Community Care, 1st June 1989 (OCR)

Brent social workers and police worked in tandem to break a child sex ring. Their experience raises some tricky questions, reports Don Redding.

The turning point in Operation Hedgerow came when Kilburn police, in the London borough of Brent, entered a house and found a 64-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy naked together in the bedroom. The subsequent joint investigation by police and social workers cracked open a major network of child sexual abuse, and culminated in the recent jailing of 14 men for sexual offences against teenage boys.
But the ramifications of the case are still to be considered, for it has put on the agenda a different kind of child sexual abuse. and a new set of questions about possible future responses. The man in the bedroom, Ken Martin, was a paedophile with a preference for boys in the nine- to 11-year-old age group. He had associations with scores of Brent boys, some going back several years, as well as connections to a loose group of adults with similar sexual preferences. During Operation Hedgerow, around 150 boys and young men were interviewed, and some 653 separate allegations of sexual offences were collected.
Unlike Cleveland, or the recent case in Nottingham (see Community Care, 30 March 1989) the Brent/Ealing cases did not involve intrafamilial abuse. But the situation was also unlike the rent scene, as the boys were mostly drawn from the local community, were attracted to the adults through a variety of inducements, and then were carefully "cultivated".
Detective Chief Inspector Roger Gaspar, who ran the police end of the investigation, says: "The trouble with paedophiles is that they work underneath the community. It's a very effective subculture. They work themselves into key jobs which bring them into contact with children.

"I don't believe that Kilburn is particularly unique in this. It must be fairly typical, certainly of any deprived London borough. If that's the case, the scale of this activity across London is colossal, and I'm sure it's replicated in other major cities."
Both Gaspar and senior Brent social workers feel that a reactive response to the original allegation against Martin would have failed. Normally, the alleged abuser would be confronted immediately, putting the word of a child against that of an adult and making evidence hard to collect. It was an early decision by Gaspar which made the Brent outcome different.
In August 1987 an allegation against Martin came to Kilburn police. The police knew him of old: he had been arrested in 1981 for similar (though very minor) offences, but after being released on bail was able to keep a position of power over his boys. This time, says Gaspar, "We decided to put some resources into spotting whether he was 'at it' to the extent that we were beginning to believe he was."
A team was established to keep Martin's house under surveillance. They noted the visits of boys and other adults and tailed them home to discover who they were.

After two months of this operation, there came a night when police were sure that a boy' was staying over. They raided the house and found Martin and the boy together, as Gaspar puts it, "having just completed an act of mutual oral and manual masturbation".
Now they had Martin, plus a list of 30-40 boys who needed interviewing within 36 hours before they went before the magistrate. The police commander called David Divine, then director of Brent SSD, to discuss working together on the interviews. Gaspar was given permission to hand-pick his team of detectives, while Divine pulled together a core team of nine social workers with experience of child sexual abuse.
There was a danger of police priorities dominating," says Peter Bibby, now acting director of Brent SSD, "but it was identified very early on at the senior level, in one or two meetings where we worked out the ground rules. For instance, we didn't want to do anything that interfered with their investigation; but we didn't want them to withhold information from us that would put a child at risk." It, was agreed that any conflict of interest would be referred up to the top level, where Divine and the commander kept regular contact.
After the initial briefing session, during, which the police shared confidential information, social workers and CID detectives were paired in interviewing teams. As they began talking to the boys information came out about other associates (children and adults) of Martin's. And boys began to make disclosures. Some of these boys were taken into care; the majority were, and are, able to remain at home, with support where necessary from social services.
The majority of the police and social workers in the interviewing teams were men, since the boys found men easier to relate to. The police had not had specialist training, and relied upon the accumulated experience of years of interviewing. In the event, they proved sensitive to the needs of the inquiry, maintaining contact with particular boys right through to the court appearances in the first months of this year.

