The serious case review into the handling of the Ian Huntley
investigation should have been titled Review of All Young Women
Who Were Known or Alleged Victims of Sexual Abuse by Ian
Huntley. Perhaps then there would have been more emphasis on
the importance of strategies to investigate child sex
As it is, there is no reference to area child protection committee
procedures for the investigation of organised abuse. The lessons
from the network abuse investigations of the 1990s, which led to
many successful prosecutions, seem not to have been learned.
The Department of Health’s Working Together document
defines organised abuse as “involving one or more abuser and a
number of related or non-related abused children and young people”.
This definition is crucial as the review refers to 13 cases and
even these are unlikely to be a complete list of the young women
with whom Huntley was involved.
And there may have been more than one abuser. One young woman spoke
of a “lot of young men” in a flat that Huntley visited while
another knew Huntley through an adult male. It seems that patterns
of targeting were apparent, with many of the young women known as
vulnerable to both social services and their school. The review
acknowledged that “in practice each case was treatedÉas if it
was an isolated one”, and “the connections were not made”.
Parents and friends took protective action directly, or by
reporting abuse to the school and social services. But statutory
responses were hasty and swiftly closed, letting perpetrators, the
young victims and other children at risk slip from view. Given that
information was not collated, mapped and analysed, it is no
surprise that a lack of evidence and complainants hindered
Effective protection of children from sexual abuse requires a dual
strategy which safeguards children through multi-agency procedures
and brings abusers to justice. The procedures are well documented
and do not need reinventing, but few professionals are now trained
in their implementation. The public must think it inconceivable
that so few resources are devoted to the investigation of serious
sexual crimes against children.
Liz Davies is senior lecturer in children and families at
London Metropolitan University.