Submitted by Linzi McDonald, Kingsley Napley Solicitors (CA 182)
1. Operation Care was a Merseyside Police investigation into alleged abuse in children's homes across Merseyside from the mid 1960s to date. The investigation spanned over 90 care homes.
In Operation Care (and I am told in other police operations) the method used to contact potential complainants was by way of a generic letter sent out to ex-residents. This letter informed the ex-resident that the police were investigating historic child abuse allegations taken place in the care home and asking them to contact the police in confidence if they had any information to provide. This letter was "dip sampled" to a number of ex-residents in any given time period. This meant that out of a possible 200 residents in any given year the letter would be sent out to a proportion of that number. Whether the letter is sent to 10 people or 200 people, there is to my mind a real danger in "trawling" for witnesses in this way.
There have been, and there are, a number of police investigations up and down the country into historic allegations of child abuse within the care system. Word spreads, gossip is passed around and before long it is public knowledge that such and such a care home is being investigated.
The residents of these care homes very often had previous convictions. I am not suggesting that because an ex-resident has convictions that he/she would necessarily lie about child abuse. However in the context of our case we had defence witnesses willing to come forward and give evidence at our trial to the effect that complainants against Dave Jones had admitted to our witnesses that they had lied about the allegations of abuse in order to obtain financial compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. That surely raises concerns that if the police are trawling for potential complainants in this manner that there is a risk, and I would say a high risk, that by doing so you are opening the door to the less than honest complainant who has an eye towards criminal compensation.
2. Much of what I have said in relation to issue number one can be reiterated in relation to this issue. In my experience they are inextricably linked. The methodology used by the police often creates the very situation where complainants can see a way of making quick money.
In the Jones case I was not aware of any open advertising of prospective awards of compensation. However, I was told that there was a firm in Liverpool, Abney Garsden and MacDonald, that were attempting to get a class action going in relation to civil suits against the bodies responsible for the various care homes across Merseyside. They also represented a number of complainants within Operation Care in relation to criminal injuries compensation. It may well have been common knowledge in the locality that this firm, amongst others, were representing complainants in this way. Again this raises the issue that the less than honest individual will see this as an opportunity to make money.
Usually the police will begin an investigation once they have received a complaint from an individual or individuals. In these types of cases alleging child abuse you very rarely start off with a complainant. Normally what you will find is the police looking for complainants. That whole system is fraught with problems from beginning to end. It is open to abuse from the investigator and the complainant.