Detective Sergeant Don Barrell recalls: "A lot of the interviews were away from police stations, in McDonald's or in the social work offices, getting the children's trust and trying to reassure them that they hadn't done anything wrong. Ken Martin had instilled some fear in them that they were the guilty party. There's a sense of achievement when a kid comes across and tells you he's been abused."
As information came out, they discovered how the network operated. Ken Martin, says Gaspar, had "a highly defined system: he had a market stall at the Sunday Brick Lane market, selling boys' toys: train sets, cars, action man outfits. He also had his living room kitted out with three computers, an oval of train sets, sweets laid out on the mantelpiece.
"And he would attract kids from the locality that way. He abused the kids himself. He jointly offended against two boys with one of his co-defendants, and they were particularly nasty, violent homosexual rapes; but there wasn't a great passing around of kids.
"The other ring, however," (referring to the Delaney/Peters ring in Ealing, the subject of a separate trial and loosely connected to Martin) "was organised in a loose sense for mutual interest, and they would pass the kids around". Members of this ring used advertisements for jobs in local newspapers, a CB radio, and babysitting favours to attract boys. the paedophiles did nothing else except go to work or look for kids," Gaspar says. "They had no hobbies: their passion was all-consuming."
Such a phenomenon requires some effort to define terms: what sort of sexuality, and what sort of abuse, are involved? Charles O'Toole, then an area team adviser in Brent, says: "We had to be clear that there was a distinction between being a homosexual and being an abuser. From the young people's experiences they would be quite uncertain about their sexuality. If they got the message from us that being gay was being a sexual abuser, that would be very bad for them."
Liz Webb, Brent's principal officer for child care, says definitions were discussed with the police, and she uses the same term, "paedophile": "We're not talking about homosexuality. We're talking about adults abusing children, that it's an abuse of power and the same as any other situation where there's sexual abuse going on."
One thing is not the same, however. While some boys managed to pull themselves out of the network, others returned many times of their own accord. "But it's the issue of what they were returning for," says Webb. "A number of the boys that were more seriously involved were vulnerable because of problems in the family background. Perhaps they were seeking affection, or had emotional needs that weren't being met in the family. But there were others for whom that wasn't true.''
"This raises questions of choice and consent. It is a long-standing grievance in the gay community that the age of consent for homosexuals remains, at 21, five years higher than for heterosexuals. Acts committed with boys of 16 or over would therefore, however, be considered part of a criminal investigation of this type, though the boy might be perfectly able to exercise choice.
Brent social workers offered counselling to the 18 and 19-year-olds involved, most of whom refused it; but they were obliged to hold case conferences on the 16 and 17-year-olds who fell within their duties. The question for social workers is whether to define homosexual acts with boys of this age as
abusive, as the police do. In fact, most of the boys in this case had, in line with the adults' preferences, been abused at an earlier age. There is no suggestion that the Brent social workers bludgeoned them with therapy, but this must be a danger in similar situations. One boy was pressed hard to testify in court but was eventually relieved of the burden because he was unable to answer the question: why did he return to the abuser of his own accord?
Another question relates to the effects upon the victims. DCI Gaspar 's view is that after this kind of initiation, boys often move on to abusers who prefer an older age group, and from there graduate to the rent scene. "You're not born a rent boy, you're made it, because you're corrupted and reduced into the depravity of the activity. So rent boys are at the end of the process, and if you go back into their earlier history you will find, I'm sure, in the majority of cases, tales of abuse."
Brent social workers seem to have followed this definition of a "cycle of abuse — the initial instance giving way to the 'rent boy' circuit, and from there frequent gradation to the level of abuser", to quote from notes made for a press conference. Such assertions should surely not be taken to imply either that the whole of the rent scene is a symptom of widespread paedophilia, or that he who is abused will ipso facto abuse.
Operation Hedgerow was a smooth investigation where the police and social workers flexibly swapped skills and roles, and the interviewing process (crucially reinforced by senior level co-operation on a co-ordinating body representing the SSD, police, education and health) was sensitively conducted.
But there we come to the final set of questions. In this case, success depended on the early police decision to resource a larger operation rather than make a quick arrest. this provided enough initial evidence to allow the interviews to be therapeutic rather than interrogations.  Police and social workers therefore shared common goals.
DCI Gaspar views their success in terms of power.  "It seemed quite clear to me", he says, "that if we were right in our perception of Martin as a prolific offender, then we had to break his hold over the community of kids that he 'ran'.
It's a bit like rape: sex isn't the only element within it, it's power.  The only people he could, or wanted to, exercise power over were boys.
"We shifted the power base, with all the people we arrested, from the offenders to ourselves."  The second wave of arrests, in December 1987, netted 20 people in simultaneous dawn raids.  "That was done deliberately for the shock effect, and to remove then all from the environment so that we could then get to work on the children," Gaspar explains.
"We created an impression in the victims' minds that we were knowledgeable about what had been going on; that we would be totally honest and totally trustworthy.  The inquiry was actually designed to do that, so that we only moved at the right moment."
But this inquiry, for which a murder-type special incident room was set up, cost the police £397,000.
It involved Brent SSD pulling nine staff out of normal duties, paying extra overtime, and depleting area teams, at a time when the authority was fairly strapped for cash.  Resources are therefore a crucial issue.
Although paedophiles work in subcultures, these are not opaque.  Others could be broken if only the time and resources were there to act on information in the same way that, say, bank robbers are investigated.  For this reason, Brent social workers including Peter Bibby are enthusiastic about the idea of a centralised police paedophile investigation squad in London, perhaps with four full-time social workers attached.
Such a "flying squad", rather than sit back and wait for allegations, would take a continually active investigative role.
This would require a big change in police policy, but after the discoveries of the Brent case, the prospect is not unlikely.  If it does materialise, then hopefully it will be in the context of a rigorous definition of the type of abuse, and of the methods and goals of organisation.