Observations by DS Gareth Reid regarding the case of:
Melania Vicario V the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis
Having instigated the re-investigation into the allegations of (Child) Sexual Abuse made by Melania, Valentina and Florencia Vicario, in November 2001, against a Mr Phelim O’Neill, I was recently informed by Collette Neville, MPS Solicitor, that Melania Vicario was now taking legal action against the Commissioner.
I was asked by Collette Neville to provide my perspective of investigations into the 1993 allegations, and the repeated allegations made by the sisters stated again in 2001. I spoke briefly to Ms Neville, expressing some concern that the DLS on behalf of the MPS was in the process of striking out any claim made against the Commissioner by the applicants stated. In essence, I stated that the MPS in my opinion was entirely wrong to challenge any claims of ‘negligence’ or ‘lack of investigation’. Put simply, I stated to her that the MPS had in fact let those sisters down in 1993, and from the evidence I had seen from Harrow Social Services, there was a recommendation and agreement to refer the matter to the CPS, with a further recommendation to charge Mr O’Neill with offences consistent with allegations made by the claimants.
Inexplicably, the case and claimants seem to have been abandoned with no audit-trail of decision-making processes determining why.
At the request of Ms Neville, I attended the DLS offices at Wellington House on Wednesday 14th November 2007. I was met by Ms Sung Wai Ping, Ms Neville’s assistant, who handed me one large General Registry (GR) dockets attached to two very small GR dockets and two 1993 GR dockets. I immediately noticed that the bundle appeared much reduced in size. In 2001, I recall handing over one large 1993 GR, one medium sized 1993 GR docket, and two large blue ring binders of documents contained in see-through sleeves. I had expected to see these ring binders and informed Ms Sung Wai Ping of this. I had initially thought that the very large docket might have contained material once housed in the blue binders, however, upon inspection of this I found that the newer large docket actually contained documentation relating to the Croydon Crown Court case re-investigation, conducted by DS Jacqueline Lucas. After viewing the bundle presented to me, I conclude that there are significant amounts of documents missing from the submission I gave to the CPT Officers in 2001.
I spent approximately five hours looking through the bundle given to me by Ms Sung Wai Ping
Below is a summary of what I understand the legal position to be, as far as the MPS and the claimant (against the MPS), are concerned: My observations are based entirely of my understanding of this case from information and evidence I have seen to date.
The claim brought by the applicant against the Commissioner was heard at the Central London County Court on the 26th June 2006. The MPS had applied to strike out the claim on the basis that it does not disclose any “reasonable course of action”. The judge allowed the application made by the claimant in relation to the 1993 application to stand on the basis that the police owed the victims a “Duty of care to prosecute”. In particular, he criticises the police failure to refer the matter to the CPS, and let Mr O’Neill believe that the 1993 case would not be proceeded with, or be further investigated should any further evidence come to light.
The MPS on the other hand, relied on that the defence that only “Very difficult” or “important” cases were referred to CPS in 1993. In my opinion, and even by 1993 standards, I would argue that this case could have been considered as both “Very difficult” and “important” for reasons made manifestly clear in the accounts provided by the victims, and reports provided by Social Services child protection teams, including medical staff. One should also note that charging standards since 1993 have become more structured and formalised. In essence, charging in 1993 would actually have been much easier in comparison to contemporary charging standards if supervisory officers had indicated any inclination of support for a suspect to be charged. Having looked at the allegations made by the Vicario sisters, together with other disturbing information from O’Neill’s other daughters from different mothers about his ‘inappropriate’ sexual behaviour toward them, I can see that this case would have presented as a “very difficult” case for any investigating officer because of the amount of time needed to obtain a successful judicial outcome. Presumably, the investigating officers viewed the case as ‘hard work’.
This case was also “important” because of the consistent claims of the young victims, the similarities in inappropriate sexualised behaviour of the defendant, and the many reports by social services repeating the same conclusions:
“We believe that Valentina has been sexually abused and we will place her name on the Child Protection Register in the category of sexual abuse………we believe he (O’Neill), has abused other children and that Florence is at risk of being abused by him, we will therefore place her name on the register in the category of ‘likely significant harm from sexual abuse’. Meeting of Harrow Social Services on the 18th May 1993, whilst O’Neill was on police bail for the offences alleged
Present at this meeting was Supervisor to the OIC, DS Barrell. One month later DS Barrell authorised the decision to take NFA against O’Neill. DI Dougherty further endorses this decision.
There was a further meeting by Harrow Social services two days after the meeting on the 18th May 1993. During that meeting, the Chairperson expressed alarm at the police decision, taken by DI Dougherty, not to proceed due to “insufficient evidence”. An action and outcome of that meeting was for the chairperson to write to DI Dougherty asking for reasons why he had taken that decision, and why the matter had not been referred to the CPS.
(This CPS referral point is consistent with documentary evidence I saw in 2001, where it was jointly agreed to refer the entire matter to the CPS with a recommendation to charge O’Neill for the offences alleged. The understanding was that O’Neill be re-bailed until both agencies had submitted all appropriate evidence and social services CPT reports to the CPS. O’Neill had been arrested in April 1993. They had a significant time-frame in which to work and a premature decision to NFA was not in keeping with the work and case Harrow Social Services CPT was putting together to compliment the police investigation).
