'I was sexually abused for almost a decade but my case was dropped - until I fought back'

New changes will focus more on the behaviour of the suspect rather than the accuser, reports ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger

A woman whose case was initially dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service after being sexually abused for almost a decade has spoken about her long-winded battle with the justice system.

Naomi Clayton described the decision as "devastating" as the government on Friday apologised for "failing" rape victims amid years of declining conviction levels.

When Ms Clayton finally found the courage to report her abuser, the police concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue the case.

"I got a letter to say there was no further action," she told ITV News.

On receipt of the letter, Ms Clayton appealed the decision not to prosecute. Her abuser was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

"It's devastating, totally. The fear of not being believed is what sticks with you and stops you from coming forward," she said.

"When it's the justice system that turns round and pretty much say they're not believing you, it's the worst thing possible that can happen."

Naomi Clayton describes the impact her ordeal with the justice system has had on her

Ms Clayton said that while she had the support of family and friends, it was the support workers at Yorkshire domestic abuse and sexual violence charity, IDAS, that kept her fighting 

It comes as a letter signed by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC and Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government was “deeply ashamed” by the downward trends in bringing sexual offenders to justice, and will now set out plans for a "system and culture change".

The new changes will focus more on the behaviour of the suspect rather than the accuser.

They cited a raft of measures intended to see the volume of allegations referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the number of suspects charged, and the amount of cases reaching court return to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament.

Evie Duarte from domestic abuse and sexual violence charity IDAS says the review doesn't go far enough

Measures include a pilot scheme aimed at reducing cross-examination of victims in court by conducting pre-recorded interviews, a nationwide recognition that only evidence about the complainant that is pertinent to the case should be used, and a new approach to investigations which ensures that there is an “early and robust assessment of suspect behaviour and offending patterns”.

The latest CPS figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began, and down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.

There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of reported cases result in a charge.

The review, which was commissioned more than two years ago, said: “The current situation is totally unacceptable and the government is determined to change it: we owe this to every victim and are extremely sorry that the system has reached this point.”

Campaigners welcomed the action plan and the apology. But Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims’ commissioner, was among those to claim the review “presents some missed opportunities”.

Summarising the report’s findings, Mr Buckland, Ms Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis QC wrote: “These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed.

“Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn’t just about numbers – every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.

“Our mission, set out in this publication, is to understand why we are letting down rape victims, and to right this wrong.”

Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales, said the review contained many positives – not least the apology – but said she was concerned about a lack of urgency to bring about change.

She said: “Whether what has been announced today will be enough remains to be seen.

“But we sincerely hope it will lead to change and we are fully invested in it being a success – it has to be a success for the benefit of victims and survivors who are currently being failed, and victims and survivors of the future.

“Those improvements are long overdue – this is a genuine crisis.”

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said the government were "really sorry" adding that "too many people haven't had justice over the last few years."

He told ITV News: "The first thing is to say we’re sorry."

"It’s a matter of regret and shame that these numbers have dropped so significantly since 2016 and that’s why for the last couple of years we’ve been working quite hard to tease out the reasons why and put in place a plan to rectify it.

"But the fact that we might correct it in the future does nothing to negate the fact that too many people haven’t had justice over the last few years and we’re really sorry about that."

Labour's Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, Jess Phillips, said the government's apology was "meaningless without proper action for change".

She said: "I think the government want to do something about this.

"But they’re not taking account in their apology, they’re making it out like it’s very complicated and that it wasn’t huge cuts to all of the services that made this happen.

"Until they can admit they made this problem occur, they made the criminal justice system not fit for purpose for rape victims, then their 'sorry' is just a word."

Figures show that in 2015-16 a total of 6,855 rape cases were referred to the CPS by police, with 4,643 rape prosecutions.

Around 13% of reported rape cases in 2015-16 ended in a suspect being charged, dropping to just 3% in 2019-20.

The review said it found no one specific cause for the overall drop in prosecutions.

The government said it would develop “scorecards” to assess how the system is performing against metrics such as timeliness, quality of cases and victim engagement, although it would probably not be in the form of a regionalised “league table”.

The review said alleged victims may still be asked to hand over their mobile telephones, but that any digital material is “strictly limited to what is necessary and proportionate” for investigators, and that complainants should routinely have their device returned to them within 24 hours.

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Mr Buckland said: “It can’t be a fishing expedition. We need everybody to apply the rules and only look at what’s relevant and proportionate – your whole life is not on display.”

The justice secretary said he also wanted to move away from “the obsessive focus on the credibility of the victim”, with the review adding that emphasis will instead be placed upon the suspect’s offending past, to “help ensure decision-making is based on evidence, rather than subjective judgments of victim credibility”.

The review said the measures such as updating legal guidance on addressing rape myths and stereotypes aimed to increase confidence in the judicial process, allowing greater numbers of victims to come forward, with early collaboration between the police and the CPS helping build a stronger case, resulting in a higher number of early guilty pleas.

The review comes a week after a damning Ofsted report which found sexual harassment had been “normalised” in schools.

Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal ruled the CPS did not change its policy on prosecuting alleged rapes, amid a claim from campaign groups that prosecutors became more risk-averse.

Max Hill QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, said: “The stark drop in the number of cases that have gone before a jury in recent years means too few victims are seeing justice and reversing that is an absolute priority for the CPS.

“This review presents an unprecedented opportunity across the whole criminal justice system, and I am determined to lead meaningful and lasting change in every aspect of how these cases are handled, in partnership with the police and the courts.”