Police accused of cover-up over loss of video interviews with abuse victims

Published September 22, 2014 by JS2

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Labour MP Keith Vaz said he was ‘deeply concerned by the serious security breach’

  • Interview recordings with abuse were being edited by a private firm for CPS
  • Computers containing the statements were stolen from Manchester office 
  • Police accused of cover-up after asking those affected to keep quiet about it
  • MP Keith Vaz says he is ‘deeply concerned by serious security breach’

Vulnerable victims of sex crimes have reacted with panic and fury after highly sensitive videos of their police interviews were stolen in an ‘unacceptable’ breach of security.

The theft of computers containing the statements sparked disbelief among witnesses when they were informed of the break-in.

And police were accused of trying to cover up the incident by asking those affected to keep quiet about it.

The recordings were being edited by a private firm in Greater Manchester for the Crown Prosecution Service.

Last night, Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons’ Home Affairs Committee, said he was ‘deeply concerned by the serious security breach’ and voiced ‘surprise’ that a private firm had control of such data.

The loss is a blow for the CPS in the North-West, which oversaw the prosecution of the Rochdale gang in which nine men were convicted for exploiting dozens of girls as young as 13.

Publicity from the trial led to hundreds of victims of sexual abuse coming forward after suffering in silence for years.

But yesterday, it emerged that copies of their video statements had been stolen ten days ago, on September 11.

One witness, whose evidence related to attacks against her as a child, told The Mail on Sunday last night: ‘I was told by police that my statement had gone missing. The CPS uses an outside firm to edit the videos and they were all stored on computers.

‘The office was burgled and they all went missing. We were asked not to make the theft public. We were told by police that they’d been recovered today. They said they hadn’t been tampered with but how do they know for sure?

‘You’d have thought these files would have been kept under tighter security.’

In a statement yesterday, a CPS spokesman said that it was now co-operating with a police inquiry following a burglary at the premises of Swan Films, a Manchester-based video editing contractor for the CPS.

He said: ‘During the burglary, it is believed that material relating to a small number of cases, including some police interviews with victims or witnesses, sent to the company since August 1 this year within the Greater Manchester area, were stolen. Master copies of all material are retained by the prosecution.

‘The computers containing this information have now been recovered and we can confirm that the sensitive information they contained was not accessed between the time they were stolen and their recovery.’

The CPS said it was now demanding an ‘urgent explanation’ of the security arrangements that had been in place.

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Mr Vaz said he would be challenging CPS boss Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, over the security breach when she gives evidence to the Home Affairs Committee next month.

He said: ‘The public will be surprised that such sensitive information has been out-sourced in this way.’

Richard Scorer, a Manchester-based solicitor who represents child sex abuse victims in Rochdale, said he was ‘appalled and extremely concerned’ by the affair and raised fears it would deter future witnesses coming forward.

Greater Manchester police commissioner Tony Lloyd branded it ‘an unacceptable breach of security’, and called on the CPS to review the security arrangements.

Asked if witnesses were told to keep quiet about the theft, Greater Manchester Police insisted its officers had ‘not been briefed to request victims to not pass on this information’, and that the Force had been ‘entirely open and transparent’.

by Brendan Carlin

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