Unfinished: Shoebury’s Lost Boys is a podcast series recounting a six-year investigation into a child abuse cover-up. It exposed serious failures by multiple authorities over three decades, which destroyed hundreds of lives. It was released in July and August 2020.
In 2015, a retired Essex NHS manager asked me to investigate the alleged cover-up of a paedophile ring in 1989/90. His department (psychology) had treated some of the victims, who he felt were failed by the authorities.
Over the following years, I interviewed as many people involved in the case as possible, tracking down youth workers, charity managers, health professionals, social workers, victims and their families. They allowed me to read hundreds of pages of correspondence, minutes, memos, reports and notes from the original case, which had never been made public.
Their evidence revealed extensive failures and misconduct by police and social services. Police failed to properly investigate; the child victims were smeared as prostitutes; the two ringleaders got an extremely generous plea deal; the other perpetrators were never pursued; whistle-blowing professionals were threatened, bullied and blacklisted; and Essex Council refused to provide aftercare to the victims, many of whom subsequently succumbed to suicides, overdoses, long prison sentences, homelessness and mental illness.
I eventually uncovered paperwork revealing one of the ringleaders had been a registered police informant. His lenient treatment had freed him to relocate and abuse many more children in another community.
My findings provoked several new police investigations, but Unfinished exposed serious failures in those too. The final episode reported on a leaked report by Essex Police’s internal affairs squad. It revealed the latest investigation had been thwarted by officers who had simply ignored numerous viable leads.
I wrote and presented the nine-episode series. It was edited by Tom Bristow. I have submitted a collection of excerpts.
My reporting forced Essex Police to ‘review’ its handling of the 1989/90 case, resulting in coverage by BBC, ITV, MailOnline and the Guardian. New victims came forward, sparking a fresh police investigation. Police said my stories emboldened victims in unrelated cases to come forward too.
My discovery of the police informant and the horrific consequences of his lenient treatment sparked a campaign for new rules governing the use of abusers as informants. Sam Stein QC, from Michael Mansfield’s chambers, lobbied IICSA to investigate. The campaign was shortlisted for the 2020 Paul Foot Award.
Police have twice closed the modern investigation. Both times, my work has helped reopen it again. After working with a victim and his lawyer to expose failings in the latest investigation, three police officers were disciplined. That was covered by Private Eye.
In November 2020, Unfinished passed 100,000 downloads and entered Apple Podcasts’ True Crime top ten. It was chosen as one of PressGazette’s top journalism podcasts of 2020; as a Mail on Sunday podcast of the week; and shortlisted at the 2020 British Journalism Awards. The podcast reached an audience that years of regional newspaper reporting never did. New sources have come forward after hearing it.