Investigation by free weekly prompts Essex Police to probe claims abuse of up to 60 children was covered up

Essex Police has launched a fresh investigation into historic allegations of child abuse involving up to 60 victims thanks to an investigation by Essex free weekly newspaper the Yellow Advertiser.

Essex Police commissioner Nick Alston yesterday thanked the Tindle-owned title for its "collaboration" with police on the case.

The investigation by reporter Charles Thomson began in late 2014 when the Yellow Advertiser obtained financial records released under the Freedom of Information Act which revealed ten compensation payouts by Essex Council for "alleged abuse" in the 1970s and 1990s.

The paper reports that Essex Council refused to answer questions about the matter prompting it to publish a front-page report on what some were describing as a "cover up".

As a result of the Yellow Advertiser's reports three whistleblowers came forward to the paper: a retired NHS manager, a serving probation officer and the former manager of a child sex abuse treatment centre. And last month the paper brokered a meeting between them and Essex Police chief constable Stephen Kavanagh.

Probation contractor Rob West told the paper: "I personally got at least nine disclosures in one year of boys coming to me and telling me about their abuse. At least four or five of them were involved in that situation.

"We passed that stuff on, but nothing ever came back to us. That doesn’t mean nothing was ever done, because sometimes the police do things and don’t come back to you – but certainly, talking to the young people, they were never approached by the police.

"Even when they were, I sometimes thought, ’Are the police trying to close them down?’ Because I sat in on an interview on one occasion where they said, ’Right son, tell us who nonced you up.’ Literally, I think they were more or less the words that were initially used – by quite an aggressive police officer."

Essex Police commissioner Nick Alston told the paper: "You’ve been there representing a group of people who, I think, for the right reasons, have been wanting to not let this die. For 25 years this group of professionals have never let go of this. But who do you go to?

"They clearly saw an opportunity to work with the Yellow Advertiser to maybe have another go at getting something that they care passionately about; to use you as a route to us, to broker that conversation. And you’ve done it really responsibly.

"You’ve used our relationship and you’ve respected everything we’ve said in terms of enabling us firstly to get our heads around it and then to try to get the Chief Constable in the right space – which actually took no effort at all because I think we’ve got a remarkable Chief Constable who is completely wanting to do the right thing by all of this."

The whistleblowers claim that a case in the late 1980s, which saw two men convicted of abusing young boys, failed to take dozens of alleged victims seriously and failed to pursue other alleged abusers.

Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh told the Yellow Advertiser: "At present, we have allegations but no victims, suspects or locations. But whether alleged abuse, especially organised and institutionalised, happened yesterday or 30 years ago, it’s our duty to review it without fear or favour.

"If you have information about such crimes or are yourself a victim or survivor of sexual abuse as a child during this period, I need you to come forward and contact us directly on 101, asking to speak to a specialist officer within our Child Abuse Investigation teams."

The Basildon-based Yellow Advertiser as a strong history of campaigning and investigative journalism and a circulation of 250,000.

Editor Mick Ferris was at the paper from 1996 until 2001 and then returned in 2013.

He said: "This story was a huge amount of work over 16 or 17 months where intiially Charlie Thomson discovered figures of compensation payouts and being the reporter he is started to make enquiries. We met with a brick wall at the council press office and refusal to cooperate.

"So we went through FoI and eventually things bore fruit."

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