A transcript of the 2002 Croydon Crown Court notes in the case of O’Neill quotes DI Dougherty as saying that there was “No corroborative evidence” and that he had “taken into account that CPS were unlikely to prosecute unless there was a realistic prospect of prosecution”.
I believe that the judge at that court has called it absolutely correctly when he says that the reasons given by PC Janice George, DS Barrell, and DI Dougherty – (in his letter to Miss Calpin), are “Not entirely in agreement”. The decisions not to proceed, ranged from; ‘insufficient evidence’, to ‘not being in the children’s best interest’.
The judge concluded that there was “Never any intention to re-open the case” in the light of new evidence, (the tape recordings). What is important here is not what was eventually discovered on the tapes, but the fact that the victim’s mother informed DS Barrell she had what she believed amounted to admissions by O’Neill of his sexual abuse of one of her daughters. Despite this information, he never made any effort to obtain this tape. Even by 1993 standards, this is gross negligence.
The MPS reliance on the defence that to decide on NFA, even by 1993 standards, was “not unreasonable” is quite frankly reprehensible. It is also the MPS case that the “lack of investigation” (into the 1993 allegation), “is not under scrutiny”, however the “Decision not to prosecute is”. With the information and the evidence I have seen, and previously at the disposal of the MPS, I have to say that both the ‘lack of investigation’ and the ‘decision not to prosecute’ are wholly valid charges against the MPS and are of equal merit.
The MPS is also aware of the report by DI Gary Goodwin of the CPT. Despite the fact (from my perspective), that the report is over-generously sanitised. It is clearly damning of the 1993 investigation, and does state to a little extent, what one could have been reasonably expected by way of police actions and decisions in 1993.
I think it crucially important to view this case in its wider context, and not purely in relation to its legal footing. The implications of this case spans further than any legal precedents, which may be set by the success of this claim against the Commissioner.
The victims, primarily Melania, took the brave step in approaching Social services and police about the abuses taking place within the home. This was not a case where the victims were in any doubt about wanting to take action against O’Neill. Neither was this a case where both the police and social services were of the joint opinion that O’Neill should not be seriously considered by the CPS for prosecution.
Had both agencies diligently pursued this case through to its logical conclusion, there is little doubt in my mind, (for what it’s worth), that a decision to charge would have been the outcome of a CPS referral. The decision by police to decide on NFA without putting O’Neill on notice that further / additional evidence would mean re-opening the case, demonstrates an unwillingness or inability to deal with the allegations. Though we will never know what the CPS would have decided, the outcome of a decision to prosecute may well have resulted in O’Neill’s conviction in 1993. The 2002 court proceedings were dismissed under an ‘abuse of process’ defence, and on the basis that no steps were taken to inform O’Neill that the case would be re-opened in the light of further evidence. Had this hearing been allowed, O’Neill may well have been convicted and upon release be subject of registration on the Sex offenders register.
I have no doubt that Mr Phelim O’Neill is a Paedophile. His method is consistent. He befriends single mothers with young daughters. He then becomes a part of the family, systematically abusing them emotionally, psychologically and sexually. As a direct result of police inaction in 1993, O’Neill remains unchecked and free to commit his offences against vulnerable young female victims. It is possible, even probable, that there are other victims out there who have been abused by O’Neill since 1993.
The organisational learning one should take from this case should not be purely confined to prevention of legal precedents as I have previously suggested. The Morris Report into MPS Professional Standards, and particularly the activity of DLS in High Profile cases, indicated MPS inertia in trying to resolve such cases much earlier on. I note that Melania contacted a DS Neil Fowler in Mid 2004, asking for information so that this issue could be resolved at an early stage. In October 2004, DS Fowler completed a 728 clearly stating that Melania sought early resolution of a possible civil claim. In view of this early request for resolution, it is hardly surprising therefore that some three years later, Melania’s position has now become somewhat entrenched and mediation has been declined.
I have much empathy for the victims, I envisage, from the claimants’ perspective, that she views her potential rescuer in 1993 as an evolving and uncaring local police service, in metamorphosis as a regional machine, designed to crush any sense of justice and closure for herself and her family.
I believe I have made my position regarding this case obvious and crystal clear. I believe that the MPS should ‘bite the bullet’ so to speak and demonstrate humanity, compassion and a willingness to respond positively to its mistakes. The real test of whether the MPS has in truth moved on from its past mistakes is for it to demonstrate it, not only verbalise it. From the claimants’ and indeed the wider community’s point of view, words mean absolutely nothing unless it is accompanied by practical action, even on the victim’s own terms where possible. I understand that the MPS is now having difficulty obtaining without prejudice dialogue with the claimant. I can only suggest that the DLS keep knocking on that door, with the message that they wish to know what the claimant wants, and will not defensively proposes anything that they think is in the MPS’ interests, unless the claimant indicates it first.
Finally, I appreciate Ms Neville’ transparency in allowing my access to legally privileged material, and I respect that confidentially. However, I have to say that I believe it morally and ethically wrong to be aware of material that supports the claimant’s case whilst still pursuing a defence based on misleading claims. The claimant has suffered enough and is entitled to resolution and closure at the earliest opportunity.
PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION HERE http://justiceforabusedchildren.com/petition/
DS Gareth Reid