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IN MARCH 2016, Essex Police made national headlines by announcing a review of a historic paedophile ring investigation. It was a direct result of a Yellow Advertiser investigation, in which three whistleblowers had voiced concerns that the 1989/90 ‘Shoebury Sex Ring’ case had been bungled.
Announcing the 2016 review, police commissioner Nick Alston said the whistleblowers were ‘eminently credible’ and the review was to determine whether the failings could be chalked up to ‘cock-up or cover-up’.
Two-and-a-half years later, the YA is in touch with seven whistleblowers, most of whom suspect the latter. One testified in an Essex Council inquiry in 2000 that the case seemed to go awry after ‘information started coming out about people working in the statutory agencies’.
Between them, the whistleblowers – all former Southend child protection workers with professional connections to the case – saved hundreds of documents, including correspondence, handwritten notes and minutes from dozens of official meetings. Some were so worried about the possible risk to their evidence that they even stashed copies in different countries.
The documents chronicle the original investigation. After being allowed to view them, the YA is publishing the most detailed account ever written of the Shoebury Sex Ring investigation.
In May 1989, police arrested two men after two Shoebury boys alleged sexual abuse. The men were Dennis King, then 54 and living in Cunningham Close, Shoebury, and Brian Tanner, 56, of Beedell Avenue, Westcliff. Both men would later be prosecuted and jailed for being the ‘leaders’ of a ‘massive’ sex ring with ‘dozens’ of victims.
A month after the arrests, Essex Council convened the first of a series of multi-agency meetings, which would continue until 1991. The Children’s Society was asked to provide therapy to the boys – who now numbered 14 – and write a report about the case. Two other charities helping the boys – the NSPCC and youth justice scheme the Rainer Project – would also contribute.
In December 1989, the charities started meeting to share intelligence gathered from the children. They were assigned a liaison police officer to pass all information on to.
Immediately, the charities realised the ring was far bigger than just King and Tanner. There had been an early indication of this when police raided King’s flat and found a book full of names and addresses in London, with references to ‘tykes’.
A boy had identified three Southend addresses where he was taken by King. He said he was also taken to East London, where he was drugged and sexually abused for a ‘porn video’.
The Children’s Society met with Shoebury county councillor David Cotgrove. According to minutes the YA has seen of that meeting, Cllr Cotgrove said the ring was ‘not new’ and there were ‘high up people involved’.
By January 1990, the group had been told of possible links to Canvey, Thurrock, Havering and Basildon. More boys now reported being drugged and photographed. Care homes were also named.
But children’s home staff weren’t the only state employees implicated.
Boys also named a police officer who frequented King’s flat, as well as a neighbouring flat occupied by a vulnerable drug addict, where men were known to sleep with underage girls. Allegations against him were listed in minutes as, ‘photographs, girls, drugs, blackmail’.
A boy told the charities the officer would, “target families, manufacture charges against any person, go round the house and have sex with the mums.”
The boy reported walking in on the officer having sex with a school friend’s mother.
One of the 14 victims confided in the charity workers that a friend of his had started ‘digging about’ regarding the ring and was ‘warned off by two CID’, who told him he was ‘out of his league’ and gave him a black eye.
By February, the group was receiving tip-offs from other Essex child protection workers who had heard of their work. Some made allegations about impropriety linked to Social Services.
The group continued to feed their intelligence to their liaison officer, but then he was suddenly replaced without any warning or explanation. His replacement, a whistleblower testified in 2000, “was always drunk.”
In March 1990, relations between the police and the charity workers soured dramatically.
On March 6, two of the workers bumped into their liaison officer and his colleague in the Cricketers pub, Southend.
“By the way,” the officer said, a bit worse for wear, “I’ve been asked by my boss to do a hatchet job on you lot.”
The incident was detailed in a memo sent to one of the charity’s head offices days later, which said the officer had then described one worker’s vehicle and day to day movements in meticulous detail, implying they were under surveillance.
Later that week, the charities were interrogated by Social Services as to why they kept meeting up. The Children’s Society was told Social Services would no longer be using the report it had commissioned from the charity and would write its own instead.
The group, feeling ‘attacked’ and ‘under pressure’, sent a joint memo to their head offices, saying they had received sensitive information they no longer trusted police to investigate. They became ‘worried’ about being ‘fitted up’.
A meeting was held in early April between the workers and the NSPCC’s legal department. Aided by a lawyer, they drew up a report listing ‘known facts’ and the authorities’ response.
It said police were told of boys willing to give information about paedophile activity in a Shoebury hotel and at addresses in Havering, Stratford and Southend – but had ‘shown no interest’ in speaking to them. ‘No perceivable action’ had been taken over detailed allegations against police or Social Services staff either.
The diary full of London addresses, seized from King’s flat, went ‘missing’ from police custody. In April, King and Tanner struck a plea bargain. Having initially faced charges with a maximum penalty of life in prison, they were sentenced to four and three years, respectively. The judge, incredibly, accepted the paedophiles’ argument that the boys – as young as 10 – had been the true instigators of the sexual activity.
In May 1990, the charities were told ‘no action’ would be taken over the officer named by the boys. Multi-agency meetings to discuss after-care for the victims continued into 1991, but nobody else was ever prosecuted for their abuse.
In 2016, hundreds of pages of original documents detailing the above events were handed to police. In 2017, the force said its review found ‘no evidence of any corruption’.
Essex Police said this week of the 2016/17 review: “Specialist detectives carried out extensive enquiries, interviewing numerous witnesses and people who came forward to tell us they had been abused.
“A large number of documents relating to the previous investigation were also reviewed.
“Based on all the information gathered and witnesses spoken to, there was insufficient evidence to charge in that instance. However, we still have a further active investigation linked to this matter, which came to light as a result of our review. That is still ongoing and we cannot comment further on it at this stage.”
The current investigation is being helmed by PC Caroline Thrower at Rayleigh police station.
Anyone with information was asked to call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.