12th March 2018
Detectives have combed through 205,000 public protection files to re-examine historic cases.
Decades-old reports are being unearthed from rural offices and storage centres to be studied by a team of officers in West Lothian.
The operation started in May 2016 to prepare information for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI).
“We are choosing to do it on this scale,” said Detective Chief Inspector Catriona Henderson.
“They are being gathered across the whole of Scotland including the Highlands and Islands, so it is a really robust exercise to provide as much information as possible.”
Last month, STV News was invited to a collection in Aberdeen.
In that single pick-up, hundreds of files, each containing stories of historical physical and sexual abuse, were placed on wooden pallets and moved by forklifts.
They were then transported from a warehouse by lorry and van.
If asked, police could hand over around 8500 file ‘packages’ which fall within the SCAI terms of reference – cases where the victim was abused in care.
However, police are also reviewing cases for “investigative opportunities”.
DCI Henderson said: “It’s a real opportunity for us to deliver not only a response to the inquiry, but to go wider than that.
“We can go back and review practices that may have occurred differently now.”
At the unit’s headquarters in Livingston, a team of detectives trawl the files for missed opportunities and possible risks.
Some of them date back to the 1970s, while others haven’t been examined in years.
One officer, Detective Sergeant Stephen Wood, showed STV a storage cupboard crammed floor-to-ceiling with standard cardboard boxes.
“Every single box here contains a survivor of abuse,” he said.
“So you can appreciate the enormity of the task.
“We have to go through every single one of these files.”
He added: “A lot of our files come to us previously unsolved or undetected. We look at it through modern day eyes.”
Those cases that are reinvestigated are passed on to another team of officers based in Glasgow.
Detective Constable Elaine Wood is tasked with reaching out to abuse survivors found in the files.
“Some of them haven’t been in touch with police for years.
She told STV: “They react in all different ways, whether it be anger or relief. Some are happy to see us.
‘A lot of our files come to us previously unsolved or undetected. We look at it through modern day eyes.’
DS Stephen Wood
“I like helping people and if I’m there to listen to them, if I can get some justice or acknowledgement for them, then I’ve done my job.”
Not all abuse cases are being reinvestigated, however.
Margaret Sweeney was attacked aged 12 by a photographer at a Scottish holiday camp in the late 1960s.
She reported her assault 30 years later but the suspect has never been found.
However, because her attack did not happen in care, her case will not be among reviewed by police.
She said: “I see all these people and it sounds so selfish – there are all these things coming out about football and they are getting justice – but I’ve not had any justice. I’ve had nothing.”
The operation is expected to continue until the end of the SCAI.
- For more on this story, tune into STV News on STV2 at 1pm and STV at 6pm.
More than 200,000 files have already been collected
More than 20 people have been reported in connection with historical child abuse after police reviewed thousands of old records.
Detectives from the Public Protection Unit have spent 18 months reviewing more than 200,000 old case records.
Police Scotland said the creation of a single national force allowed links to be made that may have not previously been apparent.
Some of the cases looked at date back to the 1960s and 1970s.
The review was prompted by the setting up of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry in 2015.
Officers have been dispatched to numerous locations across Scotland, boxing up old files and transporting them to West Lothian, where they are centrally reviewed by a team in Livingston.
Det Ch Insp Catriona Henderson said the creation of a national police force offered new opportunities to make connections.
She said: “We’re policing in different circumstances. We are now Police Scotland and we’ve got the benefit of the resource that that brings with it.
“Prior to the creating of Police Scotland it was eight legacy forces, so we can now identify opportunities and make links – and also make use of technology advances to progress investigations that perhaps were not possible to progress in the past.
“We would, for example, be able to identify a person who had been subject of an investigation in one part of Scotland and then find there’s been another one in another part of Scotland – and marry those two up, and use that as a form of corroborative evidence in some cases.”
So far about 8,500 files have been collected which fit the terms of reference of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry – cases where the victim was abused while in care.
The operation is expected to carry on until the end of the Child Abuse Inquiry which is scheduled to last until at least next autumn.