POLICE will conduct a formal review into claims that an alleged ’paedophile ring’ in Shoeburyness was not properly investigated.
Whistleblowers claim that a case in the late 1980s, which saw two men convicted of abusing young boys, failed to take dozens of alleged victims seriously and failed to pursue other alleged abusers.
The claim has been made by three sources who worked in child protection in Essex at the time.
The whistleblowers are former district psychologist Robin Jamieson, former child abuse treatment centre manager Jenny Grinsted and probation contractor Rob West.
Mr Jamieson said: "It’s the first time in 25 years that they appear to be taking it seriously."
Mr West worked in Southend at the time with the Rainer Foundation, a charity that helped young offenders, which had a base on Weston Road.
He told police how he was so involved in the late 1980s abuse investigation that he accompanied three of the alleged victims to the trial.
In an exclusive interview with the Yellow Advertiser, he said: "I personally got at least nine disclosures in one year of boys coming to me and telling me about their abuse. At least four or five of them were involved in that situation.
"We passed that stuff on, but nothing ever came back to us. That doesn’t mean nothing was ever done, because sometimes the police do things and don’t come back to you – but certainly, talking to the young people, they were never approached by the police.
"Even when they were, I sometimes thought, ’Are the police trying to close them down?’ Because I sat in on an interview on one occasion where they said, ’Right son, tell us who nonced you up.’ Literally, I think they were more or less the words that were initially used – by quite an aggressive police officer."
In 1990, a joint report by the Children’s Society, where Ms Grinsted worked, and the Rainer Foundation suggested the problem had been far wider than the prosecution the prior year had indicated.
The report stated there had been an ’active paedophile sex ring’ in Shoeburyness for at least 18 months and said a group of known victims had indicated there could be up to 80 victims.
The authors, who included Ms Grinsted, wrote that their report was focused on information from 25 boys who they knew very victims of the abuse network.
The report said local agencies’ response to the problem had been ’patchy’ and called for ’urgent action’ – but the three whistleblowers claim it was never properly acted on.
Mr West said he believed the alleged victims were overlooked because they were young offenders.
He said: "There was clearly a ring and it wasn’t properly investigated by either the police or social services.
"It was partly because offenders were not treated as having any great value in society. The police hated them, they hated the police – so these were lepers, the children who were being abused here."
Mr West claimed the lack of intervention had tragic consequences for several of the alleged victims, with some taking their own lives, but that he still had a list of dozens of the alleged victims.
He said: "I still see them from time to time. I’ve seen some of them at funerals of some of the other guys that are now dead."
Police Commissioner Nick Alston said he found it ’chilling’ that large numbers of children may have been abused but never received adequate care afterwards.
He said: "For me, that is one of the great sadnesses in all of this; if there was a missed opportunity to provide safeguarding, which might have helped do what possibly could be done for people who had been abused.
"They were already in a bad place when they started. Many of these victims, according to Rob West, were in social care because they came from very difficult backgrounds, with crime and drugs problems. They were already vulnerable.
"Who do they reach out to? They reach out to the cops, they get nicked. They reach out to social workers, something else happens to them. They’ve got nowhere else to go, so they go to drink and drugs and they finish up in every bad place imaginable.
"Rob talked through where they all are – they’re in prison, they died of heroin, they’re on the street. How do you escape from something like that? The chances of escape are pretty slight."
Mr Alston promised anybody who came forward to report abuse would be taken seriously and referred to a specialist officer.
He said: "Twenty years on, our whole view of looking at these things has changed so fundamentally, like not seeing people as victims; the concept of the streetwise kid and, ’it’s their lifestyle’. That’s all gone, thank God. So looking at this again through today’s eyes, I think, is something we absolutely have to do."
Mr West said he was ’heartened’ by a meeting with Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh last week.
He said: "I’m still trying to find a bit of closure for myself and I think social services and the police perhaps, and others, may need to be held responsible for some of the failings. But I also want to be a part of the voice for those survivors who never had any closure and are still suffering and were never compensated in any way."
Announcing the police investigation, Mr Kavanagh said: "At present, we have allegations but no victims, suspects or locations. But whether alleged abuse, especially organised and institutionalised, happened yesterday or 30 years ago, it’s our duty to review it without fear or favour.
"If you have information about such crimes or are yourself a victim or survivor of sexual abuse as a child during this period, I need you to come forward and contact us directly on 101, asking to speak to a specialist officer within our Child Abuse Investigation teams."
Specialist sexual abuse helplines for victims:
National Association for People Abused in Chidhood – 0808 801 0331. All calls to NAPAC are in total confidence. They will not be recorded and will not appear on a telephone bill.
SERICC (for south and west Essex) – 01375 380609.
CARA (for mid and north Essex) – 01206 769795.
SoSRC (for Southend) – 01702 667590.
To report to the NSPCC’s information line, for the National Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, call 0808 800 5000.