06 August 2020

College of Policing and Operation Hydrant update advice to Senior Investigating Officers dealing with allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse

The College of Policing and Operation Hydrant have today announced the publication of the updated version of its advice to Senior Investigating Officers (SIOs) examining allegations of non-recent institutional or high profile cases of child sexual abuse.

The updated advice draws on the expertise of SIOs who have led investigations of this type and who are familiar with the complexities and challenges presented by investigations of this nature. In addition to the knowledge gained through high profile investigations, this advice also reflects some of the changes which came into place following the review of Operation Midland published by Sir Richard Henriques in 2016.

The newly published advice touches on all elements of investigation, from the receiving of reports, through to the creation of victim and witness strategy, victim support, interview strategy and investigation management.  

The advice places great emphasis on the importance of clear communication at each stage of the investigation, as well as continued support for victims, witnesses and investigators alike. For example, report takers should be given clear instruction in order to promote consistency when speaking to victims. They should also ensure that the victims are aware of next steps, such as when and how they will be re-contacted and the potential timescales of the investigation. Clear communication gives victims the opportunity to fully understand the investigation process, which enhances trust and confidence in the police.

SIOs are also advised that victims should be thoroughly supported throughout the investigation and the criminal justice process – report takers should signpost support services and a telephone helpline could be arranged with a charity. Similarly, when devising a victim and witness strategy, SIOs should consider embedding a social worker in the investigation team, to ensure victims are safeguarded, while also giving them the opportunity to speak to an alternative point of contact, if they are hesitant about speaking to police.

The advice is careful in striking the balance between the need to support victims and witnesses to give their evidence and ensuring that an impartial investigation takes place.

David Tucker, Head of Crime at the College of Policing comments:

"I am pleased to be able to publish our updated advice. Allegations of child sexual abuse are sometimes difficult to investigate, particularly when incidents happened some time ago and when there is additional public interest given the high public profile of the investigation. I hope that the advice provides assistance and support to senior investigating officers in the difficult task that faces them".

Richard Fewkes, Operation Hydrant National Coordinator, comments:

"The policing approach to investigating allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse has evolved considerably since the first surge of allegations following the death of Jimmy Savile, almost a decade ago.

"These investigations are some of the most complex and challenging that policing undertakes, and can span decades, cross geographical borders, and involve multiple victims and suspects, sometimes on a massive scale.

"The forensic opportunities present in contemporary cases are not available to officers investigating non-recent child sexual offences. Places change, people move on, memories fade, records will pre-date digital files and may be archived or destroyed.  For these reasons investigators need a specialist set of skills to identify and secure the evidence available.

"The Operation Hydrant SIO Advice represents five years of captured learning and developed good practice. It ensures that investigators can benefit from the most up to date policy and practice, that suspects are treated fairly, and that investigations are impartial and thorough.

"The year on year increase in the number of victims coming forward to police, is an indicator of growing and continued victim confidence in the policing approach to investigating allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse. The Operation Hydrant SIO Advice sets the standard for these investigations, and makes it clear that once victims have taken the difficult decision to report non-recent child sexual abuse to police, they will be treated with empathy and support, their allegations taken seriously, and a proportionate, thorough and impartial investigation will follow.

Read the full advice document here.

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