The number of forensic examinations carried out on victims of rape and serious sexual assault in London has plummeted despite a dramatic rise in attacks being reported to police.
On Friday, The Independent revealed details of a damming NHS investigation that found Mid Staffordshire-style failings at one of three specialist centres – known as “havens” – where all suspected rape victims are treated.
It is understood that the temporary closure of the Whitechapel Haven following findings of “multiple deficiencies” in its practices has contributed to the falling rate of forensic examinations of sexual assault victims in London.
Data collected by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for this newspaper shows that the number of forensic examinations carried out at the three London havens has fallen by more than a third – or 700 cases – since a peak in 2005-6. The decrease is particularly remarkable given that rape allegations made to police have risen dramatically in the past five years. The Shadow Attorney-General, Emily Thornberry, said the figures would heighten fears that sex crimes were still not being properly investigated. “A black hole has opened up in the criminal justice system into which more and more cases are disappearing,” she said.
Between 2008-9 and 2012-13, numbers of rape allegations in London rose by more than a third. Over the same period, forensic examinations – most of which are performed on rape victims – fell by 28 per cent, or 494 cases.
The bureau’s investigation showed that the problems at Whitechapel exacerbated the long-term decline in haven attendance. It found that 370 fewer people attended one of the three havens in the year to April than in the year before – a 19 per cent decrease.
The service offered by the havens is widely accepted to significantly help criminal investigations.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said that while there had been an overall drop in referrals in recent years, there had been a rise of 4 per cent in the number of police referrals made to havens in the financial year to the end of November than in the same period the year before (800 to 834). “We recognise there is work to be done in this area and are therefore working closely with the havens to further increase the number of referrals,” she added.
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