Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, was dragged yesterday into the row over a musician who killed herself after being subjected to tough cross-examination in a sex abuse case, by suggesting that some rapists could be given cautions if their victims were unwilling to give evidence in court.
The minister made the suggestion in the House of Commons just days before it emerged that a professional violinist and mother of four, Frances Andrade, who last month gave evidence against her music teacher Michael Brewer, had killed herself at her home in Surrey six days after testifying.
The Crown Prosecution Service defended itself yesterday over the handling the case. Although Brewer was found guilty on Friday of five counts of indecent assault against his former pupil, Mrs Andrade had told a friend the cross-examination was like being "raped all over again". Mr Grayling's comments, which he stood by yesterday, will fuel the debate sparked by Mrs Andrade's death over rape and abuse victims giving evidence in court.
Last Tuesday, Mr Grayling told the Commons that giving a caution for rapists where victims refused to give evidence was one way to ensure they received a criminal record.
In response to the Labour MP Karl Turner, who asked why the number of cautions was increasing, the minister said: "We would all view a caution for rape as completely unacceptable, but in some cases where the victim is absolutely unwilling to give evidence, it may be the only way to get something on the record about an offender. We must be careful about this issue and try to get it right."
Campaigning for the Eastleigh by-election yesterday, Mr Grayling told The Independent on Sunday he was "shocked" by the "horrible, disgusting case", but added: "What I said in the House was that I was concerned about the use of cautions for serious offences. One of the earliest bits of work I'm carrying out in the department is a full review of that, and I'm meeting police chiefs in the next few days to discuss the issue.
"I think that we have to be careful not to take away all discretion from police officers because in some cases there's good reason for the use of caution. I share the unhappiness of society as a whole about the exclusive use of cautions for serious offences – for knife crime, for example."
Women Against Rape called the idea of cautions for the offence "totally unacceptable". Mr Turner said the policy was "soft on criminals and very harsh on victims". According to the Ministry of Justice, 19 offenders, mostly under the age of 18, were cautioned for rape in 2011, 16 fewer than the previous year.
Mrs Andrade, 48, was a pupil at the prestigious Chetham's School of Music in Manchester when she was sexually abused by Brewer. Brewer's ex-wife Kay, 68, was also found guilty of indecently assaulting Mrs Andrade when she was 18.
The CPS said a dedicated witness care officer was assigned to explain the trial process to Mrs Andrade and that she had restated her willingness to give evidence on several occasions in full view of the court and defendant. Brewer's QC, Kate Blackwell, accused Mrs Andrade of being a "liar" and a "fantasist".
In a statement issued after the verdicts, Mrs Andrade's son, Oliver, said: "Being repeatedly called a 'liar' and a 'fantasist' about a horrific part of her life in front of a court challenged her personal integrity and was more than even she could bear."
The CPS said Mrs Andrade said she was willing to give evidence on several occasions both before and during the trial. She was also consulted before the Brewers were charged.
The jury of six men and five women were told Mrs Andrade had killed herself only after giving their verdicts.