Case study: Alleged rape attempt recorded as a civil matter

Nelson Police Station, Lancashire. (Image: Robert Wade at Flickr)

After Joanne (not her real name) reported an attempted rape, no crime was recorded until after she complained about the investigation – four months after the assault had occurred.

She claims two police officers visited her house, accused her of lying and told her to drop the case.

Lancashire Constabulary has denied this but copies of the officers’ report on the day of the visit show they had decided her allegation was a ‘civil matter’ and that no crime had occurred.

Had she not complained, no record of her allegation would currently be available to other officers. If the man involved committed a similar offence there would be no way for police to identify a pattern of behaviour.

Just after 6pm on July 28 2013 she rang police in distress saying that a man had tried to rape her and had hurt her arm.

She told police she had been picking up cigarette butts from the street when a man, whose name she still does not know, offered to give her some cigarettes, which he said were back at his home.

She followed him to the flat, where he attempted to rape her and hit her with a poker.

Immediately after her 999 call, officers photographed bruises on her arms and swabbed her breast where he had bitten her.

The man she had accused was taken to the police station, where he told them Joanne had willingly performed sexual acts on him and had then demanded money.

Officers went to the man’s home, but did not find a poker.

On July 29, the day after the attack two policemen visited Joanne at home with her partner Andy.

She says: ‘They made it obvious they thought I was lying and told me to drop the case.’

She believes police were prejudiced against her because she was on bail at the time of the attack for assaulting a man in relation to another case.

In its response to her complaint Lancashire Police denied accusing her of being a liar or telling her to drop the case and said the officers were simply pointing out discrepancies in her account, which discredited her allegation.

But the police incident report, released to Joanne following a Subject Access Request, shows that officers decided within 24 hours that they believed the man’s version of events.

An entry made on the same day, but written up later in the afternoon at 5.43pm states: ‘ There are no criminal offences, this was a disagreement over payment for sexual favours and as such is a civil matter. Advice given to both parties.’

The part of the incident report covering the actual visit to the house was missing from the incident report provided to Joanne.

Although her solicitor and the Bureau asked Lancashire Police in early April to send the missing pages to Joanne, at the time of publication she had not received them.

Several months after the incident, in November 2013, the police incident log records that Joanne had complained through a solicitor about the investigating officers’ conduct.

Only then, it states that a sergeant is ‘to record a crime of sexual assault’.

Lancashire Police has said it would be inappropriate to comment on the case given that Joanne’s complaint was still being investigated.

Related story: Durham, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire among police forces disregarding Home Office advice on recording rape allegations