It was late 2017 when a 30-year-old male prisoner told Bedfordshire Police he’d reported a sex crime some 14 years previously. But, he said, it was never investigated at the time. Now, as part of a restorative justice programme, he had come forward once again. His alleged offender was a man called Carson Grimes, who was by then in his 60s.
I’d been a detective with the force since 2008 and was working in its Child Sexual Exploitation Team when this prisoner came forward and named his alleged attacker. When I typed Grimes’ name into our database, it brought up a string of results. I realised that over the years there had been several investigations into Grimes, a courier by trade, which for various reasons had faltered. In some cases the victims had not wanted to support the police enquiries. In others, there had been insufficient evidence to proceed. But it was clear that back in the early 1990s, the overriding issue was that the Crown Prosecution Service, and in some cases the police officers involved, was worried about the credibility of the victims.
These were troubled people with a long list of dishonesty offences between them, and who had the kind of back stories – addiction, prison time, mental health issues – that, it was feared, would prejudice a jury against them. They wouldn’t be believed.
We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about female rape and sexual assault survivors not being listened to, or the crimes against them not being prosecuted unless they fit the picture of the ‘perfect’ victim. But this isn’t only something that has affected female victims. The majority of Grimes’ victims were male. It was clear that class-based stereotypes and prejudice had also come into play and deprived these survivors of justice for many years.
This time it had to be different. Those who had made complaints about Grimes had unstable lives and I was worried about our prospects of bringing their attacker to court with their support. But I felt very strongly we had to try our hardest. Our quest to bring Grimes to justice is documented in Channel 4’s 24 Hours in Police Custody: The Horror House on Monday October 11, and reveals the struggle we faced.
It began when I sought consent to reopen the investigation and started revisiting people who had been named on previous crime reports about him. We discovered the offences had all occurred in Grimes’ house in Luton – dubbed the Horror House by one survivor; that they had involved children aged between five and 15; and that, unusually, Grimes’ modus operandi had been strikingly similar each time. He’d used drugs to incapacitate his young victims before, in most cases, raping them.
Carson Grimes is due to be sentenced on October 13
He picked his targets carefully, deliberately choosing those who wouldn’t be believed – a common tactic used by sex offenders. It was never children from supportive backgrounds he preyed on, but those with a lack of parental support at home, who may have been petty thieves involved in shoplifting or other crimes. Some would go to his house to sell him stolen goods. In exchange for a car stereo he might give them some class C drugs or invite them in for an alcoholic drink or some glue to sniff. This was part of the grooming cycle. The next time they turned up, he’d offer them cocaine or heroin. For children who didn’t have anyone else looking out for them, Grimes’ semi-detached home was appealing.
As the children’s criminality grew worse, they became increasingly vulnerable to his advances. He knew they were trapped, unable to go to the police, or back to the care homes from which some had absconded.
These children were being picked up by the police again and again for petty criminality, but no-one ever thought to ask why they kept offending. They were simply let out, and abused again.
We started building a case against Grimes but, even as we did so, I was nervous his victims’ backgrounds could still count against them this time. Some had addictions or a history of alcohol misuse, self-harm, depression or anxiety. Even though the jury would not be told of their previous convictions, they would be able to see what kind of characters they were. The survivors, if we could keep them on board through the process, would give evidence in tracksuits. By contrast, Grimes, an old man in a suit, would perhaps evoke more sympathy. Or so I feared.
But this is 2021. Although the headlines lately have been extremely critical of attitudes within the police, following the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer, the reality is more nuanced, and in fact great progress has been made. In the past five years, police and the CPS have begun to take an offender-centric approach. The default assumption is no longer that an “imperfect” victim is probably making it up. Instead, there’s an understanding that the victim may be “flawed” precisely because of the abuse he or she has suffered; that they returned again and again to their abuser because they had nowhere else to go. In my view, the idea that we don’t properly investigate rapes and sexual assaults is, I’m afraid, outdated.
Of course the CPS will always look at a victim’s credibility when it comes to an offence like this. It’s written into law that the prosecution must disclose any material that undermines their case or supports the defendant’s case. So sometimes the law isn’t just about guilt or innocence, but about what we can prove in court and what we’re allowed to show. These cases are often complex.
This was very much true when it came to Grimes. But the evidence against him was overwhelming. It was so strong, I had no doubts in my mind about what the survivors were saying.
When the case came to Luton Crown Court earlier this year, thankfully the jurors agreed, and in July, 65-year-old Grimes was convicted of 11 counts of rape, eight counts of an offence that used to be called buggery but has since been reclassified as rape, 11 counts of indecent assault and six counts of indecency with a child. He will be sentenced on October 13.
The sense of relief was immense. This was the biggest case I had worked on, and while you try not to get emotionally invested, you inevitably do. For the survivors, I believe that seeing their abuser finally face justice has given them some closure.
At the same time, prosecution of historic offences like these, though vitally important, can also mean the reopening of wounds. It can prompt a huge relapse in survivors’ mental health problems as they learn to deal with the trauma all over again.
But I hope others will know that if they do come forward, no matter who they are or how much time has passed, they will be believed by police. It’s upsetting watching police receive the kind of criticism we’ve seen in these past few weeks. No-one is more shocked and disgusted than us when a colleague turns out to be a sex offender, as was the case with Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens.
Our job is to keep people safe, and for almost every one of us, that’s what we spend our lives doing. We could always do with more resources to perform the job even better, but believe me – it isn’t a case of police dismissing survivors’ stories out of hand.
We’ve shown with the Carson Grimes case how we will do whatever it takes to bring offenders to justice. Even when the odds are stacked against us.
As told to Rosa Silverman
24 Hours in Police Custody: The Horror House is on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday October 11