Revealed: Failed investigations into disgraced Norfolk Police doctor accused of sexually assaulting 33 police officers as force pays out £270,000 in legal costs
PUBLISHED: 13:22 03 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:28 03 November 2017
An investigation by this newspaper into the sexual abuse of female officers by a Norfolk police doctor and the force's subsequent handling of the case has uncovered a series of fresh revelations.
Dr Hugh O’Neill was jailed in January 2015 for 12 years for two rapes and three counts of gross indecency.
But 12 months later he was told to serve three more years after admitting to sexually assaulting 13 police officers, in crimes stretching back to 1993.
Today, an investigation by this newspaper raises new evidence about the full scale of abuse carried out by O’Neill and the way the force handled the complaints at the time.
- A total of 33 serving or retired police officers have made allegations against O’Neill, 20 more than was revealed in court.
- Legal action brought against Norfolk Constabulary by the victims resulted in pay outs totalling almost £270,000.
- A recommendation to launch a criminal investigation in 1993 was not acted on.
- A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) review into potential criminal charges against senior officers was hindered because a key file has disappeared.
It has also emerged that senior officers tasked with investigating O’Neill in 1993 will not face criminal charges following the CPS review, which concluded last month.
Meanwhile, chief constable Simon Bailey says the force has learned lessons from what happened.
One victim said senior officers who failed to investigate allegations against the family GP in 1993 “should have O’Neill’s sexual assaults on their conscience”.
“You have to ask the question - had police done something in 1993, would that have prevented him from doing what he did next?” she said.
The case goes back to October 1993 when four policewomen reported the Norfolk Constabulary doctor had acted inappropriately during medical examinations.
A month later, an internal investigation into O’Neill ended abruptly, even though by then eight allegations had been made.
In April this year, Fiona Morrison, specialist prosecutor with the special crime division of the CPS, reviewed whether to bring charges against senior officers from 1993 for misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice.
She found that O’Neill’s victims felt the case had been “swept under the carpet”, and some reported being warned by senior officers to stay silent.
In a document seen by this newspaper, the investigation found that initially “officers correctly reported the matter up the chain of command”.
A serious sexual offences trained officer was assigned to make a report, which was then faxed to a chief superintendent.
Its conclusion read: “There are enough indicators...to begin to treat this as a possible criminal case rather than simply a matter of poor practice.”
But nothing happened. A chief superintendent and the deputy chief constable met with O’Neill to discuss the evidence. O’Neill was then sent a letter by the chief constable in which he expressed his regret for causing the doctor distress and said there was “no evidence to support any suggestion of improper behaviour” on his part.
In a letter to victims, the CPS also said they were “hindered by the lack of evidence which has survived” from 1993 because the original investigation file could not be found.
But the CPS did raise concerns that no independent medical evidence was sought with which to challenge O’Neill and said there had been “a serious error in judgement”.
“The sheer number of complainants together with the recommendation of the sexual offences officer should surely have raised concerns and merited a further and more detailed investigation,” said Ms Morrison.
O’Neill was able to rebuff the allegations and continued in his role until being dismissed in 2003 after more victims came forward.
Another investigation was launched but still he was not prosecuted.
Assistant chief constable Simon Taylor said in 2003 in a letter to complainants there was “no factual dispute” about what O’Neill had done, but there was insufficient evidence to prove he had been indecent.
He said: “Dr O’Neill operated in a manner which made some individuals feel uncomfortable in that he appeared to be fairly robust in his examination but gave very little account of what he was doing and the reasons for it.”
ACC Taylor in 2003 assured the victims there had been “a full and thorough investigation”.
But it wasn’t until 2014, when a victim of serious sexual assault not connected to O’Neill’s job came forward, that justice finally caught up with him.
Following his prosecution, a probe was launched by Essex Police Serious Crime Directorate this year into Norfolk’s mishandling of allegations against O’Neill.
Norfolk’s deputy chief constable Nick Dean then found four senior officers responsible for the 1993 and 2002 investigations may have cases to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.
However, as they have all since retired no action can be taken.
Failings in previous investigations “concerning”
Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey described the investigation from Essex Police as “one of the most detailed and extensive in the Constabulary’s history”.
He confirmed 33 officers have to date made allegations against O’Neill and that the force paid out £269,500 in costs and settlements to victims.
He added the way police forces respond to allegations of sexual assault has “changed considerably” since 1993 and that lessons have been learned.
“Our primary focus in any investigation is the victim or victims and I am acutely aware of the impact non-recent sexual abuse cases can have on those involved,” he said.
“Hugh O’Neill was a sexual predator who operated in plain sight using his professional role to abuse the trust of the very people who are expected to protect others from such abuse.
“His conviction was the result of a lengthy enquiry and is one of many complex cases investigated by the force which has led to successful prosecutions in recent years.”
After O’Neill was convicted in 2016, Mr Bailey commissioned Essex Police to conduct a review into the force’s handling of previous investigations in 1993 and 2002.
He described the fact they had not resulted in any criminal action as “concerning” but said the force has since been “open and honest” with the public.
“It was imperative that we examined and assessed the organisation’s response to the original allegations made,” he said.
“The report found some failings in both previous investigations which is a matter of great regret.
“However, it is important to recognise the way the police service and society responds to allegations of this nature has changed considerably since these original enquiries took place.”
Dr Hugh Blaise O’Neill, 64, was Norfolk’s police surgeon and medical adviser between 1991 and 2003.
After his conviction in 2016 Norwich Crown Court was told how he repeatedly breached that position of trust by using the guise of legitimate medical practice as a smokescreen to abuse his victims, who knew that it was essential to their career and future as a whole that they passed a medical.
The beginning of the end for O’Neill, formerly of Tasburgh, who had been a GP for 37 years, working at Horsford Medical Centre, came after one of his now adult victims contacted police as a result of several high-profile sex abuse cases.
O’Neill admitted two counts of rape and one count of gross indecency against one victim and two counts of gross indecency against a second victim in December 2014.
In January 2015 he was sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison for sex offences against two girls, which date from the early 1990s to 2000.
1991 - Hugh O’Neill appointed force medical officer for Norfolk Constabulary.
1993 - The first allegations are made against O’Neill by serving police officers.
November 1993 - The investigation ends “abruptly”.
2002 - Further allegations are made against O’Neill.
2002 - An investigation into O’Neill is launched.
2003 - No criminal action is taken against O’Neill but he is dismissed from the force. He continues to practice medicine.
2014 - Serious sexual assault allegations made against O’Neill by a separate victim.
2015 - O’Neill is jailed for 12 years after admitting serious sexual offences, including rape, against two girls.
2016 - O’Neill is jailed for a further three years after admitting 13 indecent assaults against police officers.
May 2017 - A group of victims bring a personal injury claim against Norfolk Constabulary and receive an out of court settlement.
July 2017 - A report from Essex Police into Norfolk Constabulary’s handling of the case concludes.
October 2017 – A review by the CPS into the case decides there is not enough evidence to prosecute officers from 1993 for misconduct and perverting the course of justice.
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