Police failures in investigation of child abuse allegations

Published Date: 13.09.2018

An investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office of a complaint about how the PSNI handled reports of alleged child abuse has found that police failed those who were said to have been abused.

The investigation also found that the PSNI’s predecessor, the RUC, had information about the alleged abuse ten years earlier but did not investigate it.

In 2010, Mairia Cahill, who is a member of a prominent Republican family, told police she had been sexually abused by Martin Morris from 1997 to 1998, and in subsequent years was subjected to an IRA ‘investigation’  of her allegations.  Two other women also said they too had been abused as children by this man.

The PSNI initiated investigations into both these matters which resulted in a number of people being prosecuted.

In 2014, the trials of the man accused of the rape and of those accused of involvement in the IRA investigation collapsed when Ms Cahill and the two other women withdrew their evidence, citing a loss of confidence in how the matter had been dealt with.

In 2015, a review by Sir Keir Starmer found the Public Prosecution Service had failed the women.
Ms Cahill also made a series of complaints to the Police Ombudsman’s Office about the PSNI’s handling of her report to them. Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire has now met her to discuss his investigation’s findings.

Overall, the Police Ombudsman found that the PSNI investigation had failed the victims, but he did not support the allegations that it chose not to arrest some of the individuals concerned because they were police informants and that it had been subject to political interference.

Dr Maguire concluded that as a victim of crime, Ms Cahill had been failed by police in a number of key areas.

He was critical of the decision not to hold a serious case review and the circumstances of the police decision to split its investigation across two units: one which specialised in dealing with victims of sexual assault and one with experience in dealing with terrorist issues:

“I accept that police wanted to move quickly on the sexual allegations and to use their different expertise to maximum effect.  While I do not agree that this led to evidence being diluted, it did bring about a disjointed approach by police in their investigations and their treatment of Ms Cahill.    There is no evidence they considered any other approach, such as creating a team with the range of skills to investigate these matters as one case,” he said.

The Police Ombudsman found that the PSNI had an inconsistent approach in its investigation of some of the people suspected of IRA membership, which in one case led to an individual not being arrested and questioned. He found no evidence, however, that anyone had been protected from prosecution.

Dr Maguire did not find evidence to support the  allegation that the PSNI investigation became subject to adverse political interference:

“There is no doubt that this case was among those which caused considerable discussion among republicans and their political representatives. Despite this, we have found no evidence of adverse political influence on the investigation,” he said.

The investigation did not support the suggestion that police inaction was such that Ms Cahill had to direct how the investigation progressed, but said its lack of a strategy for researching information already in the public domain contributed to her mounting concerns.

The Police Ombudsman recommended that  four police officers be disciplined. Three have now been disciplined. The fourth had retired. Dr Maguire  also made seven recommendations for changes to PSNI policies.

While examining the PSNI handling of the reports made to them, Police Ombudsman investigators established that RUC CID received information in 2000 which linked a man to the alleged abuse of children and RUC Special Branch received additional intelligence in 2000 through to 2001 suggesting that a man had abused children and that the IRA were investigating this.

The Police Ombudsman has satisfied himself that the PSNI disclosed all relevant material to the PPS in 2014:

“However, when the RUC received this intelligence it was not disseminated and there is no evidence of any police investigation or enquiries as a result of it. The material was sufficiently specific that had police undertaken even cursory inquiries they would have identified potential victims of abuse.

“I am satisfied that current police practices would not allow such information to go un-investigated today,” said Dr Maguire.

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