Editorial: The Sapphire rape unit should be scrapped, not re-branded

This merger of the much-criticised rape unit may have correctly identified the problem, but it prescribes the wrong solution

The merger of the Metropolitan Police’s much-criticised Sapphire rape unit with its team focusing on paedophilia – thus creating an expanded sexual crime division – may have correctly identified the problem. But it prescribes the wrong solution.

Where the London force is right is in the conclusion that Sapphire has to go. Over its 12-year life, the unit has been subject to no fewer than nine inquiries, with some 19 officers disciplined, three of them sacked. The litany of complaint and failure – from rape victims being persuaded to withdraw their claims in order to improve police figures, to the incompetence that allowed taxi driver John Worboys a 13-year rape career – have left Sapphire tarnished and discredited in equal measure.

Where the Met is wrong, however, is in merely subsuming it into a larger team. Rather, Sapphire should be abolished altogether. Why? Because sexual violence is so horribly common. There is a place for specialist police units, in tackling gangs, say, or guns. But sex crimes are hardly a niche; indeed, they are so prevalent that the training required to deal with them should be a pre-requisite for all officers. And so long as rape is treated as a special case, problems around investigation and conviction will continue.