A SENIOR police officer has apologised to victims of child abuse after detectives were convicted of mishandling investigations into their cases.

Det Con Sharon Patterson, 49, and former Det Con Lee Pollard, 47, both of Littlefield Road, Colchester, faced charges regarding alleged failings in relation to investigations they were responsible for whilst working in the North Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT) between 2011 and 2014.

During the trial, jurors were told both officers had falsified documents and Pollard had also destroyed evidence.

Patterson was found guilty of one count of misconduct in public office. She was found not guilty of a further charge of misconduct and a third count was ordered to lie on file.

Pollard was found guilty of two counts of misconduct in public office and a third charge was ordered to lie on file.

The pair were released on bail and will return to the court on Friday May 3 for sentence.

The trial forms part of an investigation overseen by the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) which began in February 2015, called Operation Maple.

In 2013 an internal review of workloads and case progress identified issues with the effectiveness of a number of investigations into allegations of child abuse carried out by some officers in the North Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT).

As this review progressed, cases investigated between 2011 and 2014 were scrutinised.

As a result of the findings Essex Police referred itself to the IOPC. The investigation was conducted by Norfolk and Suffolk Police’s joint Professional Standards Department under the direction and control of the IOPC and looked at failings in recent and non-recent child abuse investigations. In total the IOPC investigation looked at 55 cases.

As soon as Essex Police identified these issues an immediate action plan was put into place.

They are now rated as ‘good’ at investigating crime and keeping vulnerable people safe.

Following today’s verdict Essex Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet apologised to victims and their families but said the force were now "confident but not complacent" things had improved.

He said;“Nothing is more important than protecting children.

“Today’s trial has highlighted that between 2011 and 2014 we let a number of victims and their families down.

"Those victims had suffered child abuse, one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.

“At the conclusion of these court proceedings, on behalf of the force, I would like to reiterate our apologies to those affected – we are sorry.

“As soon as we identified concerns we acted swiftly to ensure affected investigations were promptly reviewed and, where possible, perpetrators brought to justice.

“We referred ourselves to the IPCC (now the IOPC), supported those investigations fully, ensuring that where wrongdoing was found, swift and appropriate action was taken.

“My commitment to those affected, and the wider public, is that since this came to light, Essex Police has improved greatly in the way we investigate these complex crimes.

“We are not complacent and we will continue to review how we are doing and strive to improve for victims and their families.

“We will continue to invest in the training and support for our officers and staff the overwhelming majority of whom do a fantastic and difficult job with skill, determination and compassion and bring the very worst and most dangerous offenders in our community to justice.”

As a result of Operation Maple 30 officers were subject to investigation and of those: eight were subject to management action and seven officers were found to have no case to answer.

Five officers attended a formal misconduct meeting and of those, three were found to be proven and two were not proven. Five officers retired or resigned when the investigation began.

Five officers were found to have a case to answer for gross misconduct of those two left the force prior to action being taken, one officer was dismissed and two were found to have criminal cases to answer.

Following the conclusion of the trial, Det Con Patterson will be subject to consideration for internal Gross Misconduct proceedings.