Posted: September 23, 2009.
Published: 24 September 2009.
Print: The Telegraph
A pilot scheme allowing an investigator to report to a panel chaired by a judge, senior lawyer or member of the social care professions in cases where there is a possible risk but police have judged there to be no realistic prospect of a prosecution, is under way, the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission said.
Adrian Child, director of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, (CSAS), said the independent investigation procedure would concentrate expertise in handling cases where the police said no prosecution was viable but there was a ‘‘unclarified level of possible risk’‘.
Decisions about how to deal with alleged abusers within the Catholic Church in England and Wales where there has been no police action are currently taken at a diocesan level, he said.
“Although we report as a matter of course all these allegations to the police and statutory authorities what often happens after a preliminary inquiry by the police, is that they don’t believe there is any likelihood of a successful prosecution because of the passage of time, difficulties of collecting evidence and so on and so forth,” he said.
“They return the case back to us but often with an indication that in their view, there is a level of concern or a level of credibility about the allegation that was made.
“So there isn’t going to be a prosecution, the case isn’t going to go to court, the police are no longer involved and yet we have an individual about whom there is an unclarified level of possible risk.”
His remarks come as the commission reported 50 allegations of abuse against children last year including sexual, physical and emotional abuse as well as neglect.
A ‘‘significant number’’ of the allegations related to incidents said to have taken place in the 1970s, with more than half going back 30 years or more.
Of 51 alleged abusers, 30 are clergy or religious, seven volunteers, six parishioners and five employees, the commission said in its first report.
The allegations made last year have so far resulted in one police caution or warning, three convictions and one jail sentence, the report said.
But no further action was taken by the statutory authorities in 29 cases, the report said, for a number of reasons including insufficient evidence and the death of the alleged abuser.
The Church said 17,000 Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks were under taken in 2008 on employees, volunteers, religious and others in contact with children and vulnerable adults with 83 returning relevant convictions.
The commission was set up last year following a recommendation in a review of the Church’s progress in implementing child protection procedures headed by Baroness Julia Cumberlege.
The new body was established alongside the CSAS, replacing the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults.
The Catholic Church in England and Wales underwent sweeping reforms to its child protection procedures following intense criticism about the way it had handled abuse scandals in the past.
The Nolan report in 2001, ordered by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, former leader of Catholics in England and Wales, made a series of recommendations aimed at stamping out paedophile activity in the church.
Between 1995 and 1999, 21 of the 5,600 Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of offences against children.
The Rt Rev Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton and vice chairman of the commission, said the Catholic Church in England and Wales was feeling ‘‘more confident’’ about its handling of child protection issues.
He said: ‘‘We feel more confident, but not complacent – the minute you feel complacent, then things can go wrong, not just in the area of safeguarding but in other areas as well. What we are trying to do is to encourage and create positive relationships between all members of the Church, young and old, so that people can feel that there is a sense of belonging to the family of the Church.’‘