British judge slams Victoria Police over handling of abuse claim


A senior British judge who has approved the extradition of an alleged sex abuser to Melbourne for trial has strongly criticised Victoria Police's inaction in investigating the case over two decades.

A finding by senior district judge Emma Arbuthnot, the chief magistrate of England and Wales, paves the way for an 87-year-old man to return from England on allegations he sexually assaulted his then stepdaughter in country Victoria between 1972 and 1978, when she was between three and nine. He was a Victorian police officer at the time.

The ruling means the accuser, now 50, could soon look her former stepfather in the eye in a Melbourne court, 19 years after reporting him to police.

"When I got the judgment and the judge gave me a simple, courteous nod of the head, that was the biggest validation I have ever got," the woman, referred to in court documents as A, told The Age.

She first went to police in 2000 to report her former stepfather – known as ZZ – who had moved to England 15 years earlier. But police believed there was no chance of interviewing ZZ because he lived overseas, and the investigation was dropped.

It was reopened in 2013 when A went to police after she was contacted by ZZ's step-son.

It took another 22 months before police issued an arrest warrant.

ZZ is charged with four counts of indecent assault. He denies the allegations.

Judge Arbuthnot found Victoria Police was at fault for the investigating delays and had no explanation. The investigation should have been completed within a few years after 2000.

"The complainant A, who attended the Westminster Magistrates Court for the extradition hearing, would have every reason for criticising the handling of the investigation in Australia," she found.

"The attitude of the police to this allegation may well explain why a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was required.

"The delay between 2000 and 2013 is the fault of the police, who for one reason or another, having received the complaint, did not pursue the investigation.

"The delay between 2013 and today is also the fault of the police, who seem to have investigated these allegations at a snail's pace. The delay from 2000 is rightly described by [ZZ's lawyer] as culpable delay."

ZZ opposed extradition because of the passage of time and argued it was oppressive for him to leave his northern England home given his physical and mental health.

He has back and prostate problems uses a pacemaker and has been diagnosed with mild dementia, though refuses treatment. A medical assessment found his memory was patchy. He claims he is fearful of flying and claustrophobic but has no supporting medical evidence.

Judge Arbuthnot found ZZ's symptoms were not as serious as he said they were. She acknowledged he would experience hardship in returning to Australia and being held in custody, but it wouldn't be unjust or oppressive.

Lawyers acting for Australia argued the charges were serious, that ZZ could be properly cared for in prison and that he would receive a fair trial.

A and her lawyers are hopeful ZZ will return to Australia in the first half of next year, though he can appeal against Judge Arbuthnot's decision.

While the judge's ruling left A in tears of relief, she remains furious at the "secondary victimisation" from police she endured through the unexplained delays in investigating her allegations, having to repeatedly tell her account to different officers, and researching and advising police on complex legal matters.

She intends to sue Victoria Police and has complained to the force's professional standards command, Victoria's anti-corruption commission and government departments.

"I am dealing with a lot of anger at the moment; I am so angry at the police," she said.

"The whole time I was there [in England] I was on a knife edge, thinking, 'I am going to lose this because of their actions.'

"It was heartbreaking. Every time they mentioned the timeline of this case, it was like the knife got twisted a bit more."

A is also angry that ZZ for years received a pension from Victoria Police after he left the force in the 1970s following a motorcycle crash, despite being under investigation.

"I have done nothing wrong and he is still getting rewarded. Where's the justice in that?" she said.

Lisa Flynn, Shine Lawyers' abuse law manager, said A had shown "incredible tenacity" in fighting to have ZZ held to account, but had encountered "inexcusable" delays from Victoria Police that had been retraumatising.

"It shouldn’t be so hard for survivors of child sexual abuse," Ms Flynn said.

"The inaction shown by Victoria Police is unfortunately still far too common. This can’t continue to happen, especially given the royal commission ... highlighted the appalling delays by authorities."

A police spokeswoman said: "As the matter is currently subject to extradition proceedings, it would be inappropriate for Victoria Police to provide any comment at this time".

(Source)


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