Child abuse investigation dropped after hotel lost CCTV
Matthew Smith, local democracy reporter
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The failure of a Stevenage hotel to provide CCTV resulted in an investigation into the potential abuse of a 13-year-old being dropped, according to police.
The Ibis hotel, in the Forum, is facing a review of its premises licence after they failed to assist officers with their inquiries following an incident in June 2021.
Herts police and Stevenage Borough Council’s licensing department have claimed they found a number of breaches of the hotel’s licence after a follow-up visit to the venue.
The district council will decide next week whether to review or amend the hotel’s premises licence – which allows the hotel to sell alcohol and provide the performance of live music and dance, or similar activities.
In the application for review, the police state in June a 13-year-old was able to book a room for two days at the hotel, where it is believed she associated with older males and females, and was so drunk on one occasion she had to be carried to her room.
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The police’s representation continues that “numerous” requests were made for CCTV to establish whether any offences had taken place, but these were not met before they received confirmation the footage was unobtainable.
The application for review states that the procedure for viewing or obtaining CCTV footage – which relies on a single member of staff off-site – is an obstacle to the efficient investigation of crime.
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Officers began investigating the incident after a social worker raised concerns about the welfare of the 13-year-old, before she was found at the Ibis with no recollection of a potential offence due to her level of intoxication.
The hotel’s manager said the teenager was seen with a male described as approximately 18 years old when she checked in, and was seen with another male around the same age during her stay. However, the investigation into any potential offences was discontinued after the police were unable to view any footage of the hotel on the night in question.
One police officer’s statement submitted to the council said just one member of off-site staff could access the footage and due to problems accessing the footage, material from the day of the potential offence was lost, leading the case to be discontinued.
Officers from Herts police’s Halo team, which investigates child sexual exploitation, first attempted to access the data at the end of June, before trying to visit the hotel in person and four follow-up emails in July.
In a statement submitted to the council, one of the officers said the CCTV footage “is potentially key evidence and possibly the only evidence we have.”
On August 4, officers from the council, police and fire service visited the hotel unannounced to inspect the premises. The hotel’s manager was unable to attend, and during the visit there was no evidence of an incident book or alcohol refusals book, which is also required by licensing conditions.
Two days later officers were informed it would be impossible to download the footage as it had been overwritten, leaving the investigation without the necessary evidence to continue.
According to the CCTV operative, due to cost pressures, footage is now only kept for 17 days rather than the 28 days stipulated on the licence and meant the potential evidence would have been lost by early July.
Alexander Lisowksi, a licensing officer for Stevenage Borough Council, said the police’s review has the “full support” of the council. He added a log of police incidents reported at the hotel in 2021 – including a rape allegation and several assaults – shows “a clear need” for police to have access to CCTV footage in a timely manner.
Mr Lisowski’s statement proposed a number of amendments to the hotel’s premises licence, saying that he did not believe the issues could be resolved informally. He also requested the licence be suspended for two months whilst the amendments are implemented.
The new conditions proposed include specifying more areas for CCTV to cover, specifying that CCTV footage should be held for 31 days and that footage should be produced within 48 hours of a request from the police or licensing officers.
Mr Lisowski added that the suspension should not be lifted until the local Police and Council officers are satisfied the amendments have been correctly implemented, which could be sooner than two months if all parties agree.
Councillors will decide whether to amend the hotel’s premises licence at a meeting of the district council’s Licensing Committee on Tuesday, October 19.
Any changes to the premises licence would not prevent the Ibis operating as a hotel, but it could affect licensable activities including serving of alcohol, or the performance of live music or dance.
Fairview Hotels Ltd, who operate the hotel, did not respond to a request for comment.