Essex police officers face action after investigator finds ‘inexcusable’ failures in paedophile ring case

An investigation into a historic paedophile ring with Havering links is set to be reopened for the third time in five years, after a report found a series of failures by Essex Police.

The force’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) was asked to investigate after a victim of the ring made a lengthy complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) over the way his case had been handled.

The year-long review of Essex Police’s behaviour concluded just in time for the final episode of Archant’s true crime podcast – Unfinished: Shoebury’s Lost Boys – which has been examining failures in successive police investigations into the so-called “Shoebury Sex Ring”.

Essex PSD upheld nine of the man’s 15 complaints and three officers now face management action.

PSD’s findings included:

  • The force gave a historic paedophile ring investigation to an inexperienced officer, who was then not properly supervised.
  • There were “inexcusable” delays in the man’s case – with more than a year elapsing between him coming forward and police completing his interview.
  • The man’s allegations against a retired police officer, who he was able to identify, were never logged as a crime and lines of enquiry about him were never investigated.
  • This was despite the fact that a year earlier, unbeknownst to the complainant, another male had made similar allegations to another organisation about the same retired officer.
  • The man’s allegations against other abusers were also not properly investigated.

In 1989, Southend children’s charities discovered dozens of local children had been groomed and abused. Charity workers have come forward in recent years to say there were suspicious failures in the police investigation.

Children were transported to addresses along the Thames corridor to be abused – including a property in Havering where they were filmed and photographed.

But the two ringleaders – Dennis King and Brian Tanner, both now dead – were given extremely generous plea bargains at the last minute and no other abusers were pursued.

Last year, Essex newspaper the Yellow Advertiser revealed King had been a registered police informant.

The man behind the complaint was approached by police in 2017 as part of a reinvestigation of the case. His name appeared in documents compiled by Social Services in 1990/91 as a suspected victim. It is believed he was named to professionals by other victims.

He initially declined to co-operate but changed his mind in October 2017, when he learned the case was being closed down without any charges.

After he agreed to co-operate in October, no police officers contacted him until two months later, after he rang police to ask what was going on. The PSD investigator said they were never given any explanation by police as to why he had not been contacted.

His case was then handed to a Pc who told him it was her first case since joining the child abuse team.

The investigator’s report stated: “There is no rationale as to why this was not allocated to a more experienced officer. This is clearly a complicated investigation… This is an organised abuse allegation involving multiple suspects and victims.”

He was not given his first on-camera interview until July 2018 and follow-ups were spaced weeks apart, the longest gap being more than 40 days.

The final interview concluded in November 2018. Days later, Dennis King died. The case had been dragged out for so long that the prime suspect could not now be questioned.

In the report, the investigator wrote: “This is an unjustified amount of time, which the investigating officer believes may be due to the lack of a supervisor’s footprint, and the investigation was allowed to slip.”

They continued: “There are many enquiries that have not been completed. These enquiries may have uncovered new witnesses, who may have been willing to give evidence to the police.

“His mother was not spoken to. His medical records were not obtained, despite having a signed consent form. Social Service records were not obtained. He was not taken on a drive around to identify addresses.

“No attempts seem to have been made to locate the people he talks about in interview, whether they may be suspects, victims or witnesses.”

As a result, the case has been referred for reinvestigation by Operation Quest, a taskforce set up to handle complex, historic cases.

The PSD report is included in the final episode of Unfinished, which was released on Friday.

The eight-episode series included interviews with whistleblowers and victims, telling the story of how the ring was uncovered, what went wrong in the police investigation and how the case came to be reopened more than 25 years later.

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