West Pilbara operation lead officer leaves
Police have assured the community the major police investigation into child sexual abuse in the West Pilbara will continue unaltered despite the departure of its lead investigating officer.
Detective Sergeant Gina Horch has been heading up Operation Fledermaus since its inception in late 2016, but last month she transferred to Perth.
Det-Sgt Horch was a lead figure in the operation’s beginnings due to her ability to build rapport with community members and victims in the West Pilbara after she joined the local detectives’ office in late 2015, and in December she was recognised as the State’s most outstanding individual police officer, largely for her work on the investigation.
However, Pilbara District Police Superintendent Paul Coombes said the operation was a team effort, with JUmultiple officers who had built trust and rapport with victims and their families.
“The operation continues in its current format, and its continues to develop,” he said.
“It’s a team-based operation through the police and CPFS (Child Protection and Family Support) working together in extremely difficult circumstances, but the welfare and the care of the children involved remain our priority and that’s our focus.”
Supt Coombes said the station had last week recruited a “very capable” new lead investigating officer for the operation and in coming weeks would also be co-locating Department of Communities — Child Protection and Family Support staff, who were part of Operation Fledermaus, with detectives at the Pilbara District Police building.
“Both investigators and CPFS staff who are involved, their work is intrinsically linked and they can operate much more efficiently together,” he said.
“(The co-location) will have great benefits for the investigation side of things but also for the care and welfare of the victims.”
Police have charged 44 people with more than 350 offences against dozens of children since the operation began.
It is believed to be the most arrests from an abuse investigation in regional WA, and has prompted the creation of a special prosecution division within the Director of Public Prosecutions to deal with the complex cases.
Det-Sgt Horch has taken up a new position with the WA Police Child Abuse Squad in Perth.
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