Child abuse claims soar

STARTLING new figures today show that the number of cases flagged up to child abuse police in Suffolk have increased by close to five times in the space of seven years.

STARTLING new figures today show that the number of cases flagged up to child abuse police in Suffolk have increased by close to five times in the space of seven years.

The Evening Star has learned that in the year ending March 2006 there were a total of 5,065 referrals made to the county's child abuse investigation unit - including alleged physical and sexual assaults.

This compares to 1,102 referrals for the year ending March 2000.

Despite the huge increase the number of cases being investigated has dropped dramatically in percentage terms.

For the year ending March 2000 a total of 527 investigations were launched out of the 1,102 referrals (47.8per cent).

The number of investigations for the year ending March 2006 was 639 out of 5,065 referrals (12.6pc).

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Suffolk County Council and Suffolk police claim the figures do not mean more children are being abused or offences are slipping through the net, rather that various organisations are now more likely to flag-up early warning signs, meaning children are now better protected.

Cliff James, head of safeguarding for children and young peoples services at the county council, said health workers, teachers and police are now better trained to raise concerns should they appear.

He said police are now obliged to report “domestic incidents” where a child is present even if not directly involved.

He said: “A huge amount of effort has gone into raising awareness of child abuse and more people are reporting issues to us.

“If it is a serious incident we will start child protection inquiries immediately.”

Suffolk police also argues the figures are distorted due to better awareness.

A spokesperson for the force said: “The last ten years has seen an enormous growth in the awareness of all issues relating to the welfare of young people.

“The tragic case of Victoria Climbie and the subsequent government report into the circumstances of her death has resulted in agencies being better educated about these issues and consequently a much greater number of incidents being reported.

“All incidents are reviewed and those that meet the threshold for investigation - i.e where it is clear that an offence has been committed and there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a full inquiry - are investigated.”

Concerns about procedures for dealing with child abuse investigations were raised last month by an Ipswich mum whose three-year-old daughter claimed she had been sexually abused by a teenage boy.

As revealed in The Evening Star the mum, who cannot be named, was furious with police for dropping the investigation, claiming specialist officers did not do their jobs properly.

What do you think of the figures? Has your family been affected by the issue of child abuse? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

Did you know?

Crown Prosecution Service figures show that out of the total number of allegations made between April 2005 and March 2006 just 172 convictions were secured (3.4pc of initial allegations).

Earlier this month The Evening Star revealed that last year at least 15 sex attacks on children were dealt with by way of caution instead of charges being brought.