The former head of Operation Yewtree has admitted police “got some things wrong” during its investigation into child sexual abuse in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Peter Spindler, a retired Metropolitan Police commander, said some detectives who worked with the probe “didn’t have the skills and knowledge” needed and the inquiry was not set up quickly enough.
Mr Spindler was speaking at the NSPCC’s headquarters in London during a debate on whether non-recent sexual abuse investigations had descended into “media witch-hunts”.
He said: “Yewtree is now a global brand. It’s embedded itself in the national psyche. It has empowered victims to come forward in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously.
“There have been many challenges along the way. We have learnt a lot in this type of investigation. We have got some things wrong.
“One of the things we didn’t get right was we completely underestimated what was going to happen.
“We didn’t have sufficient resources in place. We didn’t have the knowledge and the skills amongst our more general detectives.
“We have been investigating non-recent abuse for years ... this was something different. We needed to create a major inquiry team. We didn’t get it set it up early enough.
“We completely underestimated the swing in the public mood at the time and the coverage this was going to get. I have no doubt we got the coverage because it involved celebrities and it involved the BBC.”
Mr Spindler said the media had a “ferocious appetite” but insisted the Metropolitan Police did not release the names of suspects before they were charged.
He said 30,000 victims who had yet to report abuse were expected to come forward to the Goddard inquiry, the independent investigation into child sexual abuse.
Operation Hydrant, set up by the National Police Chiefs’ Council to investigate child sexual abuse allegations, had the names of more than 2,000 suspects and 670 institutions where abuse was said to have happened, he said.
“These people can’t all be making it up, they haven’t all got it wrong,” Mr Spindler said.
Around 70 complaints were being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in which victims said they were not taken seriously or crimes were covered up, he added.
Operation Yewtree was launched in October 2012 to investigate alleged abuse by Leeds-based Savile and others.
Mr Spindler said he believed a joke in the film The Inbetweeners 2, in which teenage character Neil says, “That’s well Jimmy Savile”, was evidence that young people understood what constituted sexual abuse.
“That really made me think that kids have got this,” he said.
“I’d like to think it’s far less likely that the type of offending we’ve seen in Yewtree, and some of these other cases, is likely to happen today. Because of social media, people would be exposed that much earlier and that much quicker.”
Mr Spindler said he had concerns about young people’s understanding of a “healthy sexual relationship”.
“The images that teenage boys view on their phones and handheld devices are miles away from the sorts of things we would have chuckled over as young boys,” he said.
“Girls do not understand what is an appropriate relationship because of what they’re subjected to.”