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- SPECIAL REPORT – Part 2: ‘Shoebury Sex Ring’ victim breaks 30-year silence to detail horrific web of abuse - 23/12/2019
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By Charles Thomson
December 11, 2018
IN APRIL 1989, the Southend Health Authority noted an explosion in reports of child sex abuse. Counselling services were receiving ’more and more’ disclosures. An alcohol addiction group said abuse was coming up in sessions ’much more frequently’. One local organisation was getting so many reports that it had to hold a special training day. Health visitors and community psychiatric nurses were inundated with referrals. The victims were suffering ’a wide range of emotional problems, sometimes manifesting as physical ills’.
The problem was concentrated in three areas – Canvey Island, central Southend and Shoebury – and coincided with an explosion in youth offending, particularly in Shoebury. Children – mainly boys – were committing constant, pointless crimes, like stealing and destroying multiple cars a night. Some of the offending had curious sexual undertones. One boy broke into a house, trashed it, then dressed up in the female occupant’s clothes and waited inside until he was caught.
A month after the health authority report, a likely cause was unearthed. Police arrested two men – Dennis King and Brian Tanner – for running an underage ’sex ring’ from Shoebury. By June 1989, there were 14 known victims. By January 1990, 28 further suspected victims had been identified. The list eventually totalled more than 60.
In May 1990, after King and Tanner were prosecuted, Social Services set up a group to provide therapy to the victims and sought input from the Health Authority’s psychology department. That was when Robin Jamieson, head of the department, first learned of the ’Shoebury Sex Ring’. The victims were ’disturbed’ and ’very damaged’, he recalled.
One of his female staff members joined the Social Services group. She has asked not to be named, but has retained a collection of original paperwork from the case.
In 1990, she began working with three charities helping the boys: NSPCC, the Children’s Society and the Rainer Project. She was shocked to learn they had been accruing intelligence for six months from the boys, building a detailed picture of an organised paedophile network – yet no agency appeared to be acting on the information.
Robin was less shocked when she reported this back. He’d seen it all before.
* * *
In the early 1980s, when Robin worked at a hospital in Newcastle, his boss went on long-term sick and Robin picked up a lot of his work. That accident of fate opened his eyes to a world of depraved criminality.
“So much of it was convicted paedophiles asking for help in court,” he said. “There were scout leaders and football coaches, hoping we’d report something that might get them a lighter sentence.”
During one session, a paedophile made a curious comment.
“Why do they keep nicking me?” the man lamented. “What about the men that drive the boys away in their big cars?”
Intrigued, Robin began gathering intelligence from the paedophiles he interviewed, collecting evidence that predators were operating like an organised crime gang.
“I became aware of a whole network,” he said. “I was educated by the paedophiles themselves. Boys were being groomed in Tyneside and Sunderland, then transported to somewhere near Darlington. But the police never seemed to join the dots. They only dealt with individual cases.”
When Robin’s boss returned to work, he told him what he’d learned and suggested passing the information to the authorities. He never forgot the man’s response.
“You’re supposed to be a psychologist, not a f****** detective,” he said. “Leave it to the police.”
“He said he had no choice but to clip my wings,” Robin recalled. “Then he started saying other weird things, like I was ’a typical Jew’ because, like Jesus, I put myself up as a martyr – that I take on the whole world and bring it all down on myself.”
Robin was put on a ’final warning’, which remained in force until his boss eventually went on long-term sick again and then retired. He has since died. In 1985, Robin left with a good reference and became district psychologist for Southend.
* * *
When Robin’s colleague joined the therapy group after King and Tanner’s convictions, there appeared to be little will to investigate other offenders. The charities had already met a lawyer to record concerns over a lack of action by both police and Social Services.
“When she told me what was going on, it rang alarm bells,” said Robin. “I recognised the same thing going on. They were picking up the low-level paedophiles on the estate, but not looking into the network or the business model.”
There were also concerns over the therapy group. It would only deal with the handful of boys whose allegations had formed the basis of King and Tanner’s ’specimen charges’. The rest of the original 14 – and the suspected forty-plus more – would receive no service. At a Social Services conference, held at Freight House, Rochford, a council officer said there was ’no need’ to interview or work with any other children linked to the paedophiles.
Setting up the group turned into a protracted ordeal. Months after being invited to join, Robin’s colleague wrote: “I see few indications that progress will be made, in spite of the good intentions of several people.”
In October 1990, she and Robin bumped into county councillor Kay Twitchen and had an impromptu meeting. She asked for their views on child protection in Essex. Handwritten notes say they discussed ’the Shoebury Sex Ring and how full investigations had not been carried out’.
They also discussed ’a general worry about whether the child protection work that needed to be done was taking place’ and about ’the effect of this on the community’.
Robin then sent a letter to one of his managers, voicing concerns over Social Services’ handling of the Shoebury case.
On November 9, 1990, Robin and his colleague were summoned to a meeting with a senior Social Services officer. Notes say the ’angry’ officer accused them of being ’devious’ by speaking to Cllr Twitchen, describing Robin’s letter as ’ill-informed’ and ’libellous’.
Days later, one of their own bosses demanded Robin ’either withdraw his letter, or it would be sent to the police’.
Notes by Robin’s colleague say: “Robin and I queried why the letter should have any reason to go to the police. He said Robin and I should consult our professional insurance bodies and mentioned professional misconduct on Robin’s part.”
Robin was ultimately ordered to apologise for the letter – but the handling of the case continued to trouble many in the child protection sector.
Alongside the planned therapy group, Social Services had ordered a series of multi-agency meetings, attended by reps from the charities, the Health Authority, County Hall and Shoebury Comprehensive School. After the final meeting, on February 28, 1991, headteacher Liz Talmadge published a report savaging the authorities.
“By the time this final report is read by those in the senior managers group, it will be too late for most of the children affected by the activities of the Shoebury Sex Ring,” she wrote. “Very many of them have now left school and are, to the most part, beyond the reach of the statutory agencies.
“I am saddened by what I consider to be the dismissive manner in which Social Services and Education have treated this entire matter.
“Only when they offend, or are once again offended against, will [the victims] come to the attention of those who might have stepped in much, much earlier and taken the appropriate steps to ensure this did not happen.”
The YA revealed last month that two boys who didn’t receive therapy are now dead from drug overdoses and one from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Several became career criminals and drug addicts. One is detained under section in a high security psychiatric hospital.
*Sex crimes officer Caroline Thrower is re-investigating the Shoebury case after a man whose name was on the 1990 list of victims completed a police interview last month.
Essex Council said: “We have fully cooperated with Essex Police’s enquiries, including sharing a number of documents and reports. Should anyone have further information or concerns, we reiterate the message from Essex Police for them to come forward by dialling 101.”