Are we the second sex for the police?

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The Independent Online

If you were to measure, from pp to ff, the protests from interest groups trying to pre-empt threatened budget cuts, those from the police would already be registering fff. We had Yates of the Yard warning of the risk from al-Qa'ida if Met Police numbers were cut, just days before the anniversary of 7/7. We had Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, warning that family liaison officers and specialist murder squads would be at risk. And we had Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, warning that the service to "communities and families plagued by anti-social behaviour" would worsen. One by one all the populist panic buttons have been pressed.

Yet there is an area none of these senior policemen mentioned – and with reason. If they had, they might have found themselves ridiculed, or perhaps drummed unceremoniously back to police college by the likes of me. I have in mind violent crime against women, particularly rape, which accounts for some of the most disturbing failures of recent years.

Now I should say where, in the contemporary jargon, I am "coming from". I have never made common cause with those feminists who denounce the low conviction rates for rape just for being low. I understand why juries agonise over cases where one or both parties were drunk. That the majority of rape accusations concern people already known to each other also creates difficulties, for juries, as for prosecutors, as for the police – even if, many would say, it shouldn't.

But it's not these cases I'm talking about. It's the classic "stranger rape" cases of the sort that most people conjure up when rape is mentioned. There is no need for nuance here, and there is often physical evidence. Yet the Met had recently to apologise for the fact that it took more than seven years and 71 victims to bring Kirk Reid to justice for assaults in a concentrated area of south London. This followed the case of the London cab driver, John Warboys, who plied lone women passengers with drugged champagne and notched up 100-plus victims.

In both cases, the extent of police bungling beggars belief. Each attacker was able to continue his crimes because evidence was not collated, routine procedures were not followed, and women's evidence was not believed. All this despite the creation in each London borough of so-called Sapphire units, with specialist officers trained to investigate just such crimes.

Clearly, the existence of special units counts for nothing if the police are incompetent and official targets give priority to other things. The officer designated to collect Reid's DNA was apparently reassigned to a robbery. With sexual assault given such short shrift, women could be forgiven for asking whether Sapphire units might not have had the effect of ghettoising these particular crimes and whether – perish the thought – a few budget cuts might not concentrate police minds about what constitutes serious crime.

Spies - let's please avoid a new age of suspicion

Congratulations to all concerned for taking a rather more grown-up approach to the latest Russian spy scandal, an approach no doubt helped along by the – apparent – incompetence of the agents. But even if you allow that spying remains a fact of post-Cold War life, that most countries engage in it, and that long-term illegals can be an asset if they report back accurately on the psyche of the "enemy", there will still be serious fall-out. It won't be in the diplomatic arena, though, so much as in personal relations.

In Cold War times, anyone who travelled, studied or worked behind the "iron curtain" was warned about the dangers of being compromised. Russians were sold the same line, which is one reason why mutual suspicion persisted for so long. Everyone quietly asked themselves who might be working for whom. A generation on, with more Russians living and travelling abroad than probably at any time in the past, and more of us going there, relations were starting to become normal, at the human level if not quite yet in diplomacy. The greatest risk from the spy saga unfolding in America is that the shadow of suspicion returns.

Straight from the front

Second only to the quango cull is set to be the cull of what the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, calls "vanity websites". And a good thing, too. I sometimes wonder how often the further reaches of many government sites are accessed by anyone. So it was with some surprise that I opened an email from the Ministry of Defence to learn of a "mass blogging initiative" by British forces "from the frontline". Servicemen and women have been blogging privately for years, it says, but there will now be a platform to bring all those blogs together.

For a sample, I turn to http://britisharmy. and randomly select a blog by Captain Sush Ramakrishna, the 3 Medical Regiment (3 Med Regt) Medical Officer attached to D Company, 40 Commando, Royal Marines, in Kajaki. Among other things, Capt Ramakrishna writes: "The New Year saw us in Catterick, embedded into our new unit, and the best part was the weekly training in the snow-covered hills of Yorkshire. You would be forgiven to think that we were training for a winter tour. Sending us to Jamaica or Barbados for acclimatisation for a summer tour of Afghanistan should be on the agenda for the new Cameron-Clegg Government! We were welcomed in Afghanistan by sandstorms and temperatures of over 40C."

There is clearly much that the powers-that-be could learn from the forces' blogs. Then again, I had this idea that the front line was something to do with fighting and there was this rather nasty war going on.