SURVIVORS of historical child abuse fear a new unit set up to tackle paedophiles will struggle to cope with thousands of cases going back decades.
Police Scotland yesterday officially unveiled its new National Child Abuse Investigation Unit, which will have 50 dedicated officers across Scotland.
Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said a key objective of the unit was to encourage abused children to come forward now instead of waiting until adulthood.
But Alan Draper, an academic who has helped lead the campaign for a public inquiry into historical abuse, said he expected that potentially thousands of victims could come forward once the inquiry’s terms of reference are known, leaving the police unable to properly investigate all the allegations.
The launch of the new unit came as the Crown Office said sexual crime, including child sex offences, now accounted for up to three-quarters of the cases prosecuted in the High Court.
Based in Livingston, the police unit will also have officers working in Inverness, Aberdeen and Dalmarnock in Glasgow.
ACC Graham said: “Emergent forms of child abuse, such as child sexual exploitation, have demonstrated the need to have suitably skilled people able to provide assistance with these often complex inquiries.
“We welcome the object of a public inquiry. We’ve yet to see what the exact terms of reference will be, but we will support it fully and one of the requirements to support it will be that police will provide information about activity that we’ve been responsible for as legacy forces in the past. That job will come to the unit as well.
“We know that most children will wait until they are an adult to report they have been abused. Part of the remit of this unit is to turn that around to make sure children can come forward and report at an earlier stage.”
But Mr Draper, a representative of the group In Care Abuse Survivors (INCAS), who compiled a report for the Catholic Church in Scotland on how to deal with historical child abuse, said he was worried the new unit was under-resourced.
He said: “We’re pleased that it’s getting off the ground. Our concern as a group is the resources they have been allocated. I think that if the inquiry scope is right, then thousands of survivors will come forward. Are the police geared up [for that]?
“You can’t go back decades without getting thousands of victims, given the sort of appalling criminal behaviour that has taken place.”
He added: “Survivors will still be very suspicious of people in authority because they have been let down so often.”
Speaking at the launch of the unit, Kathleen Harper, head of the Crown Office’s National Sexual Crimes Unit, said sexual crime had gone from making up around a quarter of prosecutions in the High Court less than a decade ago, to between 65 and 75 per cent today.