Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Medomsley abuse detectives trawl newspaper archives for leads as retired cops are drafted in

Retired cops were called in to help Durham Constabulary with Britain's biggest historic sex abuse investigation

Alan Simpson, who has been looking through the old files at the Chronicle
Alan Simpson, who has been looking through the old files at the Chronicle
Detectives working on the UK’s biggest historic sex abuse case have trawled our archives for clues.
More than more than 1,240 former inmates at Medomsley Denetention Centre have now come forward to report being physically or sexually abused while being held at the facility, near Consett, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

The victims came forward after Durham Constabulary launched Operation Seabrook, with the aim of establishing exactly what happened at Medomsley, bringing any surviving offenders to justice, and making sure victims get the help and support they needed.

And the scale and complexity of the Seabrook investigation has resulted in the force bringing back a crack team of experienced retired detectives whose skills have proved invaluable in the inquiry.

Two former detectives working on the team last month visited our Newcastle office to trawl through old articles we had published about Medomsley, which are held in our library on microfilm.

With the investigation phase of the operation complete and all surviving main suspects identified and interviewed, the Seabrook team has now submitted files to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and is awaiting advice that will identify individuals likely to be charged - and which victims may be required to give evidence.

And Det Supt Paul Goundry, who has led the two-year investigation, has lifted the lid on the inquiry and told how the victims’ accounts of horrific abuse have left even the most hardened long-serving detectives sickened.

He said: “This investigation is probably one of the most challenging the country has faced, not just due to the number of victims but also because Medomsley closed in 1986, which means we are talking about events that occurred between 30 and 50 years ago.

“The investigation team is made up of very experienced detectives who have built up close bonds with many of the victims. Some hardened detectives have been quite traumatised by the accounts of the victims.”
Neville Husband
Neville Husband
Operation Seabrook was launched following the convictions of former prison worker the late Neville Husband, who was jailed 10 years ago for abusing youngsters at the centre.

The judge in Husband’s second trial ruled that there would be no further prosecutions against the convict, however, the case sparked a number of new previously unknown victims to come forward.

Operation Seabrook has three aims; To understand how Medomsley operated in the context of the time, to prosecute any individuals taht committed criminal offences against detainees during that time and to help any inmates that have suffered mental health issues as a result of their time at Medomsley.

From the outset, Det Supt Goundry was determined to make sure potential victims were handled with skill and sensitivit.

And to do so he drafted in former Durham Constabulary detectives, with the skills and experienced needed.

“One of the aims of the investigation from day one was to ensure that this is the last time an investigation into Medomsley took place, the force was in it for the long haul,” he said.

“The aim is once this is finished it’s finished forever, we have to do it right, this investigation has to be meticulous.

“We urged anyone that had been in Medomsley and had suffered or witnessed abuse to come forward.
The numbers that came forward were not expected, and from day one we had to make a decision on how the investigation would be staffed and we decided we wanted it to be Durham Constabulary officers that would deal with the victims so we did not go for mutual aid from other forces.

“Durham has great pride in the way it handles its victims and I wanted to ensure every victom was dealt with by a Durham Constabulary officer.

“So I obtained authority from the executive to substantially increase the scale of the team by employing experienced retired detectives who that the relevant skills to deal with victims of historic abuse. They have a proven track record and the relevant skills.”

Former Det Cons Steve Hedley, who retired from the force after 25 years, is one of those detectives that chose to come back and finish what he had started.

The ex-cop, who has 15 years CID experience and was on the Major Crime Team for 10 years, worked on Seabrook in the run-up to his retirement.

He felt he wanted to return and see the investigation through.

“I still wanted to be part of Durham Constabulary and the force gets the benefit of my experience and I get to do a role which I am trained for,” he said. “I’m trained in interviewing vulnerable victims and and children.

“I was involved in the investigation from the start and it’s a lot to get your head around. And having worked on it from the beginning I wanted to see it through. “We use all different facets of our experience from over the years. It’s clearly been a team effort. Not one person could have done it.”
Steve explained that interviewing the victims required specialist skills.

“A lot of them haven’t even told their families,” he explained. “So we have got to be careful with how we make contact with them. We never cold-called anyone, they had to come to us. Some of them have spent 30 years putting it out their minds.”

And Steve admits he was shocked by some of the things he heard.

“We have been shocked by the scale of brutality, some of what I have heard is the most shocking things I have ever heard,” he said. “And a lot of them have been affected by it throughout their lives.
“At the start what I heard did affect me, but you can’t get emotional, you are there to be professonal and do a job.”

The Seabrook team expects decisions on prosecutions to be made next year, but officers are continuing to work tirelessly supporting victims.

Det Supt Goundry added: “I’m conscious of the fact that this has been running for two years, but we have got to get it right.”