Letter: How abuse investigators separated fact from fantasy

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IT WAS with a certain amount of agreement that I read "Out of the mouths of babes" (8 October) questioning the reliability of some witness testament in so-called "ritual abuse" trials.

However, my sympathy took a dent when I read that the Nottingham child abuse investigation "broke down amid re- criminations between the police and social workers". I was the police officer in charge of that case and would like to make it clear that the investigation was a success. All 10 defendants were convicted and sentenced to a total of 53 years imprisonment for a catalogue of sexually motivated crimes against children.

This was largely due to the fact that the police, with the agreement of counsel, separated the allegations of "satanic/ritual" abuse and concentrated on the real abuse of the children.

We recognised at an early stage the improbability and frequent impossibility of the most outrageous claims which I agree could, in some measure, have been attributed to the problems of disclosure you identify.

Our problems with other persons and agencies, including the media, came mostly at the conclusion of our inquiries when it became known that we had rebutted the notions of "satanic/ ritualistic" abuse as a wide- spread phenomenon in Nottingham. It was this conclusion that led to the inquiries and reports which created schisms between caring agencies and individuals but which ultimately vindicated the stance I had taken in 1988.

As the first serious investigator of this phenomenon in Britain and an often lone voice questioning the wisdom of pursuing the more bizarre notions of "experts" in the field, it has been with a sense of horror and impotence that I have observed Rochdale, the Orkneys and other cases which blossomed from the "knowledge" gained as a result of the Nottingham experience.

Those who should know better seem to have totally disregarded the lessons that should have been learnt from Nottingham. In the meantime, children and the less intellectually blessed "survivors" have been questioned at frequently damaging length by disclosure experts. I suspect there are numbers of children throughout the country who now firmly believe that they have been abused by the Devil and his followers.

Det Supt P Coles

Nottinghamshire Constabulary