Bid to improve 'low' rape convictions

POLICE in Essex have pledged to change the way they handle rape cases in a bid to improve the “very low” number of successful convictions.

Elliot Furniss

POLICE in Essex have pledged to change the way they handle rape cases in a bid to improve the “very low” number of successful convictions.

Of the 293 rape offences reported to the force in the past year, just 55 resulted in charges while one case ended with a caution.

Now, top officers at Essex Police are hoping to see an improvement in the detection rate thanks to a change of style in the approach to such cases - a move welcomed by a Colchester-based rape victim support service.

Detective Superintendent John Quinton, Essex Police's senior investigating officer on rape cases, said a new training programme for Sexual Offence Trained Officers (SOTOs) was being introduced and early-evidence kits would also be distributed to all divisions.

He said: “Rape is one of the most traumatic assaults that can be inflicted upon any person. While the physical injury may be considerable, the psychological effect can be devastating.

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“This policy will co-ordinate rape investigations form the first 999 call through to the conclusion in Crown Court.

“For the first time, divisional crime managers will be given the responsibility of managing and monitoring their SOTO deployment to guarantee best-possible evidence capture.”

From the initial stage of evidence collection right through to the support on offer during the last days of major trials, the new measures will be aimed at reaching a more consistent performance.

Lindsey Read, manager of Colchester Rape Crisis Line, said she welcomed anything that would see more rapists convicted and encourage victims to come forward.

She said: “Of the women we see, very few report their cases. They just want to forget it in the first days and by the time they do think about it there is no physical evidence.”

She said there were “very low” prosecution and conviction rates and that victims often felt there was little point in pursuing cases as the likelihood of a successful outcome was low.

She added: “We do have contact with the police and we are looking at ways we can be involved in the training, both with SOTOs and regular officers - those often first on the scene when an offence is reported.

“Approaches and attitudes, anything that the police try that increases the conviction rate would be welcomed. I think the police recognise that they don't have as much training in dealing with victims as they would like to have.”

An Essex Police spokesman said there were many cases in which the victim was reluctant to undergo the “added pressure” of a criminal trial.

He said: “We, or the victims' families, are unwilling to put them through the criminal justice system for a variety of justifiable or understandable reasons. On these occasions we can either caution the offender or take no further action.

“Cautioning is an admission of guilt and the offender is placed on the sex offenders' register, thereby allowing multi-agency safeguards to be put in place.”