Child abuse probe after police trawl 200,000 old files

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Twenty people have been reported after a study of decades-old files across Scotland.

Twenty people have been reported over historical child abuse after a huge trawl of old records by police.

Detectives have combed through 205,000 public protection files to re-examine historic cases.

Decades-old reports are being unearthed from rural offices and storage centres to be studied by a team of officers in West Lothian.

The operation started in May 2016 to prepare information for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI).

“We are choosing to do it on this scale,” said Detective Chief Inspector Catriona Henderson.

“They are being gathered across the whole of Scotland including the Highlands and Islands, so it is a really robust exercise to provide as much information as possible.”

Last month, STV News was invited to a collection in Aberdeen.

In that single pick-up, hundreds of files, each containing stories of historical physical and sexual abuse, were placed on wooden pallets and moved by forklifts.

They were then transported from a warehouse by lorry and van.

If asked, police could hand over around 8500 file ‘packages’ which fall within the SCAI terms of reference – cases where the victim was abused in care.

Some of the files date back to the 1970s.
Some of the files date back to the 1970s. STV

However, police are also reviewing cases for “investigative opportunities”.

DCI Henderson said: “It’s a real opportunity for us to deliver not only a response to the inquiry, but to go wider than that.

“We can go back and review practices that may have occurred differently now.”

At the unit’s headquarters in Livingston, a team of detectives trawl the files for missed opportunities and possible risks.

Some of them date back to the 1970s, while others haven’t been examined in years.

One officer, Detective Sergeant Stephen Wood, showed STV a storage cupboard crammed floor-to-ceiling with standard cardboard boxes.

“Every single box here contains a survivor of abuse,” he said.

“So you can appreciate the enormity of the task.

“We have to go through every single one of these files.”

He added: “A lot of our files come to us previously unsolved or undetected. We look at it through modern day eyes.”

Those cases that are reinvestigated are passed on to another team of officers based in Glasgow.

Detective Constable Elaine Wood is tasked with reaching out to abuse survivors found in the files.

“Some of them haven’t been in touch with police for years.

She told STV: “They react in all different ways, whether it be anger or relief. Some are happy to see us.

‘A lot of our files come to us previously unsolved or undetected. We look at it through modern day eyes.’

DS Stephen Wood

“I like helping people and if I’m there to listen to them, if I can get some justice or acknowledgement for them, then I’ve done my job.”

Not all abuse cases are being reinvestigated, however.

Margaret Sweeney was attacked aged 12 by a photographer at a Scottish holiday camp in the late 1960s.

She reported her assault 30 years later but the suspect has never been found.

However, because her attack did not happen in care, her case will not be among reviewed by police.

She said: “I see all these people and it sounds so selfish – there are all these things coming out about football and they are getting justice – but I’ve not had any justice. I’ve had nothing.”

The operation is expected to continue until the end of the SCAI.

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