A SPECIALIST West Midlands Police team established to investigate historical sex offences has dealt with almost 300 cases in its first year – and secured justice for some survivors who suffered abuse up to 50 years ago.
The Historical Sex Offences unit was created in December 2015 in response to a surge in the number of people breaking their silence over abuse they suffered in the past.
It’s an increase attributed to the “Savile-effect” – with survivors speaking out as a result of the high-profile Jimmy Savile enquiry – but also encouraged by successful prosecutions secured against sex fiends who thought they’d escaped punishment for their crimes.
Last year the Birmingham-based team – consisting of seven specially-trained investigators – received a total of 262 reports of historic sex offences.
Around 150 of those remain live enquiries – with 11 listed for trial this year and the same number with prosecutors awaiting a charging decision – but several have already resulted in convictions.
Two notable cases from 2016 saw the team secure a 15-year prison sentence against a man who’d repeatedly raped his step-daughter in the late 1970s, plus a man jailed for six years for indecent assaults on family members dating back to the mid-60s.
And the team also led on the investigation into 101-year-old Ralph Clarke who became the oldest person in UK legal history to be convicted of a criminal offence when he was given a 13-year jail term for assaulting children in the 70s and 80s.
Sergeant Ruth Boddy (pic front), said: “In the second half of 2016, cases we’d taken to court resulted in offenders being collectively handed prison sentences totalling almost 70 years – and we have two sentencing hearings this month which we expect will significantly add to that tally.
“I’m delighted we’ve been able to get justice for their victims. These are people who have been living with the emotional and psychological scars of these offences for years and in some cases decades.
“Many have told us they didn’t speak out because they suspected police would be powerless to act because they were abused so long ago. But we’ve proved we can put compelling evidence before juries and secure convictions – and as a result more and more victims are putting their trust in us and disclosing offences.”
The team – believed to be one of only two such specialist units in UK policing – deals with cases where offences are alleged to have taken place more than 12 months ago and where the complainants are aged over 18.
Reporting of historical sex offences in the West Midlands rose by 25 per cent in 2016 compared to the previous 12 months and now account for around a third of all the serious adult sex crimes investigated by the force.
Detective Inspector Ian Ingram, who oversees the team, added: “Historical sex offence investigations are complex and challenging to investigate… we are unlikely to have any forensic evidence, CCTV opportunities or witnesses.
“They involve a considerable amount of research to build a prosecution. That could involve examination of past medical, school or work records, plus identifying and speaking to people from their past who could support their accounts.
“We try to paint a picture of what was happening in the person’s life at the time and evidence the abuse by showing how it impacted on the victim… it could be a change in behaviour, personality, mental health issues or physical disclosures to health professionals.
“But a key part of our work is supporting survivors through the criminal process, making it as easy for them as possible, and helping them access professional support or counselling.
“That may involve referral to groups like the Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) that offers compassionate support to victims, plus national charities like Women’s Aid or NAPAC that helps children recover from sexual abuse.
“No-one should suffer in silence and I’d urge anyone who’s experienced abuse or sexual offences, no matter how long ago, to get in touch so we can get justice for them.”
To contact the Historical Sex Offences unit call West Midlands Police’s Public Protection Unit at Perry Barr police station on the 101 number.
* Read next week’s paper for the personal story of a victim.