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Witnesses in ‘Operation Fernbridge’ plead for support service

Two men sexually abused as boys call on ministers to follow MPs’ key recommendation

By David Hencke | 16 March 2013

Witnesses in ‘Operation Fernbridge’ plead for support serviceTwo men sexually abused as boys in care in Richmond are condemning the lack of support for witnesses during an investigation by police.

One, who was at Grafton Close children’s home in south-west London 32 years ago, approached Exaro to complain that he had been left traumatised after detectives on Scotland Yard’s ‘Operation Fernbridge’ asked to interview him.

He does not blame the police officers, but said that the support offered was “inadequate, ill-conceived and suffered from a complete failure to understand.”

Tom Watson, the campaigning MP, told Exaro that he would press the government ahead of next Wednesday’s budget to fund effective “victim support” for people sexually abused as children and drawn into historical investigations by police. Watson asked the prime minister in Parliament last October about paedophiles among senior political figures.

The issue is urgent because of the number of people providing details to police of how they were sexually abused as children.

Fernbridge is just one of at least 30 “major” police operations that are investigating suspected child sexual exploitation by groups or gangs in England and Wales. They include ‘Operation Yewtree’, the wide-ranging investigation into the activities over more than 50 years of Jimmy Savile, the late BBC presenter, and others from the celebrity world.

Under Fernbridge, the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit is investigating allegations that boys in care were sexually abused between 1977 and 1983 initially at Grafton Close children’s home, which was run by London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, and then at Elm Guest House nearby in Barnes. Police are investigating whether MPs and other VIPs sexually abused boys at the guest house.

The witness who approached Exaro pointed out that a report 11 years ago by the House of Commons home affairs committee recommended victim-support services, such as counselling, for people in his situation who are contacted by police as part of a historical investigation.

Watson was a member of that committee, as was David Cameron, then a backbench MP but now prime minister.

But the committee’s recommendation was never implemented.

Watson said: “I know that the prime minister is a very busy man, but we both supported this action to be taken when we entered Parliament.

“We still need to implement this pledge. As he is in power, he can make it happen. I trust that he will do the right thing, and implement it in the budget.”

The witness, who wanted to be referred to as Sam, talked of the devastating impact of reliving the sexual abuse by going over it with police.

A second witness, who gave details to detectives of being in care as a boy at Grafton Close and taken to Elm Guest House to be sexually abused, told Exaro: “Since I have seen the police, my whole life has been turned upside down, which has caused me no end of problems.”

In a report on “the conduct of investigations into past cases of abuse in children’s homes”, published in 2002, MPs said in their key conclusions and recommendations: “We endorse the view that, where a trawl is conducted, complainants should be offered appropriate victim-support services, such as counselling, from an early stage of their involvement in the investigation.”

The report also said: “A number of victim-support organisations have made the point that trawling provides an opportunity for victims to speak up if they feel ready to do so. However, these organisations expressed a general concern over the level of support available to victims during and after a trawl.

“The government guidance on complex child-abuse investigations recommends that an ‘unequivocal victim-support strategy and protocol’ should be established at the outset of the investigation to avoid any subsequent strain on counselling services.”

A spokesman for the prime minister said: “The government is committed to ensuring that all victims have access to the specialist support that they need. This is why the Ministry of Justice is providing £10.5 million in funding over three years to provide services to support victims of these heinous crimes.”

But there is no plan to implement the committee’s specific recommendation.

Two witnesses in Operation Fernbridge, tell Exaro of the impact on them of the police investigation.

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Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.