Met dismisses up to a third of rape allegations

Brixton Police Station by Metropolitan Police at Flickr

Up to a third of all rape allegations made to police in some parts of London were never recorded as crimes at all last year, disturbing new figures reveal today.

Statistics released to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism show that in 2013, officers working for the Metropolitan Police classified 22% of the 4,339 rape reports they received as ‘crime-related incidents’ or ‘no crimes’ which meant they were not investigated unless new evidence came to light.

But there was huge variations across the London boroughs, with 30% of allegations being dropped in this way in Bexley, Lambeth and Kingston-upon-Thames compared with just 9% in Enfield and 13% in Newham. As many as 32% of allegations made in Lambeth did not make official crime figures.

Earlier this week a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found police across the country were failing to record 20% of all crimes accurately.

These new figures show that very significant under-recording extends even to the most serious of crimes. The situation is likely to be similar across much of the country, but many forces do not even record initial allegations of rape – making it impossible to measure drop off rates.

The latest revelations by the Bureau follow figures released yesterday showing that convictions of rape are falling despite policy changes and an increase in cases taken on by the police. Over the coming week the Bureau will be publishing more on this investigation.

Related story: Rape convictions at four year low despite attempts to bring more cases to court

The police are supposed to record allegations of rape as a crime as soon as they think that on the balance of probabilities a rape has occurred. They can only then drop an allegation if additional evidence has come to light proving no offence occurred. If this happens the allegation is recorded as a ‘no-crime’.

The police have been encouraged to reduce the numbers of ‘no-crimes’ after officials raised concerns that wide variation in its use was evidence of a ‘culture of disbelief’.

Crime statistics show that the number of rapes classed as ‘no-crimes’ are dropping in many forces including the Met.

But the Bureau’s investigation reveals that a high proportion of rape allegations made to the Met were never recorded as a crime in the first place – meaning they were dropped at an even earlier stage.

These allegations were classified as ‘crime related incidents’ (CRIs), a category that is only meant to be used where the police cannot confirm that a crime has taken place to start with – for example if a caller reports a rape without identifying the victim.

Thirteen percent of rape complaints made to the Met in 2013 were classified in this way, and an additional 9% were classed as ‘no-crimes’ – meaning 22% of all rape allegations were dismissed without investigation.

Screen shot 2014-05-02 at 15.04.05Table showing the 5 London boroughs that CRI or no-crime the highest percentage of rape allegations

Screen shot 2014-05-02 at 16.11.09Table showing the five London boroughs that CRI or no-crime the lowest percentage of rape allegations

Victim attended Brixton Police Station and was told rape would not be investigated

The Bureau has obtained a copy of an internal report made to the Met in September 2013 by whistleblower James Patrick, who was then a police constable in the force but has since resigned.

His evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee led to police statistics being so discredited that they are no longer recognised as official figures.

Patrick looked at the case files of a random sample of 18 rape allegations which had been classed as CRIs in May 2013. He concluded that 12, or two thirds of the cases he looked at had been incorrectly classified.

These included a report classified as a CRI because a third party had reported the rape. However the victim then attended Brixton police station – in the borough of Lambeth – in person but ‘was told the matter would not be investigated’. The report should have been classed as a crime.

The Bureau’s data was cited, alongside PC Patrick’s evidence, in the Public Administration Select Committee’s report on crime statistics published earlier this year.

The data showed that the percentage of allegations classed as CRIs had risen as the number of no-crimes fell across the force.

This means that despite falls in ‘no-crimes’ between 2008­/09 and 2012/13 the overall rate of rape crimes being dropped by the Met – the combined total of no-crime-and-CRIs – has remained within the range of 25%-30%.

The revelation that so many reported rapes are dismissed as CRIs has raised the concern that the Met has been misusing this category for cases it does not want to pursue.

A report to the Met by one of the victims of black cab driver John Worboys, who was convicted in 2009 of multiple drug-assisted rapes, was classified as a CRI rather than a crime.

The percentage of rape claims dropped by the MPS in 2013 did improve compared to 2012 when 29% of all allegations were recorded as a no-crime or a CRI.

A Met spokeswoman said some cases could end up not being recorded as they were actually the responsibility of other forces.

In a statement the force said: ‘To date within the current calendar year only 2 ‘no crimes’ have been authorised compared to 80 during the same period in 2013.

‘In May 2014 the Met will hold its first independent review panel consisting of three law professors who will consider these ‘no crime’ decisions.’

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) is responsible for holding the Metropolitan Police to account on its performance on rape.

A spokeswoman said the Office had ‘access to all Metropolitan Police Service data systems and monitors rape offences and sanction detections at both borough and pan London levels,’ including via performance reports based on monthly data.

She added: ‘Following an IPCC investigation into failings by the Sapphire Unit last year, there have been significant changes in practices, and reports of these types of crimes continue to rise.

