Could rapist couple have been stopped?

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Media captionVictims call for Barry rapist couple case review

Questions over whether a couple jailed for a string of rapes on girls were part of a paedophile ring have led to calls for a serious case review.


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    Husband and wife Peter and Avril Griffiths abused and raped multiple girls over decades in the seaside town of Barry in south Wales.

    Nazir Afzal, who prosecuted grooming gangs in Rochdale, said there should now be a review into the case.

    It follows the discovery a victim’s earlier complaint was not acted on.

    In October, a jury at Cardiff Crown Court heard how for years the couple had carried out a sustained campaign of rape and abuse of young girls they groomed in their hometown.

    When they were jailed, it seemed their victims could at least get relief knowing the pair had been stopped.

    Two of them have waived their right to anonymity and spoke to BBC Wales Investigates.


     

    Their stories suggest the rapist couple could have been convicted years before.

    Image copyright South Wales Police
    Image caption Avril and Peter Griffiths groomed then raped a number of young girls during their campaign of abuse

    Sex parties

    Sally Ambridge waited 25 years to tell the police the Griffiths’ raped her as a child, fearing she wouldn’t be believed.

    “He used her to get us in, for him to rape. They were a team, they did it together,” she said.

    “It’s lucky I’m too scared to kill myself because I would have. I felt that low but then part of me thought ‘no, think of your family’. I wanted out of it all, it’s awful.”

    Sally wasn’t the only one being abused by the couple.


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    At the age of seven, Joanne Down was first targeted by Peter Griffiths. He was married to her older half-sister Avril and they were babysitting her at their home.

    A series of outings on his fishing boat followed where she would be raped at sex parties.

    At the trial she described one occasion she was abused on the boat and how she believed some of the men there were police officers.

    Speaking to BBC Wales Investigates she said: “I believe [some of them] were policemen. I don’t believe they were working or on duty at the time because they would always be half dressed, they’d always have their shirts undone or their ties unclipped or their hats or jackets hanging up.

    “That’s how I knew they were police officers – apart from them bragging about it.”

    Joanne said in the late 1980s, the Griffiths took her to car parks in south Wales and elsewhere to meet other paedophiles.

    “They’d park up and there’d be others right there,” she said.

    “They used to take us – me certainly – and pass us round. They were not acting alone.”

    Another woman – who was a key prosecution witness at the couple’s trial – supports Joanne’s claim about police officers being present on the boat on one occasion.

    The witness, who does not want to be identified, said: “There were police on the boat. There were men in police uniforms, police coats, and fishermen because they had on big woolly jumpers that you associate with fishermen.”

    The witness said at the time in the late 1980s, she did not tell anyone what she had seen.

    “Who do you tell? You are supposed to trust the police.”

    Image caption Sally Ambridge, left, and Joanne Down who were both victims of Peter and Avril Griffiths

    The victims weren’t the only ones who thought the Griffiths should be investigated.

    The BBC has spoken to a former social services employee who said she raised concerns to social workers at Vale of Glamorgan Council in the late 1990s.

    Speaking anonymously, she said during a visit to the couple’s house, she became worried about the welfare of a young girl.


     

    “She looked about 14 or 15. She wasn’t one of their children,” she said.

    “Peter was out at the time and when Avril left the room the girl told me she was staying with them. She also told me the couple had been taking naked photographs of her.

    “Avril came back and said that her and Peter were fostering the girl, but I didn’t believe that because I knew Peter had a conviction for a sexual offence.”

    The woman said she reported her concerns to the council’s children’s services team.

    The BBC asked Vale of Glamorgan Council if it followed up and investigated these claims.


     

    The council said it was “impossible to identify any records relating to the case,” because it doesn’t have enough information about the girl.

    South Wales Police said officers searched social services records and found no allegations about the couple from the 1990s.

    Missed opportunities?

    Joanne said she also raised the alarm.

    In the late 1980s, soon after the rape on board the Griffiths’ boat, she told a social worker and was briefly taken into the care of the former South Glamorgan Council.

    She believes had action been taken then, other girls may have been saved from abuse.

    “I thought they’d be stopped, that I would get help. I thought they’d go and arrest Peter and Avril but nothing happened,” she said.

    In 2000, Joanne heard fresh allegations Peter Griffiths was abusing children. She told South Wales Police about her experiences, telling officers where they could find indecent photographs at the couple’s house and giving descriptions of other men who had been on the boat.

    “I told them the names of all the other girls who were in the album, one of whom was Sally Ambridge,” she said.

    Joanne said police told her they had approached the girls, but were told they didn’t want to cooperate.

    It was only 18 years later – after the trial – that she discovered police had not spoken to Sally.

    The key prosecution witness who was on the boat the night Joanne was raped said she also spoke to police in 2000, once she knew Joanne had made allegations about the Griffiths.

    “I spoke to a detective. He said he’d come and see me and go through everything. I never heard from him again,” she said.

    Image caption Sally Ambridge was targeted by the couple who sexually abused and raped her

    Eventually it was Sally who provided the breakthrough.

    When she came forward in 2015 to reveal what had happened to her, Det Sgt David Rich began putting together the case which led to the couple being brought to trial.

    He was already aware of the couple after moving to Barry in 2000 to work as a police constable.

    “When we used to go on nights you’d see a white van parked down the Knap [Gardens] but I never saw them, never spoke to them. It was only the rumours – why is there a white van parked down the Knap? It was Peter and Avril,” he said.

    “I think they [the police] believed that it was just wife-swapping with consensual adults. There was nothing to suggest that there was anything involving children.”

    Det Sgt Rich said he could not find any documents held by social services relating to Joanne’s complaints.

    South Wales Police said it had not been able to find evidence of a network of paedophiles linked to the couple.

    At his trial, Peter Griffiths said the couple made pornographic films. In one they filmed themselves and the witness from the trial having sex with a male friend of the Griffiths.

    Peter Griffiths said the same man had sex with Joanne at their house.

    Police have had the name of this man since the trial ended, but have not questioned Joanne or the key witness about him since the couple were jailed.

    The force said despite making inquiries, they have not located the man.

    When police reopened the case in 2015, all the evidence supplied by Joanne was found to be missing. The file had been lost in a flood and a copy destroyed.

    “Thankfully we’ve [now] brought in systems so this wouldn’t happen,” said Det Sgt Rich. “Unfortunately back in 2000 that system wasn’t in place. The way we deal with police information has now changed so documents won’t get destroyed.”

    Joanne and Sally have both complained to South Wales Police about the handling of the complaints made in 2000.

    The force said fighting child sexual abuse was a priority and it was investigating links between officers and the Griffiths.

    It also said it would look into claims regarding other paedophiles, if new evidence came to light.

    Image caption Former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal wants a serious case review into the handling of the case

    Mr Afzal, the former chief prosecutor in the cases involving grooming gangs in Rochdale, said there should be a serious case review into missed opportunities to stop the Griffiths, and the claim other paedophiles were involved.

    “If we believe these victims – and obviously a jury did – that they were abused by this couple, then why are you not believing them when they say there were other people involved in their abuse? What makes you think they are lying about one when they are telling the truth about another?” he said.

    “Whether it was a conspiracy or some kind of incompetence I don’t know but there ought to be a review of it… and when it takes place it needs to be warts and all.”

    South Wales Police said it expected the highest possible standards of its officers and staff and took any complaint or allegation relating to an individual’s conduct extremely seriously.

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