Northern Ireland

PSNI receives complaints against 500 people over historical abuse claims

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Media captionThe PSNI are currently running two operations into historical abuse, as Kevin Sharkey reports

The PSNI has received complaints against 500 people in connection with allegations of historical abuse.

They include cases currently being examined by the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry.

This is as well as claims of abuse against some clergy and some other state and church institutions.

The PSNI is currently running two big operations into historical abuse - Operation Charwell and Operation Danzin.

The investigations began five years ago.

They include cases before the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry which is examining claims of abuse at 16 institutions and by Fr Brendan Smyth.

It is already known, through the HIA inquiry, that there have been complaints against staff in church and state-run institutions.

There have also been claims by young boys that they were sexually abused by other young boys in some institutions.

But the police investigations are not confined to cases being examined at the inquiry.

To date, police have been investigating allegations against 500 people.

However, around 200 of them will never be prosecuted.

They are either dead or medically unfit due to age or ill-health.

That leaves 300 people against whom prosecutions could still be pursued.

Forensics

I asked Det Ch Supt George Clarke, who is heading-up the two PSNI operations, how many of these 300 people will walk through the door of a courtroom, on foot of a prosecution for alleged abuse.

He said: "I can't speculate about who may or may not be prosecuted.

"That's a matter for the Public Prosecution Service and, in terms of conviction, that is then a matter for a court and a jury.

"There is no doubt, and there should be no doubt, that we will expend great effort and not leave a stone unturned in order to make liable the people who have abused the people who have come forward to us."

But Mr Clarke admitted that investigations into historical abuse can be hampered by many issues - the passage of time, the absence of forensics, or tracing people years or decades after complaints are made to the police.

He said: "If you're talking about something that happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago, that opportunity just isn't there and we are slightly under pressure to try and generate those lines of inquiry.

"Because quite often, the abused person, the person who survived the abuse, will be the one person who we can easily locate, identify and speak to."

Two of the institutions under investigation by the police are the former De La Salle Boys' Home, Rubane House in Kircubbin, County Down and Rathgael Training School, Bangor.

On Wednesday, the PPS said that it has received files relating to 44 suspects, linked to these two institutions.

Challenges

Like the police, the PPS is also facing challenges because of the historical nature of the cases.

To date, it has recommended a prosecution against one of the 44 suspects. A significant number of the files are still under active consideration, according to the PPS.

A spokesperson added: "We take great care to examine every file involving allegations of institutional abuse, some of which date back to the 1950s.

"All cases arising from these operations have been managed by a very experienced senior public prosecutor, with the oversight of a regional prosecutor."