Top cop ignored abuse warning

BY TANYA KATTERNS, EMILY WATT
Last updated 05:00 28/09/2009

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Police bosses as senior as the deputy commissioner ignored reports that hundreds of child abuse cases were languishing uninvestigated for years. Now staff feel they are being set up to take the blame.

A Wairarapa detective wrote to deputy commissioner Rob Pope and other senior staff in 2006, saying she was unable to cope with the 140 "probably more" uninvestigated child abuse cases in the district and pleading for help.

Police bosses publicly apologised last month for "unacceptable" delays, admitting they had a backlog of more than 100 child abuse files in Wairarapa, with one complaint laid 11 years ago.

Other files languished for on average five years without investigation. Some children remained living with those alleged to have harmed them for all that time.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority is investigating.

Police have refused to make public the email, written by Detective Sue Mackle, or an internal report into the crisis written in 2006, understood to have supported her claims.

But The Dominion Post can report that the email went to Mr Pope, Wellington district crime manager Harry Quinn and others. In it, Ms Mackle said she was often exhausted and had asked for more staff on several occasions.

"My excessive file load has been widely known at a local level for years (literally) but obviously child abuse is not an area of importance for the police, as opposed to areas such as traffic, which is."

Other officers told The Dominion Post that staff drove to Wellington every month for several years to seek help.

The newspaper also wrote a front-page story on the crisis in 2006, quoting Ms Mackle: "I can think of a number of instances where alleged offenders will still have involvement with families and one or two of them are probably still living with the families."

Yet it appears little was done. The issue only came to light again late last year as police planned a new District Child Protection Team. Since then, the old files have been investigated, with as many as 100 charges involving 41 people for violations against children now laid.

Police National Headquarters would not say how Mr Pope responded to Ms Mackle's email or why it took so long to address the backlog, citing the IPCA investigation and pending court cases.

But staff have told The Dominion Post they fear being set up as scapegoats for blame they say lies with top ranks in Wellington.

Several are now under investigation into whether they failed to do their jobs. Wairarapa's area commander, staff in charge of CIB and those who worked in the child abuse section have all been interviewed.

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"Those top police staff, sitting in their comfortable offices earning six-figure salaries, will get away with this," one officer said. "They can sit there and blame rank and file and avoid any personal responsibility even though they are the ones who failed to act."

Another said: "There are lies; there are real lies going on all over the place."

Acting Wellington District Superintendent Gail Gibson said the investigation of staff was ongoing. "What we have to look at is whether there was anybody who has not performed as we would expect them to perform."

She would not say exactly how many staff and managers, past and present, were under the spotlight.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the association and officers were putting their faith in the IPCA investigation.

TIMELINE:

April 2006: Detective Sue Mackle writes to senior police bosses, saying she has 140 child abuse cases and pleads for more resources.

2006: Police send a senior detective to Wairarapa to report on the situation. It is understood the report supports Ms Mackle's claims and recommends more staffing.

2008: Police identify a backlog of 108 files in Wairarapa during planning for a new child-protection team.

2008: Police conduct a review that finds widespread failings, including poor case and workload management, poor supervision and a lack of accountability and responsibility.

December 2008: Police launch Operation Hope to investigate the files and initiate prosecutions.

August 2009: The IPCA announces an investigation into the delays.

- The Dominion Post

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