Metropolitan Police to combine rape and abuse units to tackle grooming gangs

 

The controversial rape investigation team at Scotland Yard is facing a major reorganisation and may change its name after a string of controversies.

The Sapphire rape command is being merged with the child abuse unit and will gain an extra 100 officers as part of a wider overhaul sparked by concerns at the extent of grooming gangs.

High-profile investigations such as Operation Yewtree, the inquiry that followed abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile, will come under the new command. Senior officers said that the Yewtree inquiry was likely to mark a sea change in the way that child sex crimes were dealt with and investigated.

The changes follow a troubled history for the Sapphire teams that has seen nine police watchdog inquiries resulting in 19 officers being disciplined, three sacked and one jailed for falsifying reports and failing to properly investigate cases.

Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Duthie, the current head of Sapphire, said: “We’ve certainly had our ups and downs and unfortunately it seems that the downs get reported.

“We’ve spoken to our partners about whether we will change the Sapphire name and some are saying get rid of it, some are saying a lot of people know what Sapphire does and if you lose that you will lose some victims’ ability to contact police.”

The reorganisation comes just four years after the last major restructuring following high-profile scandals including the case of Kirk Reid, who was able to operate as a serial sex offender for years in London because of the “shameful” failure to stop him.

Scotland Yard had failed to hold gross misconduct proceedings against three officers involved in the case of Reid. In fact two of them had been promoted.

In its last report in February this year, the watchdog found that detectives in one south London borough pressured victims to drop charges to boost their performance figures.

A spokesman for the Barnado’s charity said it had “long campaigned for police and other agencies to commit to tackling child sexual exploitation and we welcome the announcement of extra police resources to this horrific crime”.

But Green London Assembly member Jenny Jones said: “I am concerned that the decision to shake up the focus of Sapphire to include child abuse could result in the unit mixing too many crimes and losing focus on each one.”