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Report slams ‘farcical’ investigation that left police doctor free to sexually abuse women

PUBLISHED: 13:25 06 December 2017 | UPDATED: 13:25 06 December 2017

Norfolk police twice failed to properly investigate allegations made by female officers about the force's doctor Hugh O'Neill. Photo: Archant

Norfolk police twice failed to properly investigate allegations made by female officers about the force's doctor Hugh O'Neill. Photo: Archant

Archant

A report into how Norfolk Constabulary twice failed to stop police doctor Hugh O’Neill abusing female officers described a failed investigation into him as “farcical”.

Operation Stornoway.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Operation Stornoway. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

On November 7, 2002 Norfolk police doctor O’Neill became the subject of a criminal investigation when an officer reported undergoing “two bizarre medicals” with him.

He was immediately suspended as the force’s medical examiner, but the ensuing probe, Operation Parrott, lacked resources and was “unprofessional...at times farcical”, according to an Essex Police investigation into its failures - Operation Stornoway - which finished this year.

Officers were told in 2002 “not to proactively seek evidence from other officers/staff”, including victims from 1993 when allegations were first made by officers against O’Neill.

“It appears the priority was to disprove the allegations,” said Steve Reynolds, head of Operation Stornoway. “A very negative stance was adopted by decision makers.”

He added that, after nine months of investigating the case, he was still unable to say who had been in charge of Operation Parrott in 2002 and 2003.

“No one had ownership of the investigation and the enquiry team had no single person to report to,” he said. “This lack of structure is a recipe for disaster.”

See also: Police doctor accused of sexually assaulting 33 officers as force pays out

The Police Superintendents Association, which represents a number of the officers involved in the failed O’Neill investigations, has disputed the findings of Operation Stornoway.

In 2002, “a chief officer was in overall command, supported by a Gold Command Group,” said professional standards co-ordinator Victor Marshall.

The Operation Parrott team did seek out two medical experts to clarify standard practice for police medical examinations, but failed to provide them with a number of victim statements.

Horsford Medical Centre where O'Neill worked despite being dismissed as Norfolk police doctor in 2003 for assaulting female officers. He was given a warning by the General Medical Council but allowed to carry on practising. Picture: Dominic Gilbert Horsford Medical Centre where O'Neill worked despite being dismissed as Norfolk police doctor in 2003 for assaulting female officers. He was given a warning by the General Medical Council but allowed to carry on practising. Picture: Dominic Gilbert

When Operation Stornoway investigators presented experts with the missing evidence, one said there was “no question” a sexual assault had taken place.

Read the Operation Stornoway report into the Hugh O’Neill investigations



Victims who came forward in 1993 were eventually revisited but once again many were dismissed.

One was unable to give her statement until 2014, 21 years after she had been indecently assaulted. The CPS found her evidence so compelling it was included on the indictment against O’Neill in 2016.

“For a variety of reasons the evidence of a further 13 potential victims was not included in the 2002 investigation and not considered by the expert witnesses or CPS,” said Mr Reynolds. “It should have been blatantly obvious some evidence was missing.”

None of the allegations were recorded as crimes at the time, with “no trace” of them found on reporting systems.

An interview with O’Neill was conducted on December 23, 2002 but he had already been provided with full copies of the victim statements, including their names.

Mr Reynolds wrote: “I have difficulty thinking of an example of when this may have been done in a criminal investigation. It appears to me for whatever reason [O’Neill] was being treated differently to other suspects.

“Having read the transcripts, the conduct of the interview appears to me to be at times farcical.”

A second interview lasted just 13 minutes and was held in the office of O’Neill’s solicitor, further endorsing the “unprofessional and unusual” manner of the investigation.

Mr Reynolds added: “The question as to why [O’Neill] was not arrested remains unanswered.”

There were some suspicions as to why O’Neill was treated differently and Operation Stornoway examined a number of theories.

They said many of the victims were “concerned that social connections” between O’Neill and investigating officers led to their allegations not being properly investigated, but found no evidence to support the claim.

Evidence was found of “officers being told to keep quiet” and threatened with legal action if they discussed the allegations.

While Essex Police could find no legitimate reason for officers being warned to keep quiet, the threat of legal action is a theory supported by the CPS.

Fiona Morrison, specialist prosecutor with the special crime division of the CPS, conducted the review this year into a possible prosecution of two senior officers in 1993 for misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice.

According to the CPS review, one witness said in a 2016 statement: “I was told in no uncertain terms that the matter was to go no further, it was not to be mentioned again, and any further comment could lead to Dr O’Neill suing the police.

“From witness testimony it appears that Dr O’Neill was a forceful individual with a ‘bullish’ personality,” Ms Morrison said in a letter to victims explaining their decision not to pursue criminal charges against senior officers.

“It would be no surprise that he may well have threatened civil proceedings against the force or any individual who raised this matter again.”

•Do you have a story which needs investigating? Contact Tom Bristow on 01063 77 2834 or email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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