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VICTIM SIX didn’t approach the police. The police came to him. That’s what he can’t understand. They tracked him down, dredged up his childhood trauma and then, in his view, abandoned him. He can’t shake the feeling that their enthusiasm dissipated when he started telling them he’d been repeatedly sexually abused by a Southend police officer.
Two years later, he is considering a formal complaint and legal action against the force, saying it disrupted his life and then left him without justice.
What led the police to Victim Six’s front door is not known. What is known is that as a child, in the 1980s, he was sexually abused by paedophile ring, which the authorities later dubbed the ‘Shoebury Sex Ring’.
To date, the Yellow Advertiser has unearthed six documents written in 1990/91 which name him as a victim of the ring. Four of those documents were authored by council officers at Essex Social Services, the other two by charities supporting the victims. His name was given by other children who’d seen him with the paedophiles.
It was spring 2017 when an officer knocked on Victim Six’s door, asked him to confirm his name and that he’d grown up in Shoeburyness, then suggested they go inside. Once settled in the living room, the officer asked Victim Six whether he’d ever known anybody by the names of Dennis King or Brian Tanner. His initial shock soon gave way to a flood of tears.
In spring 1989, two men – King, from Shoebury, and Tanner, from Westcliff (both now dead) – were charged with buggery and conspiracy, accused of selling sex with underage boys to a network of paedophiles.
In therapy sessions with local charities, the initial 14 victims began to disclose the names of other children they’d seen with the abusers. By January 1990, there were more than 40 suspected victims. The children also provided intelligence about the wider paedophile network: nicknames, addresses, meeting points.
But police decided not to speak to the majority of the victims, saying they considered the matter dealt with by way of the ‘specimen charges’ King and Tanner already faced. Then, on what should have been the first day of their trial, both men accepted generous plea deals reducing the buggery charges – carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison – to attempted buggery, and dropping the conspiracy charge. Their lawyers claimed the children were prostitutes who instigated their own abuse. The judge accepted that argument and said there had been little psychological damage. King got four years, Tanner got three. The charities never saw any evidence of a proper investigation into the wider ring.
Over the next 25 years they tried unsuccessfully to get newspapers and broadcasters to look at their concerns. Then, in 2015, the YA ran a series of front page stories about out-of-court settlements Essex Council had been paying for alleged historic abuse. One of the whistleblowers thought we might be the right outlet to look into their concerns.
The YA’s successful Shoebury investigation was born out of a confluence of circumstances.
Government had just created ‘Police and Crime Commissioners’, replacing police authorities as the political watchdogs for police forces. In Essex, former intelligence officer Nick Alston was elected and had made a commitment to transparency. He told the YA he had asked two former crime reporters on his staff to ‘crawl all over the soft underbelly of Essex Police’ and ordered the publication of quarterly reports on officers who committed misconduct. He was the perfect person to demand a reinvestigation of Shoebury – and the YA, long despised by Essex Police, had developed a good relationship with his office.
What moved Mr Alston most, he said, was the discovery that so many of the victims – smeared during the court process and dismissed as having suffered no real damage – were now dead from suicides and overdoses or had gone on to live chaotic, criminal lives.
“For me, that is one of the great sadnesses in all this,” he said. “They’re in prison, they died of heroin, they’re on the street. How do you escape from something like that? The chances of escape are pretty slight.”
Thanks to Mr Alston’s intervention, Essex Police announced a formal review of the Shoebury case. Five new victims came forward. King, now in his 80s, was arrested. Whistleblowers gave officers a stack of documents they’d kept from the original case, containing detailed intelligence about a wider paedophile network and of alleged police corruption linked to the ring.
The fresh allegations sparked a police investigation dubbed Operation SANDS. It was under the banner of Operation SANDS that police arrived at Victim Six’s door.
At first, he was reluctant to engage, harbouring an understandable distrust of police officers from his childhood. But roughly six months later, upon learning the case was to be closed down with no charges filed, he changed his mind. He had assumed the police wouldn’t need him. Now he feared abusers would remain at large when his testimony might have helped convict them. He wrote to police saying he was now prepared to cooperate.
But a lot had changed since Operation SANDS began in early 2016. Nick Alston had left political office. His replacement, Roger Hirst, had immediately shut down several of his predecessor’s transparency measures. The misconduct reports were no longer published. Regular public scrutiny events to hold the Chief Constable to account were stopped. The former crime reporters disappeared from the PCC’s office.
The week Victim Six agreed to cooperate, the detective who’d been leading Operation SANDS went off on long-term sick. Months later, the senior officer she’d answered to was moved to a new department.
From October 2017, when Victim Six offered to cooperate, to that December, he received no word from Essex Police, despite frequent follow-up phone calls. When the YA asked why he had not been contacted, two officers visited his home. But his repeated requests to take part in a filmed ABE (‘achieving best evidence’) interview, which formally commences a police investigation, went unfulfilled.
Eight months after his offer to cooperate, when Victim Six had still not been given an ABE, the YA found him a pro bono solicitor, who wrote to Essex Police and threatened the force with a formal complaint if the interview was not swiftly arranged.
The first ABE eventually took place on July 24, 2018, at Rayleigh police station, but the process continued in fits and starts after that point. Follow-up interviews were scheduled weeks – on one occasion more than 40 days – apart, and police twice cancelled appointments on the day, blaming childcare problems.
The sessions finally concluded in November. Days later, Dennis King died, aged 83. The process had dragged on so long that the officers had lost any chance to interrogate the prime suspect in Victim Six’s abuse.
The YA conducted hours of its own interviews with Victim Six, then checked them against hundreds of pages of original documents retained by the whistleblowers. We produced a 96-page ‘corroboration document’, listing all of the key details, never placed in the public domain, which Victim Six was able to accurately recount. But last week, a detective wrote to Victim Six’s lawyer, saying: “My decision is that the case cannot meet the evidential test required to proceed and, as such, Essex Police will not be taking any further action.”
But Victim Six feels the investigation was inadequate. He knows key witnesses were never spoken to. His offer to drive around with officers and identify addresses was blanked. The now-retired Southend police officer who he says abused him – who he named and made detailed allegations about from the very first time police arrived at his home – was never arrested or interviewed.
Essex Police responded to Victim Six’s planned legal action and IOPC complaint by saying it was ‘disappointed’ and suggesting he register a complaint via the force’s website. It insisted there had been an ‘extensive investigation’. The decision to abandon his case came a month after two former Essex Police child abuse officers were jailed for deliberately blocking investigations.
Days after Victim Six’s case was shut down, it was announced that the YA was at risk of closure and our newspaper for the week ending June 21, 2019, would likely be the last edition we ever printed.
The following day, the YA won a years-long legal battle with multiple Government departments to force the release of the full criminal record of Dennis King, the registered police informant who had led the Shoebury Sex Ring. The documents revealed King had 46 criminal convictions prior to the Shoebury investigation, 20 of which were for sex offences.
King continued to commit sexual offences into his old age, including sexually abusing and taking indecent pictures of children, possessing child pornography and owning images of sexual activity with a corpse. He was facing prosecution for child sex offences in 2018 when he discovered he was terminally ill. He died in November 2018 from complications linked to AIDS, sparking fears for the health of the many children he abused in his lifetime.