TWO detectives have been awarded for their work in gaining the trust of victims of Neyland paedophile John Smith, and maintaining their confidence to give evidence at trial during a particularly challenging case.

Detective Constable Lisa Roberts and Detective Sergeant Steve Merrix, based at Pembroke Dock Police Station, were awarded the Contribution to Investigation accolade at the Dyfed-Powys Police annual awards on Friday evening, May 10.

The pair were nominated for their tireless work in bringing Smith, once known as Mathew Griffiths, to justice for 28 child sexual abuse offences against four victims, despite facing geographical challenges and the pressure of accessing victims’ digital devices.

Smith, then aged 47, of High Street, was jailed last year for 28 years.

Steve Merrix said: “It is a bit of a shock to win, but a nice surprise. This investigation was a really difficult one, but it was a privilege to be able to do our jobs well, and bring a conclusion to the victims for everything they had suffered.

“The investigation on Lisa’s part in supporting the victims over four-and-a-half years, was outstanding – she went above and beyond to ensure they had all the support they needed during the whole judicial process.

“It was personally very hard and stressful, especially when some of the victims were understandably wishing to withdraw. The whole disclosure process was difficult for both them and for Lisa.”

Nominating them, Detective Inspector Cameron Ritchie spoke of “significant challenges” that the pair faced and overcame in order to get a successful prosecution.

One was in two victims coming forward with allegations against the suspect after he had already been charged with 17 offences [after seeing his name and the nature of the offences in the Western Telegraph].

This meant there were strict time limits in which enquiries relating to the further allegations could be carried out.

Despite the time pressure and the demands of a busy CID office, DC Roberts did all she could to ensure all relevant evidence was captured swiftly, that the victims were supported, and getting justice for all four.

The suspect denied all allegations, but was charged with a total of 28 offences. However, considerable scrutiny around disclosure of communications up to and during the trial posed further difficulties for the investigation team.

“Post-charge, the prosecution threw up significant challenges around disclosure, particularly in relation to digital and social media communications,” DI Ritchie said. “There was intense scrutiny, which significantly challenged Lisa and Steve, and which at one stage had the effect of victims threatening to pull out of the trial process.

“However, both Steve and Lisa used their knowledge of the disclosure process and police powers in what was a rapidly changing landscape, to address the demands and ensure the trial could commence.

“Lisa dedicated considerable time and effort – often in her own time – to maintain the confidence of the victims to remain engaged with the process. She built a very good rapport with the victims, particularly in relation to disclosure and access to their communications, meaning they had the confidence to come to court to stand in the box and give their evidence.

“Without this, the trial might never have been able to take place.”

The defendant was found guilty of all 28 counts and was sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison. DI Ritchie raised the commitment and application of knowledge by DC Roberts and DS Merrix, without which the defendant may have escaped justice.

“There was a sense of immense satisfaction, and it was extremely rewarding to get the outcome of a significant sentence so the victims had a sense of justice,” he said. “The professionalism they both showed throughout the investigation was second to none.

“I’d also like to pay tribute to those victims for the strength and the dignity they showed in giving their evidence, particularly given the traumatic incidents they had been through.”

Dyfed-Powys Police takes all allegations of child sexual abuse seriously, no matter how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred. To report a non-recent crime, call 101.

Other local award winners were; Police Staff of the Year runner-up: Licensing officer Nigel Lewis, Pembrokeshire; Student of the Year runner-up: PC Emma Robertson, Milford Haven; Diversity in Action: Milford Haven Neighbourhood Policing Team - helped make Milford Haven the first Autism friendly community in Wales; Police and Crime Commissioner Partnership Award runner-up: VC Gallery, Haverfordwest; Protecting the Most Vulnerable runner-up: DC Angela Templeton, Pembroke Dock.