VICTIMS of the Bryn Estyn scandal have backed radical measures to transform the way the criminal justice system tackles child sex abuse.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) have announced a raft of new measures to improve the system, including the formation of a panel to review complaints not pursued by the police.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC says events in the last year – including revelations about DJ Jimmy Savile – raised “fundamental questions” about the way in which sexual abuse is dealt with.
Smithfield councillor Keith Gregory, who was a resident at Bryn Estyn care home in Wrexham in the 1970s, and who has spoken publicly about the abuse he suffered, has thrown his weight behind the proposals.
“Anything that helps us survivors of Bryn Estyn to tell our stories properly is much needed,” he said.
“The problem is victims do not feel comfortable enough to come forward and say what happened.
“People didn’t believe us when we tried to break our silence back in the day.
“Re-telling my story has been bloody hard.”
He added: “I would never have believed Jimmy Savile was capable of doing what he did.
“People are starting to believe these things actually happened now.”
Dennis Parry, leader of the former Clwyd County Council from 1989-95, is keen on allowing victims of abuse to give evidence to a courtroom via videolink.
He said: “It’s very difficult for victims of abuse to relive it, so we must create an environment of support.
“Young people taken to court are put under enormous pressure by fierce barristers.
“They’re reduced to tears and that’s why a lot of them don’t want to give evidence.
“I do hope these new measures go far enough.”
Wynnstay councillor Malcolm King, chairman of Clwyd County Council’s children and social services committee when the original allegations were investigated, has also pledged his support.
He said: “Victims of abuse have been badly served by the old process of investigating.
“Many offenders get off and the victims just aren’t encouraged to come forward, so it really does need improving dramatically.”
New measures were announced by Mr Starmer yesterday.
They also include an overarching and agreed approach to investigation and prosecution of sexual offences, and training police and prosecutors on how to handle complainants of sexual abuse.
He said: “Police and prosecutors have significantly improved the way we investigate and prosecute sexual offences in recent years, particularly those involving children.
“Despite all this, events over the last 12 months raise fundamental questions about our approach to these cases.
“We are clear the yardsticks for testing the credibility and reliability of victims in sexual abuse cases do not serve the police or prosecutors well, and risk leaving an identifiable group of vulnerable victims unprotected by the criminal law.
“There is an urgent need for an informed national debate about the proper approach to the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.
“We cannot afford another Savile moment in five or 10 years’ time.”
Cheshire chief constable David Whatton, Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on public protection, added: “The police service is acutely aware trust and being believed are key to victims of sexual offences having the confidence to report such crimes.
“When victims do come forward, it is important to ensure we provide the best response and that includes supporting victims, while at the same time ensuring we do not compromise a fair trial process for the accused.
“All of these developments will be progressed with the support and challenge of victim support groups.”
Fresh allegations of abuse at Bryn Estyn came to the fore when victim Steve Messham told BBC’s Newsnight the Waterhouse Inquiry report in 2000 uncovered only a fraction of the abuse centred on Bryn Estyn.
A review of the Waterhouse Inquiry began in November and Mrs Justice Macur has vowed to be “thorough and expeditious” in her mission to discover whether claims of abuse were properly investigated.
Her review will run alongside a National Crime Agency investigation into fresh allegations of abuse and police handling of the original case.