UK

Shame of our rape justice as sex offence convictions tumble

Ministers last night voiced their ‘deep shame’ over a sharp decline in rape convictions as they published an action plan to reverse the trend.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Home Secretary Priti Patel set out a blueprint which will see new targets introduced for the criminal justice system across England and Wales.

In a bid to drive dramatic improvements, performance ‘scorecards’ will be published for the first time, which will allow league tables to be compiled on the way police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service handle rape.

A swathe of measures will aim to restore the number of allegations ending up in a trial to levels that existed in 2016, or higher, ministers said. Only three per cent of rapes reported to police in 2019/20 led to a suspect being charged, compared with 13 per cent in 2015-16, the action plan said. 

However, there are no defined targets set under the new plan. In a foreword to the report Mr Buckland and Miss Patel said: ‘These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed. Thousands of victims have gone without justice.’

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured) set out a blueprint which will see new targets introduced for the criminal justice system across England and Wales

Ministers said they hoped to reach the goal ‘by the end of the Parliament’, expected in 2024.

‘In real terms, this means that over a thousand more victims will see their cases proceed,’ they added.

Under the plan, detectives will be told to focus rape investigations on offenders’ behaviour rather than on the victim’s ‘credibility’. ‘If you’re a victim of a burglary, you don’t expect a huge focus upon every aspect of your private life, just because you’ve been the victim of that type of crime,’ said Mr Buckland.

‘The focus is on trying to identify who was responsible and going after the perpetrator.

‘In rape cases… what I want to try and move away from is this obsessive and too focused approach on the credibility or otherwise of the victim.’

There will be ‘much greater external scrutiny’ of police and CPS decisions, including external panels to analyse cases where police decide to take no further action. Following controversy over the way victims’ mobile phones are taken away for long periods of time for digital forensic examination, there will be a new pledge that ‘no-one is left without a phone for more than 24 hours’.

Replacement phones will be provided if the target is unavoidably exceeded.

There will also be a new 24-hour support line for victims, and a variety of steps to ensure they have proper support, including legal advice. 

Ministers last night voiced their 'deep shame' over a sharp decline in rape convictions as they published an action plan to reverse the trend

Ministers last night voiced their ‘deep shame’ over a sharp decline in rape convictions as they published an action plan to reverse the trend

In other measures, pilot schemes will test how rape victims can challenge police requests for personal information. Vulnerable victims will be given the right to refuse permission for their mobile phones to be examined by police, the document says.

The plan also sets out longer-term work on the way rape victims are treated under cross-examination by defence lawyers. 

Ministers will ask the Law Commission to review whether current rules governing lawyers’ ability to ask questions about a victim’s previous sexual behaviour are ‘watertight enough’, Mr Buckland said.

A government source said there was concern the justice system had become over-cautious after the 2017 case of Liam Allen, a student wrongly accused of rape.

It emerged that a huge database of electronic messages had not been disclosed to his defence team which proved the complainant had pestered him for ‘casual sex’.

Sources said the ‘pendulum had swung too far the other way’.

The report added: ‘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.’

Katie Russell, of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said: ‘Whether what has been announced 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.’

Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, said the Government had a ‘mountain to climb’ to restore confidence in the justice system.

She added: ‘It is disheartening that truly transformative policies, such as the pre-recording of video evidence of intimidated witnesses are to be put off yet again by further consultation, piloting or general delay.’

Woman sues force that failed to stop her father raping her 

Carol Higgins battled for more than 30 years to have her rapist father prosecuted

Carol Higgins battled for more than 30 years to have her rapist father prosecuted

By Chris Brooke

A woman who battled for more than 30 years to have her rapist father prosecuted is suing the police force that failed her.

Carol Higgins, 52, reported Elliott Appleyard to West Yorkshire Police six times but no action was taken.

A statement she made aged 15 was lost, and police later used this as an excuse not to pursue a case.

When police finally investigated in 2015, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges.

But Miss Higgins had the ruling reviewed. 

Appleyard, 73, was finally jailed for 20 years at Leeds Crown Court in 2019 on five counts of rape and ten of indecent assault.

The court heard he treated her ‘as his wife’ after his actual wife walked out on him.

She reported Elliott Appleyard (pictured) to West Yorkshire Police six times but no action was taken

She reported Elliott Appleyard (pictured) to West Yorkshire Police six times but no action was taken

Now the mother of two, who has waived her right to anonymity, is seeking damages and an apology from the police. ‘I am extremely angry,’ she said. 

‘If they have done this to me, how many other people have they failed systematically and denied justice?’

Appleyard, 73, was finally jailed for 20 years at Leeds Crown Court in 2019

Appleyard, 73, was finally jailed for 20 years at Leeds Crown Court in 2019

Miss Higgins, of Pontefract, West Yorkshire, has issued a civil claim in the High Court. 

It is on hold while the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigates an earlier formal misconduct complaint.

She said: ‘I want an apology from the police and an acceptance that what they have done is fail me.

‘So far they have said there’s no lessons to be learnt from what they have done.’

A spokesman said: ‘West Yorkshire Police is aware of this claim and takes all such matters extremely seriously. 

‘We cannot comment further at this time for legal reasons.’

The IOPC confirmed it was ‘assessing the appeal’.


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