A landmark civil suit was settled on recently with the Metropolitan police paying £15,000 damages to a woman whose rape when she was 15 was badly mishandled by a police Sapphire Team in Southwark, London. With the scandals in the news of scores of girls raped over years in Rochdale, Rotherham and by Jimmy Savile (and possibly his associates), this case puts the spotlight on the flagship Sapphire Rape Units.
Their response so far is not encouraging. Every time they have been exposed mishandling rape investigations, they have claimed that the units had been restructured and cases like this could not happen again. But they continue to happen. When asked this morning on the Today programme why then the conviction rate for reported rape remained so low, Sapphire’s head DCI Mick Duthie said that 40% of women who report rape to the Met don’t want to prosecute. This is not our experience and is given the lie by the figures. All the women who come to us wanted justice and were prevented from getting it. The Met closes over half the reported rapes, and the CPS closes a further 40% of the rest – all decisions made against victims’ wishes.
This precedent claim is based on the Human Rights Act (Articles 3 and 8) and overturns decades of legal obstruction which has prevented victims of rape from suing the police for negligent investigations. The persistence of a mother campaigning with Women Against Rape and legally represented, has opened the way for other victims of crime to hold the police to account for ineffective investigations. On the basis of this claim and what was established here, others will now hopefully be encouraged to make their case.
Commenting on the settlement, the girl’s mother said:
“The police thought we were going to give up, and unless you fight all the way, they will intimidate you and smash you down with their enormous power and resources. But we were determined to win, for my daughter and all the other girls who have been denied justice. Why should victims who are let down have to go through this?”
“The settlement is not all we wanted, but we have won a lot along the way. We got four officers disciplined. We got a personal written apology from Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions. We got some compensation. But the most senior officer DCI Chambers was never held accountable for his actions. The trial judge criticised the police investigation and referred to non investigated issues as a disgrace. After the complaint investigation, a High Court judge said, ‘…It is reasonable to suspect that had the matter been investigated properly and the corroborative evidence obtained, the result might well have been different.’ This case has shown that the problem is not merely the ‘canteen culture’ at the lowest ranks, but the de-prioritising of rape organised from the top.”
The rape of the 15-year-old by a 28-year-old man took place in 2005. Despite the police having the attacker’s address, his vehicle registration and mobile number, it took three months of pressure by the girl’s mother, and another girl reporting the same man for rape, before he was finally arrested.
But that was not the end of the carelessness Ms X and her daughter suffered. At trial in 2006 it became clear that: the police had not interviewed potential witnesses and had lost crucial phone evidence which would have undermined the Defendant’s account. Not surprisingly, the jury did not convict, leaving the victim and her family shattered.
The man walked free and the girl’s mother contacted WAR, and soon became part of a team campaigning for justice.
Arrangements were made to speak to the media and meet both the local MP and the Borough Commander. This sparked an internal investigation by the head of the Central Sapphire Team, which found that the rape investigation had been wanting, and listed the following “mistakes”:
• “A serious stranger rape attack allocated to a PC [not a detective] to investigate.
• Failure to identify the link between the crime scene and the suspect’s vehicle.
• Failure to visit the crime scene at the earliest opportunity.
• Failure to identify the suspect and arrest at the earliest opportunity.
• Failure to properly investigate the allegation thoroughly and expeditiously, with particular emphasis on the failure to obtain correct telephone records.
• Failure to properly and effectively supervise the investigation.”
This report was not disclosed to the victim and her family until 2012, after a lengthy legal battle. Not satisfied with an apology that did not even offer any explanations, a formal complaint was lodged to the IPCC. Under pressure from the victim, her mother, Women Against Rape, and the victim’s lawyer Debaleena Dasgupta, the IPCC issued an unusually thorough and damning report in 2009. It revealed that:
• The Southwark Sapphire Rape Unit was systematically starved of resources, while resources were diverted to motor crime and robbery. At some points, the Unit was functioning without any trained detectives.
• The Unit left hundreds of rapes and sexual assaults to untrained, unqualified officers. The main officer on this case was a PC who had just joined the unit from Safer Neighbourhoods work. The PC was expected to handle over 30 cases at one time, an overwhelming number, with little or no training or supervision, and no experience of detective work.
• Officers (in this case women) who tried to get rape taken seriously and asked for more resources were rebuffed and blocked at every turn by their (male) superiors.
• Just weeks before, two of the officers in this complaint had been the subject of a complaint on another rape case in which they evaded discipline.
The IPCC report makes clear that the most junior officer struggled under an impossible workload; and while four officers were disciplined, it blames the man in charge the then Deputy Borough Commander DCI Chambers, who set the priorities and starved the Unit of resources could not be disciplined. DCI Chambers was able to refuse to be interviewed, and instead prepared a 37-page statement denying responsibility, retire from the Metropolitan Police and swiftly move to another position – at the Centre for Policing Excellence!
The girl’s mother said, “The police have been vicious in fighting our civil claim, and they fought dirty. I had to listen to them in court and felt that they were insinuating that my daughter hadn’t been raped. And when that didn’t work, they tried to minimise how ill their actions had made her – largely because of the additional trauma of being refused justice after the rape and of our family having to fight over years to get the truth disclosed. My daughter’s life has been destroyed, my 30-year marriage has ended under the stress. These injustices affect whole families and communities, and no amount of money can compensate for our loss. Do the police care? Does the Home Office care?
“This has never been about money. We wanted a declaration that my daughter’s human rights had been breached, an admission which would help to other women and girls. We were ready to go all the way to court to get it, but we were forced to settle because of costs risks – we don’t have the huge resources the police have. Working with WAR I see similar cases coming through our door all the time, so they can’t tell me this is all in the past. Victims are dismissed and ignored, especially children and teenagers. Those officers who want to do their job and complain about lack of support within the force also face obstacles.
“This case proves that the police, even when they admit mistakes, will spend lots of public money to stop victims getting justice.”
As Lisa Longstaff of WAR points out, “They keep saying that everything has changed, but these cases – from Rochdale to Southwark, from Saville to Coleman-Farrow – are a continual reminder of what the police policy on rape is in practice. For many, many women, children and families, it is not just that victims are disbelieved but, believed or not, that they face at best carelessness and at worst a complete refusal by police to properly investigate rape. . There is much PR about reporting but in reality children are treated as if they are supposed to be sexually available and keep their mouth shut.”
The claimant in the case said, “I think the police really believed me, but they really didn’t care.”
13 December 2012
For interviews contact:
Women Against Rape at 020 7482 2496, or firstname.lastname@example.org
 Sapphire Detective Constable Ryan Coleman-Farrow was convicted of falsifying rape records and closing cases of at least 12 survivors of rape recently.