Thursday, 3 March 2016

Home Office to look at costs of historic Durham sex abuse inquiry as bill reaches £2m

Ministers will consider whether Durham Constabulary needs help with the costs of Operation Seabrook following requests from MP

Kevan Jones MP
Kevan Jones MP

Police Minister Mike Penning has promised to consider calls for more funding for Durham Police’s long-running investigation into Britain’s biggest historic sex abuse case.

He said he would look at whether the force, which is already attempting to cope with funding cuts, should receive help with the £2m cost of Operation Seabrook.

It came after a request by North Durham’s Labour MP Kevan Jones in the House of Commons.

Operation Seabrook is an attempt to establish what happened at Medomsley Detention Centre, near Consett, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

The aim is to bring any surviving offenders to justice and make sure victims get the help and support they needed.

More than more than 1,240 former inmates at Medomsley Detention Centre have now come forward to report being physically or sexually abused while being held at the facility.

The scale and complexity of the investigation meant the force bought in a team of experienced retired detectives.

Mr Jones said there should be a central pot of funding to help forces such as Durham Constabulary which are dealing with historic abuse cases.

  The officer leading Operation Seabrook, Det Supt Paul Goundry.
The investigation into assaults on inmates at Medomsley Detention Centre is now the biggest child abuse inquiry in the UK.
Sophie Doughty speaks to the Operation Seabrook detectives at Chester-Le-Street Police station
 He said: “Durham faces a £2m-plus bill for Operation Seabrook. Is it right that such a complex investigation, which is clearly needed, should fall on Durham?
“Should there not be a central pot to refund it for such operations?”

Mr Penning, the Home Office Minister responsible for policing, said he raised “an important point”, adding: “Some forces have much larger percentage costs for historical cases and they have an opportunity to apply to the Home Office for assistance.

“It is right and proper that the investigations are done by the forces. Some investigations were not done correctly early on, which is even more reason why we should address them.

“I know about the inquiry referred to by [Mr Jones] and I am more than happy to look into it.”

But Mr Penning and Mr Jones clashed over cuts in funding for Durham Police - which the Government admits has led to 648 police officer jobs being axed.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced in his Spending Review last year that there would be no further cuts to police funding. However, this does not mean budgets have been increased to make up for cuts imposed between 2010 and 2015.

Mr Penning insisted Durham Police was more effective than ever.

He insisted: “It has done fantastically well. It has even done really well in the latest independent reports on police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy.

“It has been rated outstanding on nine of the 12 points, good on another two, and the other one, which relates to a serious error on stop and search and the use of a Taser, requires improvement.

“The force has done all that with a reduced workforce and a higher percentage of officers on the front line. It has experienced a substantial reduction in numbers, from 1,705 to 1,057, but it has massively reduced crime, including during this year.”

Mr Jones said that police officers and the Police and Crime Commissioner, Labour politician Ron Hogg, had coped as best they could but this did not make up for lack of funding.

And he highlighted the Government’s review of police funding which had to be delayed after Ministers admitted last year they had got some of the calculations wrong.

Mr Jones said: “The police community, local politicians and police and crime commissioners have lost all faith that the Home Office can conduct this review properly and fairly.”

The MP said he backed calls from the Commons Home Affairs Committee for a panel of accountants to take the review over.