'Shameful' police failings allowed serial rapist to continue attacks

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The Independent Online

Three senior Metropolitan Police officers are to face a disciplinary hearing after a report into their investigation of a serial sex attacker highlighted "shameful failings". Kirk Reid, 44, sexually assaulted at least 71 women – including two who were raped – in south London between 2001 and 2008.

But, despite being named as a suspect in 2004, he was not arrested until four years later. Yesterday, a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into the police investigation criticised senior officers in charge of the investigation and provided a worrying insight into the apparent lack of priority sexual offences were afforded by Scotland Yard. Two inspectors will face a disciplinary hearing for their role in the failure to apprehend Reid sooner, as will Detective Superintendent Sue Knight, who has been promoted since the time of her alleged failings in the Reid case. All three face dismissal. Two other officers, a chief superintendent and a detective sergeant, were given words of advice.

The report, however, praised junior officers, in particular a civilian analyst who worked on the case. She has been formally commended.

The report's findings come months after the force was criticised for its failings in the case of John Worboys, a taxi driver who raped and sexually assaulted more than 100 passengers. In that case the IPCC found that Worboys could and should have been stopped eight months earlier than he was.

Yesterday, Deborah Glass, the IPCC commissioner for London, said the investigation was "a shameful chapter in the history of the Metropolitan Police Service".

"When considered alongside the failings in the case of John Worboys, their overall effect on the confidence of the victims of sexual offences in the police response cannot be overstated," she said. "That is damaging not only for victims, but for the many dedicated officers who have worked hard to make a difference."

But as well as identifying individuals responsible for alleged failings, the report into the Reid investigation also highlighted the lack of priority sexual crimes were given within the Metropolitan Police.

The report shows that at one point, when the victims numbered more then 50 and the police needed simply to collect Reid's DNA, a detective constable was taken off the case and assigned to the robbery team instead. And it reveals that despite asking for five officers to work on the case, an inspector was told that only two officers would be made available.

Ms Glass said: "What we established was that this [the investigation of sexual offences] was not a priority. The priority was investigating volume crime: street crime, burglary and robbery. The officers we spoke to certainly claimed there was pressure for them to meet performance targets."

The report also details how senior officers in the case became obsessed with a "prime suspect" to the point that Reid, the real culprit, was practically ignored. The other man was arrested three times despite the fact that DNA analysis established that he could not be the suspect.

The IPCC's report also shows that, despite having practically solved the case for them, detectives supposedly specially trained in investigating sex crimes ignored the report of a female PC who had named Reid as a suspect.

After spotting the driver of a Volkswagen Golf tooting his horn at a lone female, the PC spoke to the driver – Kirk Reid – and took his car and address details. She then filed a report listing five indecent assaults which had taken place in his local vicinity and noted that Reid fitted the description of the suspect in each case.

She passed the information to the Wandsworth Sapphire team – the unit charged with investigating sexual crimes – and the following day submitted further information showing Reid had been charged, but ultimately acquitted, of an indecent assault in 1996. Reid was named as a suspect but was not spoken to.

Two years later, a civilian analyst worked out that of the 11 men named in crime reports as possible suspects, only three, including Kirk Reid, did not have their DNA on the national database. Two officers were asked to get a sample from Reid but one was quickly moved to a burglary team while the other went on a career break. The report found "the operation was effectively left with no one working on it".

Eventually, after an internal review, the case was passed to the Serious Crime Directorate in 2008. Reid was arrested within three days and last year was found guilty of 27 offences.

Last night the Met reiterated its apologies for failings in the Reid case. But Ruth Hall, of Women Against Rape, said: "The police make it appear that rape and sexual offences are a priority, but in fact they are not and never have been.

"Every time there is a scandal they say: 'That was in the past and we have changed.' But a year down the line something like this happens and that is undermined," she added.

The met: missed opportunities

*John Worboys

The black cab driver Worboys sexually assaulted more than 100 passengers by telling them he had won the lottery and then plying them with sedative-laced champagne. One of his victims went to the Metropolitan Police eight months before he was eventually caught, but she was laughed at by police officers who released Worboys without searching his home or vehicle.



*Southwark Sapphire Unit

An internal inquiry last year found that the unit was severely understaffed. One police constable was left alone to deal with 33 sex offence cases at once. Such cases are supposed to be dealt with by detective constables. The department should have had four, but had none. By comparison, the motor vehicle crime unit had two, leading to claims by the Sapphire team that car crime was being given a higher priority than rape.