While recording practices in the MPS are a matter for the Commissioner, MOPAC monitors performance closely across all crime types. The Commissioner has committed to setting up further public oversight of decisions, including reviewing all cases where ‘no-crime’ was recorded, and MOPAC will be fully engaged with this.’

 

Tip of the iceberg

Other data obtained by the Bureau suggests the numbers of allegations dropped by being classed as CRIs or no-crimes may themselves be the tip of the iceberg, with far more reports potentially dropping out before these classifications are made.

Most sexual offences reported to the Metropolitan Police are first recorded as ‘incidents’ on a system known as CAD (computer aided dispatch) before either being confirmed as CRIs or crimes on a different system.

Related story: Case study – ‘Type of underwear’ influenced CPS decision to drop rape case

Only 43% of initial sexual offence incident reports recorded on the CAD system made it to the crime recording system. In 2009 the figure was 49%.

There is no way of knowing how many – if any – of the sexual offences reported through the CAD system are wrongly dropped and fail to transfer to the crime recording system.

PC Patrick’s 2013 report includes part of an email chain in which a senior officer admits that prior to 2009, London boroughs had a policy of delaying crime recording.

‘Many boroughs had policies in place to not let anyone open a rape CRIS [crime report] until the victim had been seen by a detective sergeant from their [specialist sex offences] team.

‘A good proportion of victims who attended to a report just got fed up waiting and walked away with no CRIS record ever being made,’ the officer says.

Transferring responsibility for rape investigations away from boroughs to a centralised team had dealt with this problem and had led to a huge increase in volumes of allegations being recorded, the officer added.

Case study: Woman calls Met’s Sapphire Unit to report serial rapist and is told: Go to a police station

HMIC’s report noted that rapes reported through specialist investigation departments, ‘are frequently not being recorded on force crime systems. In some instances, they are not being recorded at all.’

In February 2014, London belly-dancer and teacher Shafeek Ibrahim, was jailed for 13 years for raping or sexually assaulting three young women.

The result could so easily have been different, given the hurdles facing his victims in reporting to the police.

Charlotte Desorgher, who is also a dancing teacher, supported Ibrahim’s victims from first approach to the police to trial.

When she rang the Metropolitan Police’s specialist sex crime unit to report Ibrahim’s crimes she expected instant action. Rape Crisis had told her that this was the best thing to do.

Astonishingly, she was told she could not make a report directly to the unit, but would have to make her way to a police station instead.

‘I had spoken to the Chief Executive of the Rape Crisis Centre in south London who told me about the Sapphire Unit and said we should ring them to report the rapes and they would send out a specialist officer to the victims’ homes to interview them,’ she says.

The unit told her the women would have to go to report to the front desk of their local police station, where they would be given a crime reference number.

Charlotte says the demand to go into a station was very daunting.

‘I believe it was only because there was a sense of collective purpose and support between the victims that gave them the strength to go through with it – none of them wanted to let the others down.’

It was very frightening for them to have to go into a police station (an unfamiliar and official place) to talk about such intimate details.

She describes the experience at the police station as ‘distressing’.

‘We were kept waiting for over an hour in the public reception area, which was full of all sorts of people including several men.’

Other victims attended different stations at a later date.

One of the women – we’ll call her Paula – phoned Charlotte in enormous distress as soon as she returned from her interview at the station. Her local station happened to be the one which housed the Sapphire Unit which was handling the case and she had been told that someone from the unit would come out and take her statement.

Instead she was interviewed by an older male officer from the front office who tried to dissuade her from reporting the attack.

Paula asked to speak to someone in the Sapphire unit direct as she had been advised, but he told her that it wasn’t necessary – he had enough experience to do it himself.

She had attended the station with a friend and while the friend was around he was very kind, she says. But the officer’s attitude changed once she was alone with him.

‘The police officer told me I could come back another day to give my statement,’ Paula says. ‘I told him I’d rather get done with it on the same day and that’s when he told me to go for lunch and my friend to leave and when I came back alone his attitude had completely changed.’

He even tried to tell her she hadn’t actually been raped.

‘I told him I had said no, and he said I didn’t, but I was very firm on that point, luckily,’ says Paula.

‘He kept stressing that he had decades of experience in dealing with rape cases and there was no way they would get a conviction in this case.’

The women assumed that things would move quickly once they’d given their statements, but only after several months of chasing and pushing from Charlotte were the victims interviewed by the specialist officers from the Sapphire Unit. The women had to repeat their story all over again.

‘This was a very good experience for the girls and I really must stress how good the Sapphire Unit officers were,’ Charlotte says. ‘They came to the victims’ homes and each of the victims felt an enormous sense of relief when the interview was over. They all said that it meant so much to them to be believed for the first time. ‘

 

All the Bureau’s work on Investigating Rape can be found here

A version of this story was published by the Independent newspaper.

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