Operation Pallial, a National Crime Agency-led investigation into recent allegations of historical abuse in the care system in North Wales, is now investigating allegations from more than 200 people.
The number of people coming forward to support the independent investigation, led by Keith Bristow, Director General of the National Crime Agency, has increased by nearly a 100 since the operation’s Public Report on Progress in April.
Since the investigation began a year ago, (November 15, 2012), a total of 235 people have contacted the Operation Pallial team, of whom 204 have indicated that they are willing and able to support the investigation. The investigation continues to make good progress, with over 97% of complainants already having been video interviewed by specially trained officers.
Pallial has made a total of 14 arrests to date and one person has been charged with more than thirty serious sexual offences. The 13 other individuals arrested have all been bailed while enquiries continue.
Operation Pallial has been given the names or part names of around 100 alleged offenders, who are all subject to further investigation at this time, including 24 who are believed to have died. Even in these cases, information about them will be investigated by Pallial in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service in order that victims can be updated.
The investigation is led by the National Crime Agency and supported by officers and staff from police forces across England, working alongside local authorities and charities.
Ian Mulcahey, the Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Pallial said: “Operation Pallial is currently pursuing a large number of active lines of enquiry, working closely with police forces across the country and agencies and charities that provide support to victims of crime. Those who have come forward to report abuse in North Wales now live across England, Wales and Scotland, and many are receiving on-going support and counseling as we work hard to bring offenders to justice.”
It is anticipated that the first victims of abuse, in cases where offenders have been reinvestigated by Operation Pallial but are deceased, will be updated later this year to confirm whether, had the alleged abuser been alive, the information they provided would have led to further investigations with a view to potential criminal charges.
While there can be no prosecution of people who are deceased, every victim will be updated personally about what their account would have meant for the investigation.
“We consider it very important for people who have come forward, been interviewed and provided information, to know the outcome of the enquiries we have made in their cases and what view the Crown Prosecution Service has reached,” said Mr Mulcahey.
“If there are cases where individuals could have faced charges had they been alive, we think it is important for victims to know this.”
Ed Beltrami, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Wales, said:
“The way we approach cases of child sexual abuse has undergone fundamental reform in recent years. At the Crown Prosecution Service, we have recognised that victims of child sexual abuse often have very real vulnerabilities that because of old myths and stereotypes, might have stood in the way of a prosecution in the past. But we have come a long way, working closely with judges, the police, experts, victims' representatives, and government, to ensure the whole system has matured and developed.
“We are now very clear that the focus must be on the overall credibility of an allegation, rather than the perceived weakness of the person making it. I think it’s right that those who have reported abuse in North Wales have their courage recognised by CPS lawyers looking seriously at what they have said, even where the alleged abuser is no longer alive.”
The massive task of coordinating the support needs of all victims of abuse who have come forward is being led by Conwy County Borough Council on behalf of local authorities across North Wales. Victims now live across the UK, with the majority (54%) now aged between 40 and 50 years old.
Jenny Williams, Director of Social Services at Conwy County Borough Council said:
“We have deployed an experienced Mental Health Senior Manager to work with Operation Pallial and coordinate the complex support requirements of adult victims. Two members of the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command were deployed to the care team for nine months and we have invaluable ongoing support from the National Society for the Protection of Children (NSPCC) and Victim Support.
“The impact of abuse on people’s lives has been profound with many individuals feeling that their life has been destroyed. Others display low self esteem and have trust issues. So many victims describe how, for most of their lives, they were not believed and this is where Operational Pallial has started to make a difference.
“Their need for specialist support will be ongoing for several years. Some victims have expressed their regret at becoming involved with the investigation, having under-estimated the strength of their feelings which have been realised by undertaking the police interview and also as a result of media coverage. However, a much greater number of individuals have felt significant relief, as the investigation has made progress and they have completed their interview,” she added.
Keith Towler, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said: “The historical child abuse at children's homes in north Wales has shown how critical it is to offer victims of abuse the opportunity to be heard and taken seriously.
“I said at the time fresh allegations were being made in relation to the children's homes in north Wales, that I felt there was sufficient concern to call for a wide ranging investigation. I am encouraged therefore that so many victims have felt empowered to contact the investigation team and that their voices are finally being heard”.
Des Mannion, NSPCC national head of service for Wales, said: “The NSPCC has been involved in Operation Pallial right from its outset and continues to fully support the investigation. Our Helpline has played a key role in enabling victims to come forward and our service centre in North Wales has provided an initial response to individuals who had been affected by abuse.
“2012 will go down in history as a tipping point in public understanding about the shocking scale and effect of child abuse. There was an 81% increase in the number of sexual abuse contacts to the NSPCC helpline from October 2012 to September 2013, when compared to the same period 2011 to 2012.
Through Operation Pallial and other high profile child abuse cases, it has become clear that the voices of victims of abuse will no longer go unheard. It’s important that the country now seizes this historic opportunity to learn from the past and recognise the importance of listening to children and report any concerns about their welfare to the police, social service or our helpline on 0808 800 5000.”
Mark Polin, Chief Constable of North Wales said: “Keith Bristow and his team have carried out some excellent work over the past year and the enquiry continues with the full support of North Wales Police. When the public report was published in April I said that offenders would have to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives, this remains the case.
“A great deal of work has also taken place to provide support and counseling to victims and I am grateful to our local authority colleagues and other safeguarding agencies who have been involved. Operation Pallial demonstrates our shared determination to make North Wales a safer place.”
Public Contact Information
Operation Pallial public telephone number (Incident Room): 0800 118 1199.
Telephone: 0808 800 5000
Children’s Commissioner for Wales
Freephone: 0808 801 1000 (9am-5pm Mon-Fri except Bank Holidays)
Text: 80800 starting the message with COM.
Telephone: 0845 303 0900
NCA's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command
Telephone: 0870 000 3344