Following the conviction of the serial sex attacker Kirk Reid, Commander Mark Simmons, who was in charge of rape investigation at the Met at the time, said there was “no explanation” for what the trial judge described as “years of inadequate [police] work”. Well I believe there are possible explanations.
This was not the first case and possibly not the last where senior detectives, over-confident in their own ability and experience, appear to have decided upon a “prime suspect” who turns out not to be “their man”. Typically, evidence that supports the detectives’ “hunch” is highlighted and any evidence to the contrary is ignored or played down. In this case, despite the fact that the DNA of the “prime suspect” did not match the samples found on a number of victims, he continued to be pursued to the exclusion of the real perpetrator – Reid.
The cultural divide between detectives and their uniformed colleagues, and between police officers and civilian support staff, can mean that seasoned detective do not pay sufficient regard to what they are told by colleagues they regard as “lesser”. A woman patrol officer in this case flagged-up Reid as a suspect to the detectives. She set-out the linked-cases, how he fitted the description and lived close to the crime scenes, and that he had previously been acquitted of indecent assault. She appears to have been ignored. A civilian crime analyst subsequently suggested that DNA should be taken from Reid and two other suspects. It wasn’t the case passed to another unit.
Senior officers at that time faced a dilemma. The then Government’s priority was to “narrow the justice gap” between offences committed and convictions. Home Office performance indicators made no distinction between trivial cases, such as a formal warning on the street for possession of cannabis (about an hour’s work) and a conviction for a serious offence such as rape. Rape investigations tend to be long and complex, involving hundreds of officer hours and with conviction rates around 7% (against 35% for all crime) if all you wanted was to keep your boss and the Home Office happy, it made sense to put resources into easier cases.
Finally, the borough Sapphire unit eventually asked if the Specialist Crime Directorate at Scotland Yard could take over the case. At the time, two departments at the Yard, ‘the boroughs’ and Specialist Crime, were fighting over who should have rape investigation, and the prestige and resources that went with it. If the borough had handed over the case, it would have weakened its department’s grasp on rape investigation. The request was refused. When, following an independent review, SCD did finally take over, Reid was arrested within days.