acted perfectly rightly and, certainly, within the law and there is no allegation that he has done other than that, but I suppose eyebrows have been raised that here was a person who was working pretty closely in these cases which we are looking into, these investigations into sexual abuse, who had some working relationship as a police officer, did he not, with the solicitor in question, and now he is employed by that firm?
(Mr Langdon) Yes.
726. Do you think there is any reason for eyebrows to be raised?
(Mr Langdon) Let me say from the outset, in terms of the interests of transparency, that I personally can see the issues that that position raised. It is obvious to a number of people that it is an avenue that some people could potentially raise as a concern. However, you have, in my view quite rightly, brought to the attention of the Committee that Mr Robbins has acted with integrity. There is nothing to preclude police officers seeking employment and using their expertise, and very often they do so. Out of choice, I, personally, would rather that he had not, but that is a personal view. What the situation has done is ensured that the Merseyside Police in Operation Care have to be very clear about what the relationships are, that contact is documented (and there are very clear protocols for dealing with a firm of solicitors which, as in this case, has the Legal Aid co-ordination) and that meetings that take place with that firm of solicitors are of a strategic nature and are minuted.
727. We have been told that, at one stage, the Merseyside Police wrote to solicitors asking them to advise their clients not to commence compensation action until after the criminal proceedingsin other words, once the criminal proceedings were under way and a conviction was established by the court; people were found guilty. That would be the best time to start compensation or to apply for compensation. Would that be a correct way of going about procedures?
(Mr Langdon) I thinkcertainly not by yourselfthe way that was articulated was potentially clumsy by the person that did articulate it. The policy of the Merseyside Police
728. That was Mr Robbins, was it?
(Mr Langdon) That is as I believe it to be, yes. Obviously, if persons seek civil litigation there is nothing that the police can do to stop that. What the Merseyside Police will do is refuse to provide witness statements, unless there is a court order, until the case is finalised and disposed of. The other issue is if there is documentation sought for which there is not an owner, then we insist on a court order. The fact that the Merseyside Police policy is not to provide witness statements while the proceedings are still live is the catalyst for that advice.
729. Should there not be a clear separation between action that the police take in pursuing the course of justice and any action taken by solicitors when it comes to compensation for victims? In my mindand I speak as a layman, neither a former police officer or a legal personI would have thought there is a clear dividing line between, as I have said, the police pursuing the course of justice, as they see it, in any particular case, and any action taken at some stage by solicitors regarding compensation.
(Mr Langdon) I would agree, but I suggest to you that the inevitable dividing point is the possession of documentation and the way in which that information is catalogued and handledwho is the owner of that information. The simple fact of the matter is that property of witnesses that is required for proper, civil investigation is actually in the possession of the police or other authorities. That is the connecting issue.
730. So, to get it clear, when Mr Robbins was a police officer and was corresponding with the firm in question, that is not the sort of activity that you would like to see continue?
(Mr Langdon) What I would like to see continue is the policy of the Merseyside Police, which I have outlined to you.
731. Should police officers pursue a policy of not being involved with firms of solicitors who will be making claims for compensation?
(Mr Langdon) As I said, there has got to be very clear parameters and protocols which exist for that relationshipminuted meetings and a clear outline policy decision on what documentation will be provided to solicitors, under what circumstances and when. That facility is in existence.
732. Those guidelines which you want to see, hopefully, and are now in practice, did not exist previously?
(Mr Langdon) To my knowledge that situation, in terms of the forwarding of complainant statements at the conclusion of the proceedings has always been the case. To my knowledge.
733. So that is not a new policy?
(Mr Langdon) Not to my knowledge.
734. It is not just now, post the arguments over Mr Robbins?
(Mr Langdon) No. My own interpretationand it is my own interpretationwas that effectively it is not the practice of the Merseyside Police to provide witness statements until the end of proceedings. So the natural corollary to the issue is that potentially there would be little point in a civil litigation being launched; it would not be a good course of action for solicitors to take because they would not have access to the documents. I think that is where it has come from.
735. If I can revert to what I asked earlier, namely the role of compensation, there does seem to be this strong conviction, which may well have no justification, that so much of the evidence being provided, which goes back after all, in some cases 20, 25 years, is based not on actually what occurred but the possibility of financial reward. Of course, you can imagine what it must be like to have a totally false allegation hanging over youyou would not like it and neither would any of us on this side of the Committee. I am just wondering how far social services and police really take into account that lies are being told because of the possibility of money coming to those who are making such false allegations.
(Mr Grange) Perhaps I could read out to you a paragraph in the investigating officer's handbook? It is entitled "Risk Assessment". "Risk assessment is a discipline used in serious crime cases which task the investigating officers to identify the aspects of a case which may create problems so as to undermine the investigation. One advantage of opening a policy file section on risk assessment is that a record can be maintained which will assist in addressing questions which may be raised later about alleged weaknesses in the inquiry. This strategy is particularly relevant in sexual cases and child abuse cases. The following issues have been raised in the past and which might be addressed in the risk assessment process: 1. Exactly how the affairs came to light and any subsequent accounts touching upon credibility; 2. The motivation of the complainant; 3. The motivation of a third party having influence over a complainant (such as a solicitor); in the case of multiple complainants whether there has been collusion in their accounts and, if so, why and when. There may, of course, be a good reason for this. Whether the complainants were solicited from different complainants from the same party. The similarity between complaints and anything undermining corroboration." Right from the beginning of any inquiry a senior investigating officer is advised to conduct that risk assessment, and compensation features in there, which is why, in this document, in the dos and don'ts, it says clearly to detective constables and sergeants "Do not discuss compensation, full stop. If people want to talk about it refer them to a solicitor. Say nothing else. Record what they have said, bring it back, enter it in the policy file, hand that document to the Crown Prosecution Service, if you get that far."
736. And that, you hope, is actually carried out in practice?
(Mr Grange) I believe it to be the case. You have had evidence from, I believe, the CICA and compensation claims in this area are no greater than others, as I understand matters.
737. Let me put this to you, my last question. What has also been alleged in the crudest possible terms is that a good number of people making these allegations which go back a long time are those with a pretty long criminal record and there should be some question, so it is said, about how far such people are telling the truth. That has been put to us in so many words, it is not necessarily by any means my view or that of any of my colleagues but nevertheless it is an allegation that I would like your response to.
(Mr Grange) Let me agree with that view. When and if the case gets to court defence counsel will have that individual's career criminal history and will target that career criminal history to undermine their credibility. That is a function of our system. The individuals that give evidence know that is going to happen.
738. That was a fair response.
(Mr Tinnuche) But not all victims of child abuse fall into that category and it hurts many of them when they read reports in the paper or on the Internet criticising the police investigation, as they have done, and referring to them and putting them into that block as you have just described. Some of these children were put into the care system not because of criminality but perhaps because of problems within the family. Not all of them are criminals or were criminals. Some of them were criminals when they were teenagers but having gone through their formative years are now leading settled lives with their wives and families. We have had the wife of one victim, whose abuser was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment, phoning us up in response to media articles in South Wales complaining about the effect that such reporting is having on her husband, the victim. I think we need to be careful that we are not tarring everybody with the same brush.
(Mr Grange) I think the vast majority of them are not career criminals. I think the Waterhouse Inquiry made that abundantly clear.
739. I understand that, Mr Grange.
(Mr Langdon) On the point that you raised can I also provide some reassurance in the context that where people in prison are making allegations or are witnesses what we do is track where they have been, when they have been there, who they have been with and that is mapped out. That work, if it gets to that stage, is made available to the defence.