Police forces are to face regular assessments of how well they investigate rape cases, following a series of high-profile failures. Government inspectors will examine how closely police and prosecutors follow official advice when dealing with alleged rapes.
Under new measures announced yesterday by the Home Office minister Vernon Coaker, women who claim to have been raped should be interviewed by a specialist police officer within one hour of reporting the incident.
The move follows anger about the handling of inquiries into the serial sex attackers Kirk Reid and John Worboys. After a series of blunders by the Metropolitan Police, both men were able to continue attacking women despite being identified as suspects.
Campaigners also say rape victims face a "postcode lottery" over whether their attackers are brought to justice; some police forces are five times more likely to secure convictions than others. In June, the National Police Improvement Agency will publish new guidelines on how the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should investigate and prosecute alleged rapists. The Government estimates up to 95 per cent of such sexual assaults are never reported and only 6.5 per cent result in a guilty plea or verdict.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) will review English and Welsh police forces and the CPS every three months to see if they are following the rules and how many rape convictions they have secured.
In 2007, an HMIC investigation found that many rape victims faced insensitive questions or were simply not believed by investigating officers.
Mr Coaker promised £1.8m of extra funding for sexual assault referral centres. He said: "It is essential that every victim has immediate access to the services and support they need to come forward and report these crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice."
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the Reid and Worboys cases had highlighted problems with how police dealt with rape. Worboys attacked up to 500 women in his 13 years as a London taxi driver and was convicted last month, but lapses in the investigation meant he slipped the net twice.
Kirk Reid, an amateur referee, was not apprehended until four years after he was first suspected of a string of sex attacks in south-west London. The 44-year-old was found guilty of stalking and attacking 25 women over 12 years.