Norfolk Police gave sex predator doctor 'licence to commit indecent assaults'
PUBLISHED: 13:25 06 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:17 06 December 2017
Norfolk Police/Antony Kelly
The true severity of the failings by Norfolk Constabulary to properly investigate the sexual abuse of female officers by a police doctor can today be revealed for the first time.
This includes revelations that Dr Hugh O’Neill, who evaded justice for more than 20 years despite at least 30 allegations against him, was allowed to write the Constabulary’s own medical policy on examinations, AFTER serious complaints had been made.
The policy was described by investigators into the force’s handling of the case as “a licence to commit indecent assaults on females”.
Two investigations of O’Neill, in 1993 and 2002, came under the microscope after the doctor was finally jailed for 15 years after admitting two serious sexual assaults against young girls, and 13 indecent assaults on female police officers.
However, until now, the contents of the investigation by Essex Police into the Norfolk force have been kept out of the public domain.
The EDP has now won an appeal, after a Freedom of Information request, for a redacted version of the report to be released.
The report reveals how:
- O’Neill was “treated differently” by Norfolk police investigators and even allowed to see full copies of the victim statements, including their names.
- The conduct of investigators was described as “farcical”.
- Investigators set out to disprove the allegations or “deliberately” failed to investigate them.
- Crucial evidence was not passed to prosecutors or medical experts in 2002.
- None of the 33 allegations made against O’Neill were officially recorded as crimes until 2014.
- O’Neill carried on as a family doctor after Norfolk police failed to release evidence to the General Medical Council (GMC).
- Evidence was found of “officers being told to keep quiet” and threatened with legal action if they discussed the allegations.
Dr O’Neill worked as forensic medical examiner for Norfolk police between 1991 and 2003.
Allegations against him began to emerge in 1992, but despite an internal investigation in 1993 and a criminal investigation in 2002, O’Neill was not arrested. He was sacked from Norfolk Police and given a warning by the General Medical Council (GMC) in 2003 but was able to continue practising medicine until his conviction in 2015.
As reported last month, 33 female officers have made allegations against O’Neill and been paid almost £270,000 by the Constabulary.
Essex Police’s Serious Crime Directorate launched Operation Stornoway in June 2016 to uncover any misconduct against Norfolk officers in the 1993 and 2002 investigations into O’Neill.
After evidence against six officers was passed to Norfolk Police, DCC Nick Dean found four had a case to answer for misconduct. As they have all retired no action could be taken.
A file was also passed to the CPS, who said they were “hindered by a lack of evidence” in considering the prosecution of two senior officers from 1993 for perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office.
While there’s nothing to suggest any wrongdoing on their behalf, between 1993 and 2002 Norfolk’s chief constable was Ken Williams. He was replaced in 2002 by Andy Hayman.
In the newly released report, Head of Operation Stornoway Steve Reynolds criticised the 1993 investigation as an “entirely superficial” fact-finding exercise which left the victims “badly let down”.
“As a consequence [O’Neill] evaded a criminal investigation and in all probability, arrest and prosecution,” he added.
After the 1993 investigation ended, O’Neill was asked to “clarify what a medical should consist of”. He then wrote the official force guidance on medical examinations.
His report said: “The examination is comprehensive and will include examination of breasts, genitalia and anus. (where deemed appropriate).”
On this, Operation Stornoway added: “Given the allegations of indecent assault it seems incredible that [O’Neill] was able to legitimise crimes both in the past and in the future.
“His guidance was a licence to commit indecent assaults on females.”
One of O’Neill’s victims said today the revelation made her feel sick.
“They allowed him to write his own pervert’s charter - giving himself permission to sexually assault people,” she said.
“He was given that power by the Constabulary and as time went on his offending behaviour got worse. He was becoming more and more brazen.”
An attempt to safeguard female officers by introducing chaperones had “fizzled out” by 1997, Operation Stornoway found, allowing O’Neill to “regain control of the female medicals”.
Critically, an allegation of a serious sexual assault in 1993 - an internal examination - was never taken seriously.
“Based upon my knowledge of the evidence now, I would consider that had this been presented in 1993 that there would have been a good prospect of conviction,” wrote Mr Reynolds in the Operation Stornoway report.
“For whatever reason, the allegations were deliberately not properly investigated.”
It has also emerged one investigating officer in 1993 “believed he could interview [O’Neill] without having to caution him” - a breach of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
One of O’Neill’s victims said she was “astounded at the horror” of the Essex report.
“To allow [O’Neill] to carry on and then to ask him to write that awful force policy is just unthinkable,” she said.
The victim suspects O’Neill had been “protected” as a result of “institutional misogyny”.
She said: “It could have been stopped which would have sent a really strong message to female officers that they were being supported and believed.”
A Norfolk Police spokesperson said O’Neill had been “consulted on policy around medical examinations as a qualified practitioner”.
“It is a matter of great regret that neither of the previous enquiries resulted in criminal convictions and there were a number of errors made in procedures both times,” they added.
But the Police Superintendents’ Association (PSA), which represents some retired officers who were involved in the O’Neill investigations, said they “do not understand how the review by Essex Police has come to the assumptions and opinions it has”.
Professional standards co-ordinator for the PSA, Victor Marshall, said: “The report acknowledges that crucial documentation relating to the investigations either cannot be located or has been destroyed by the force over time.”
•How did he carry on as a family GP?
Despite being dismissed by the Constabulary in 2003, O’Neill was able to carry on as a family GP in Horsford for another 11 years because some of the evidence against him was held back by police.
The General Medical Council (GMC) warned O’Neill in 2003 when police told them about complaints.
But they did not revoke his licence.
According to the Essex police investigation into what happened, called Operation Stornoway, the GMC were provided with the “majority” of the victim’s statements but not all of them.
A GMC spokesman said there was “insufficient evidence” to take matters further than a warning in 2003.
But having now seen all statements which police did not give them in 2003 things could have been different.
A GMC spokesman said “further investigations would likely have ensued”.
The Essex Police report said: “Nothing was done to ensure that females were safeguarded.”
None of the charges O’Neill faced were in relation to his work as a family GP at the practice.
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