Saturday, 1 October 2016

Durham Police ask for extra £1.5m to fund Medomsley Detention Centre abuse probe

The investigation is one of the biggest child abuse investigations in the UK with more than 1,300 victims coming forward 

Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Ben Emmerson QC

Durham Constabulary has asked for an extra £1.5m on top of its normal budget to handle the massive investigation into abuse at Medomsley Detention Centre.

The force applied to the Home Office in 2015/16 for a special grant to help handle the costs of Operation Seabrook which is now the biggest child abuse inquiry in the UK.

A staggering 1,350 men have reported being physically or sexually assaulted at the County Durham detention centre during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Home Office and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) have yet to come to a decision on whether or not to agree with the amount suggested by Durham Constabulary in their bid.

Similar child sexual abuse investigation like Operation Hydrant, in Norfolk, and Operation Pallial, in North Wales, have been awarded special grant and have been granted at least half of the amount they requested.

Last year South Yorkshire Police requested £17m in extra funding for Operation Stovewood, the National Crime Agency-led investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and were granted £1.6m was agreed for 2015/16 and up to £5.9m for 2016/17.

The news comes as Ben Emmerson QC, the most senior lawyer working on an independent inquiry into historic child sexual abuse in England and Wales resigned.

Dave Higgens/PA Wire
Professor Alexis Jay

In his resignation letter, Mr Emmerson said he was no longer the “right person” for the role, but denied he had stepped down due to a difference of opinion with chair Professor Alexis Jay.

The inquiry was set up in 2014 to examine whether public bodies including the police have failed in their duty to protect children from sexual abuse. It will also examine claims of abuse involving “well-known people”.

Prof Jay is the fourth person appointed to lead the investigation.

She was appointed after its third chairwoman, New Zealand judge Justice Lowell Goddard, resigned in August this year, citing the “magnitude” of the inquiry and the “legacy of failure” from its beginnings.

An attempt to start the inquiry in 2014 was abandoned after two proposed chairwomen resigned.

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

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

So far 31 suspects have been identified and interviewed and the CPS is currently reviewing prosecution files.

Last year detectives trawled the archives of the Chronicle to look for clues in any articles written about the detention centre.

Det Supt Paul Goundry
Det Supt Paul Goundry, who has led the two-year investigation, told ChronicleLive at the time 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.”

Overall, across England and Wales, police forces applied for £64m in special grants from the Home Office in the last two years - just over half (£32.7m) of the amounts requested by forces were awarded.