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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Child abuse detective cleared of gross misconduct over Ian Watkins probe

Written by Johanna Carr

A detective accused of gross misconduct over his investigation into paedophile rock star Ian Watkins has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Detective Sergeant Andrew Whelan, who worked with the South Wales Police's child abuse investigation unit, was described as a "diligent, dedicated and conscientious" officer by the police misconduct hearing panel at the Waterton Centre in Bridgend on Tuesday.

Chairman Robert Vernon said Det Sgt Whelan's closure of a log containing intelligence that the Lostprophets singer was abusing children was a "momentary lapse" made in "difficult circumstances bearing in mind his workload and his professional and personal circumstances at the time" and did not amount to misconduct.

Mr Vernon added: "DS Whelan has for a very long time recognised that his decision was not the right decision to take."

Watkins was sentenced in December 2013 to 35 years in prison for a string of child sex offences, including the attempted rape of a baby.

The Pontypridd-born singer was first arrested in 2012 but a subsequent IPCC investigations found South Wales Police had first been given information about him in 2008 and recommended three detectives face disciplinary action.

The hearing heard Det Sgt Whelan was involved in investigating an allegation made by a former lover of Watkins, Joanne Mjadzelics at the end of 2008 in which she said Watkins was involved in child sex abuse but that by the summer of 2009 it had been determined that there was insufficient evidence to support her claims.

The misconduct hearing related to further information that came to light between June 2010 and March 2012 and Det Sgt Whelan's investigation of it.

He was accused of failing to act on intelligence received by South Wales Police via the Metropolitan Police from an informant, who has not been identified, in October 2010, that Watkins had boasted about having child porn on his computer.

According to the intelligence, he had also said he wanted to marry a woman "turn her into a junkie and have children with her and abuse them", the hearing was told.

Mr Beggs said his client had admitted making a mistake in relation to that incident during a period of "intense professional pressure" and questioned whether such an "isolated" mistake could amount to misconduct.

The hearing heard Det Sgt Whelan had been placed on a three-week course with no one covering his normal workload and had been coming in early every morning to go through 30 to 40 child abuse logs.

Mr Beggs said: "How rare is it for an accused officer just to put his hands up straight away in interview and say that's a mistake?"

The other charge against him related to three Crimestoppers logs received by South Wales Police in 2010 in which it was said the detective became aware of on October 4 that year when he looked at the intelligence from the anonymous informant.

He was accused of failing to take any action in relation to those logs despite it being clear from the police database that they had not been investigated.

Det Sgt Whelan initially faced eight allegations, two of which were dropped prior to the hearing and four of which were dismissed by the panel on Tuesday after hearing legal argument.

Speaking after the hearing, Howard Casey, a retired police officer and Mr Whelan's Police Federation friend throughout the proceedings, criticised the IPCC's handling of the case, which he said took three years for the watchdog to investigate.

He said: "It is very difficult for DS Whelan, as it was evidently to the panel, to understand how the IPCC could so badly mischaracterise his actions and so badly misunderstand much of the evidence in the case.

"We hope the IPCC will learn some lessons and improve the training of those who investigate police."

Mr Casey said DS Whelan would now return to serving the public as he had for 25 years, and added: "DS Whelan is and always has been a diligent, hard-working and professional detective.

"His actions, with his detective constable colleagues, contributed to the imprisonment of Ian Watkins, a horrific paedophile."

Assistant chief constable of South Wales Police, Jon Drake, said the force voluntary referred the case to the IPCC after its own review identified issues of concern.

He said: "This resulted in the IPCC making a number of recommendations both in terms of organisational learning and in relation to individual officers.

"We accepted these recommendations and have implemented a range of measures to improve the way we protect vulnerable people.

"The recommendations also included the progression of misconduct proceedings, which have now been completed."

Mr Drake said the force accepted this had been a difficult period for those involved in the process.

He added: "It is always regrettable that these matters take a significant length of time to conclude, but we remain committed to supporting our officers and staff, who are required to make critical decisions every day.

"Our primary objective as an organisation remains the safeguarding of vulnerable people and children ... We know it is difficult taking that first step in reporting child abuse and that people coming forward need support but we would urge anyone with concerns about a child or young person to get in touch with us immediately."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Ben Birchall / PA Wire.