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Met rape unit criticised

The Independent Police Complaints Comission (IPCC) has published a report highlighting failings in the working practices of the Southwark Sapphire Unit - a police department dedicated to investigating serious sexual violence.

It found that officers there wrote off allegations as "no crimes", so they could reduce the number of unsolved cases on their books and meet official crime detection targets.

Ronke Phillips reports.

What will happen after you report the rape?

When you report, the police will initially only ask you a few basic questions, like the time and place of the attack, some of the details of the attack and a description of the attacker. Thepolice will take only brief notes at this stage.

They will make another date to take a full statement from you, and will refer you to a specialist team dealing with sexual offences if one exists in your area. Every London borough has one of these, called a Sapphire Team.

If the rape is recent, they will arrange for you to be examined by a police doctor.


Some basic advice to follow if you have been the victim of a sexual assault

  • Always take somebody sympathetic with you when dealing in person with any authorities.
  • Do a brief summary of your case (try to put it on a single paragraph.) It will help you explain it to others and get support.
  • Keep a detailed account of everything that has happened to you in date order, and any further intimidation or sighting your attacker.
  1. National

Met police action over rape claims 'catastrophic' for women

The Women's Resource Centre, a charity which supports women's organisations has condemned Metropolitan Police after an IPCC report found officers had pressurised women to drop rape claims:

Yet another catastrophic outcome for women and children as a result of serious and endemic institutionalised failings within the police, and even more worryingly within a specific unit of the police set up to deal with rape and sexual violence.

They are obviously not fit for purpose! When will the institutionalised sexism obviously rife across the country be properly and satisfactorily addressed? Furthermore, in the wake of £3billion worth of cuts to the women’s sector under this coalition government, when will the life-saving work of women's charitable organisations be fully resourced to ensure appropriate support is available to women who have experienced such heinous crimes?

– Vivienne Hayes, CEO, Women’s Resource Centre
  1. Ronke Phillips

Police watchdog accuse them of 'losing sight' of their role

The IPCC has a said that rape victims in a London borough werewrongly pressured into withdrawing their allegations in an attempt to improvecrime figures.

In the damning report by the police watchdog,they found that officers in Southwark wrote off allegations as 'no crimesso they could reduce the number of unsolved cases on their books and meetofficial crime detection targets.

The IPCC logo

In the most serious case a double killer remained free after detectives failed to investigate an earlier rape allegation against him.

He also had a history of violence and went onto to kill his eight-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

The findings follow scandals over the Met’s investigations into the black-cab rapist John Worboys and serial sex attacker Kirk Reid.

The IPCC called the failings “deeply disturbing” and accused police of “losing sight” of their role.


Metropolitan Police respond to IPCC report

The Metropolitan Police has issued the following statement in reaction to a highly-critical report on practices in the Southwark Sapphire Unit, a department dedicated to investigating rapes.

"The Metropolitan Police Service welcomes the findings of the IPCC report into the investigation of rape on Southwark borough between July 2008 and September 2009.

"We have for some time acknowledged that previous investigation of rape and serious sexual assault in the MPS was below standard. The activities identified in this report came during that era and highlight specific issues within Southwark which resulted in unacceptable actions by local officers.

"It is as a result of such failings that we have made substantial changes to the investigation of rape and serious sexual assault, both in terms of structure and revised working practices."In 2009 Sapphire was moved to Specialist Crime and Operations to increase the focus on victim care and improve investigation standards. This has led to increased supervision and the Met being much better placed to identify any wrongdoing and refer it to the IPCC. The number of prosecutions has increased by 18% and victim care has improved significantly.

"We are not complacent and know there is always more that can be done to improve our service to victims. That is why we continue to work closely with key partners including the CPS, the Havens and charities such as Rape Crisis. There is also more focused engagement with external scrutiny bodies ensuring the MPS learns lessons and continues to improve performance and public confidence."

IPCC: Police "lost sight of what policing is about"

IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass said:

“Today’s report brings to an end the IPCC’s involvement in this sorry chapter of the Sapphire Unit’s history.

“The approach of failing to believe victims in the first instance was wholly inappropriate. The pressure to meet targets as a measure of success, rather than focusing on the outcome for the victim, resulted in the police losing sight of what policing is about – protecting the public and deterring and detecting crime......

“.....Since 2009, when the unit came under central command, Sapphire has changed considerably and continues to evolve.

“But given the number of cases where the MPS’s response to victims has failed, either through individual officers’ criminality or neglect or more systemic problems of training, priorities and resources, the response that “lessons have been learned” begins to ring hollow. That is why I asked representatives of those who actually deal with victims to advise me of their experience of whether lessons have indeed been learned and I am very grateful to those who attended a meeting at the IPCC in December 2012 for sharing their expertise.

“It is encouraging that this experience has, for the most part, improved considerably, though there is still more to be done....

“....The MPS must now ensure that this improvement is built on and continues – and remain vigilant to ensure that they do not lose focus on this area as other policing priorities emerge, or as they face further pressure on resources.”

Officers "encouraged to take retraction statements" from rape victims

An IPCC report into a Metropolitan Police unit dedicated to investigating rapes, and other serious sexual offences, has found that officers were encouraged to take retraction statements from victims in cases they thought might not reach the standard for prosecution.

The IPCC said today:

"This investigation found that during this period the Southwark Sapphire unit was under-performing and over-stretched, and officers of all ranks, often unfamiliar with sexual offence work, felt under pressure to improve performance and meet targets. Victims were questioned closely by a Detective Constable before they met an officer trained in dealing with sex crimes to ensure crimes were classified correctly.

"The unit also adopted its own standard operating procedure designed to encourage officers to take retraction statements from victims in cases where it was thought they might later withdraw or not reach the standard for prosecution. By increasing the number of incidents that were then classified as ‘no crime’, sanction-detection rates improved and the performance statistics for the unit benefited."

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