Rape conviction rate has dropped to just one in 13, inquiry reveals

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A damning official report has found that the rate of successful prosecutions in rape trials has crumbled from one in three cases to one in 13 in the space of a generation.

A top-level inquiry into failing rape prosecutions by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Keith Povey, has revealed alarming failings by both police investigators and crown prosecutors.

Senior officers from forces across England and Wales have been called to a crisis summit at the police service's National Crime Faculty at Bramshill, Hampshire, to discuss the highly critical findings in the report, which will be published by the Home Office this month.

The report, written in conjunction with Her Majesty's chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, Stephen Wooler, calls for a team of specialist rape prosecutors to be set up by the CPS.

It reveals that the conviction rate after trial in rape cases has fallen from one-third of cases (33 per cent) in 1977 to one in 13 cases (7.5 per cent) in 1999.

One senior police source described the report's findings on failing convictions as "horrifying". He said: "This could be seen as very damaging to the police. I just hope we will be able to move forward from here."

Recorded rape offences against women in England and Wales rose by 1.5 per cent to 7,929 in the year to March 2001. Rapes against men rose by 11 per cent to 664.

Police sources admit that "there is little deterring the rapist". It is estimated that only one in 10 victims report crimes to the police, and only 25 per cent of allegations lead to criminal charges. The odds of a rapist being brought to court are around 1 in a 100 and those of conviction 1 in 1,300.

In the Metropolitan Police area in 2000, there were 2,270 reported cases of rape including some against men. Only 270 alleged perpetrators were brought to court and only 180 were convicted and sentenced.

The CPS has introduced a number of measures to try and improve the conviction rate, including coaching its lawyers in cross-examination and investigation techniques used in successful prosecutions. Lawyers have also been offered courses in which they are told about the lasting effects on victims, so they have a greater sympathy with clients.

There remain fears that some prosecution lawyers at rape trials fail to appreciate the extent of the trauma suffered by their clients. Others make no effort to prevent their client's previous sexual history being revealed as evidence in court.

Police forces are also failing to provide victims with changes of clothing or use mouth swabs and urine kits to obtain evidence early in an investigation in order to minimise the stress suffered by the victim.

The findings of the inspection report come amid growing concerns over levels of gang rape, particularly involving groups of young teenage boys attacking girls of a similar age.