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13 May 2014, 18:31 | Updated: 13 May 2014, 18:38
Police have closed an investigation into sexual offences at a nursery in Droitwich.
In May 2013, a mother contacted police after her child disclosed they had been assaulted by someone while at one of the three branches of Bright Eyes Nurseries, which are in Bromsgrove, Redditch and Droitwich.
An investigation was launched, six men arrested and six properties searched, including the three nurseries. In July, a complaint was received that another child had been incited to engage in sexual activity.
Five of the men were released without charge while one man remained on bail pending a charging decision.
But today police confirmed there will be no further action taken against this man and last week he was released without charge for these offences.
But, he has been charged with possession of a Class B drug after four immature cannabis plants were found at the Droitwich branch of Bright Eyes when police first executed warrants at the nurseries in May 2013.
This makes him the second man to be charged with cannabis possession as part of the investigation: Ryan Lowe, aged 37, who worked at Bright Eyes, was prosecuted and fined £200 last year after officers discovered a small cultivation of cannabis plants at his home address.
One of the other men who was initially arrested was then subsequently arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and harassment of a member of staff. he has also now been released without charge after the complaints against him were withdrawn.
Sarah Hammond, Head of the West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service’s Public Protection Unit said: “Following allegations of child abuse being committed at the Bright Eyes Nursery last year, West Mercia Police launched a detailed investigation into the claims.
“A file was forwarded to my unit, which houses lawyers who are specially trained, and who have the knowledge and experience of handling such delicate and sensitive cases involving allegations of child abuse.
“As with all files which we handle, we applied the following two tests, which are referred to within the Code for Crown Prosecutors, the Full Code Test and the Threshold Test. The Full Code Test has two stages which are the Evidential Stage and the Public Interest Stage, both of which need to be met for a prosecution to proceed.
“Having reviewed all of the available evidence, which included statements from all parties concerned, we decided that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and therefore I made a decision not to proceed with a prosecution.
“We subsequently wrote to the victims' families and provided a full explanation with regards to my decision, which also included an offer to meet them so that we could discuss this matter with them and answer any questions which they may have had.”
Detective Chief Inspector Damian Barratt, who led the police investigation, said: “Now the investigation is completed, we can reveal that the offences are thought to have happened at the Droitwich Nursery site within the Forest School setting.
“We still believe the sexual assaults took place but the investigation was extremely challenging due to the ages of the young children as both victims and witnesses.
“From the outset, our investigation team has worked closely with Children Services at Worcestershire County Council, Ofsted and the Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Board to ensure the ongoing safety and protection of all children who have been affected.”
DCI Barratt highlighted that while no sexual offences prosecutions will result from his team’s work, they did identify a number of poor practices across the nursery sites, which have since closed.
He added: “We were concerned about the way data was being controlled, managed and stored; a clear lack of control within the nursery setting, specifically at Droitwich, of unauthorised people having access to the childcare environment; and even cannabis being found on site.
“One man has been charged with cannabis offences while another employee was prosecuted last year when cannabis plants were found growing at his home address.
“This has resulted in all three nurseries being closed: the directors of Bright Eyes have withdrawn their registration with Ofsted and will no longer provide any early years provision for children.
“Issues regarding the standard of care offered to children have been shared with Ofsted and the Information Commissioner's office throughout the investigation. The complete findings, across a range of safeguarding issues, are being shared with the Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Board, who will be conducting a review to deal with the wider implications.
“We have informed all the parents and carers whose children used to attend Bright Eyes of this development and are making ourselves available to deal with any further concerns they may have.”