In January 2006, a little girl known as Child A, then 3 years old, was abducted by known paedophile, Craig Sweeney. Sweeney’s prison licence had expired only two days previously.
Despite the abduction being reported to the police immediately, a series of errors by South Wales Police meant that Sweeney was only caught by another police force several hours later, by which time Child A had been sexually assaulted several times.
In 2008, Child A's mother initiated a civil claim against the police on her daughter’s behalf. The action was for negligence and breach of the Human Rights Act 1998 in respect of their failure to protect her daughter’s right to life and right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.
Until recently, South Wales Police had insisted on defending the claim. Now, however, they have agreed to compensate Child A in respect of their failures and have apologised in full.
In July 2004 Craig Sweeney was released on licence from a three year custodial sentence for indecent assault on a six year old girl. Towards the end of his time on licence, Sweeney had been accused of violence towards another man and of inappropriate touching of a child. However, he was not recalled. His licence expired on 31 December 2005.
Two days later, on 2 January 2006, Sweeney abducted Child A from her mother’s house. Within seconds of the abduction, Child A's parents had made 999 calls requesting emergency assistance and giving the police Sweeney's name and a description of his car. Within 15 minutes of the abduction, the police carried out a check of the Police National Computer (PNC) which showed that Sweeney was on the Violent and Sexual Offenders Register and had a conviction for indecent assault on a 6 year old girl. It also gave them his address. Child A's father even handed over the man who had attended the house with Sweeney to the police.
However, due to an incredible series of errors by South Wales Police, Sweeney was only arrested three hours later when officers from Wiltshire Police noticed a car drive through red lights. He then crashed his car during the ensuing chase.
During the intervening time, Sweeney had driven Child A to his home in Newport and subjected her to violent and serious sexual abuse there and on two further occasions in his car. She was then badly injured when thrown from the car as it crashed.
In her family's view – and that of her solicitors - all of this could have been prevented had South Wales police acted more swiftly and efficiently and in accordance with their own policies.
This view was supported by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) who, following an independent investigation, concluded that, “had there been prompt and appropriate action as the reported child abduction required, there was a potential to prevent Child A being subjected to a further terrifying ordeal when Craig Sweeney was able to leave his home address and cross the Severn Bridge into England.”
Sweeney pleaded guilty to offences including kidnap and three offences of sexual assault by penetration. In June 2006, he was sentenced to four concurrent sentences of life imprisonment with a minimum of tariff of 5 years 108 days’ imprisonment. The tariff caused public outcry and a rift between John Reid, then Home Secretary, and Lord Goldsmith, then Attorney General.
The police have finally accepted responsibility for their errors and have agreed to compensate Child A without the family having to go through a traumatic civil trial.
The Chief Constable of South Wales has written to Child A and her family to say she is “sorry that, as an organisation, South Wales Police let you down in respect of the manner in which a response was provided to you and your family on the night that your daughter was abducted.”
Child A and her family are now looking forward to putting the horrific events of January 2006 behind them and moving on to a more positive future.
Child A’s father said of the settlement:
"We are pleased that South Wales police have recognised that they failed our daughter on the night of 2 January 2006 and that she should be compensated for that failure.
Had it not been for the officers of Wiltshire police, our daughter would probably not be alive today.
South Wales police should have backed down as soon as we started the claim so that we did not have to go through the court process.
It is very difficult to forgive given the callous way in which we as a family were treated but we owe it to our daughter to move on. She is a wonderful little girl with so much ahead of her".
The family’s solicitor, Anna Mazzola, said:
“This was the best possible outcome for Child A and her family. We very much hope that the agencies involved have learnt from these events so that, in future, individuals such as Craig Sweeney are intercepted before they can cause further harm. However, recent cuts to the Probation Service budget – including in Gwent - would suggest that the Ministry of Justice has not learnt these lessons.”
For further information, please contact Anna Mazzola, on firstname.lastname@example.org or at 020 7702 5331.