House of Lords Library

Historical Child Sex Abuse Investigations

Published Monday, June 27, 2016

A number of investigations into historical child sex abuse in the UK have been launched by the police and public institutions in recent years. This follows allegations that claims of child sex abuse made against public figures had not been properly investigated in the past. This briefing focuses on the existing guidance for conducting these investigations and provides background information on recent investigations that have taken place. It has been written in preparation for a debate that is due to take place in the House of Lords on 30 June 2016 on the case for introducing statutory guidelines relating to the investigation of cases of historical child sex abuse.

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Current Guidelines

A number of non-statutory guidance documents have been published concerning the conduct of police investigations into allegations of historical child sex abuse. In addition, the Department for Education has produced Working Together to Safeguard Children which contains statutory guidance about the duties of organisations with a role in safeguarding children, although this guidance does not make specific reference to the investigation of historical allegations.

Recent Investigations

Operation Yewtree was established in 2012 by the Metropolitan Police, to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse by the radio and TV presenter Jimmy Savile and others. Operation Fairbank, an investigation of allegations of sexual abuse amongst politicians was also launched in 2012. Operation Midland, an investigation of a paedophile ring allegedly operating in the 1970s and 1980s involving a property in Dolphin Square in London, was launched in 2014. Operation Midland was subsequently closed in 2016 with none of the suspects being charged. Other police operations include the investigation into allegations against the former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, conducted by Wiltshire Police. These operations have been coordinated nationally as part of Operation Hydrant.

Internal investigations by organisations including the Church of England and the BBC have also taken place and, in some cases, allegations have been referred to the police. This includes allegations made against the former Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, who died in 1958.

Goddard Inquiry

In March 2015, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, established a statutory inquiry, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, into the handling of investigations into allegations of child sex abuse in the past. The inquiry is chaired by the New Zealand High Court Judge, Dame Lowell Goddard, who was appointed in April 2015.


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