Investigating sex crimes as important as counter-terrorism, says police chief

According to a review of rape investigations in London the current system risks being 'overwhelmed' by dramatic increases in reporting of rape offences

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The Independent Online

Investigating rape and other serious sex offences will be given the same priority as counter-terrorism or cyber-crime, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has promised.

Hundreds more officers would be recruited to cope with the dramatic rise in numbers of offences being reported to Scotland Yard, Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said after a major independent review highlighted the “overwhelming burden” on current staff.

According to a review of rape investigations in London the current system risks being “overwhelmed” by dramatic increases in reporting of rape offences. The 161-page review found a 68 per cent rise in offences recorded from 2005/6 to 2013/14. However, the figures show that offences actually charged during the same period only increased by 17 per cent.

The review, by Dame Elish Angiolini, Scotland’s former Advocate General, warns that police and prosecutors need “to undertake radical change” in the way they handle complaints.

Sir Bernard admitted the Yard had to give sex assaults a higher priority, together with counter-terrorism and cyber-crime. The Met would need to recruit “a few more hundred” officers, he added. “It’s clear we need to do something – we cannot ignore this. It’s vital we invest in this area more than we have before.

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“We will look to Government to see if there is anything they can do to support us. But either way, we have got to get better in terms of sexual offence investigations and in terms of reporting.”

Dame Angiolini’s report called for better training of ‘first responder’ officers at ‘make or break’ meetings where rape allegations are first disclosed. Some officers were excellent, it says, but others “did not know what to say or do, largely due to a lack of appropriate training”. It calls for closer working between police and the Crown Prosecution Service at the outset of investigations to improve quality and efficiency.

Too many cases not charged are categorised “for no further action” by a detective inspector without legal advice being sought, the report warns.

Greater courtroom use should be made of psychological and physiological evidence of rape trauma to help counteract “misleading stereotypes amongst jurors about how rape victims behave”, it notes.

Other findings include the need for greater awareness that gay and transgender people can also be rape victims, and the enshrining in law that it is a crime to have sex with anybody too drunk to consent. Current laws in England and Wales do not provide a definition of whether an alleged victim is “incapable”.