Hundreds of cases of rape reported to the police were struck from the tally of sex offences last year because police classified them as "no-crimes".
Nearly 12 per cent of recorded rapes in 2010/11 were reclassified to suggest that no offence had been committed – raising concerns that some had been wrongly removed from crime figures.
Some of the 2,131 cases were reclassified after police found that the "victim" reported a rape for malicious reasons or withdrew the complaint. But watchdogs said they believed that the number of rapes "no-crimed" was a problem that could result in offenders remaining free to commit further offences.
It said it will investigate further after rapes were found to be "no-crimed" four times more often than cases of grievous bodily harm, according to the report by the police and prosecution inspectorates released today.
The report said that pressure on police through performance targets were likely to have been "an encouragement" to keep recorded crimes down before a change of emphasis announced by the Government last year.
However, inspectors still found offences were incorrectly put on the "no-crime" list. In a small study of crime statistics for all forces, it found that 11 per cent of crimes examined – including rape – had been wrongly labelled as "no-crime", suggesting that scores of cases of rape could have been wrongly downgraded. It found that in one unnamed force, only four in 10 decisions to downgrade a rape to "no-crime" were correct in 2011.
Inspectors also found wide variations across forces across England and Wales with Kent listing 30 per cent of recorded rapes as "no-crimes", compared to 2.4 per cent in Gloucestershire in 2010/11. Kent Assistant Chief Constable Andy Adams said: "We, unlike all other forces, record all incidents the moment they are reported to us. Some of these will then be no-crimed if the report is proven to be untrue."
Victims' groups said the figures were troubling since rape is under-reported and there was considerable political debate over the level of successful prosecutions. The report said the number of solved rape cases has increased over the last five years to 24 per cent – still 4 per cent below the national average for other crimes.
Professor Liz Kelly, co-chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: "It is deeply troubling that the rate of 'no-criming' reported cases is four times higher than for other similar violent offences. Forces need to revolutionise their approach to rape, starting with the principle of believing the complainant and supporting them through the process."
15,934: The number of rape offences against men and women in 2010/11.
2,131: The number of rape cases "no-crimed" in 2010/11
26: The percentage rise in recorded rapes over the last three years.
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