Serious failings by police who did not believe woman had been raped
THE DEPUTY chief constable of Essex Police has apologised to the highly vulnerable victim of a brutal rape at her Essex home after it emerged his officers did not believe she had been attacked.
A report into the force’s handling of the case has concluded police were guilty of “serious singular and collective” failings.
And Essex Police have admitted their handling of the incident had been “totally unacceptable” and said it had been a “wake-up call” to them.
The victim of the rape wass ubjected to an horrific half-hour ordeal at her house by balaclava-clad James Louis Abrahams who broke in
whilst high on drink and drugs.
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The woman made two separate allegations to police in 2007 that her village home was broken into and that she had been subject to a serious sexual assault on each occasion.
Officers who attended the first incident in January reported that no offence had occurred and no investigation took place.
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They failed to secure DNA evidence at the scene despite the victim offering her assistance to them and an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report concluded the officers did not believe she was telling the truth because she had a history of mental health issues.
It was only after the intervention of the woman’s family and her doctor that a criminal investigation was properly carried out, leading to Abrahams being arrested and charged.
Abrahams, now 26, later pleaded guilty to three counts of rape and was jailed for six years.
It has now emerged that an inspector, a detective constable, a sergeant and a police constable were fined between five and 13 days’ pay for their handling of the case.
Another sergeant was reprimanded and a constable given a caution although a case against a chief superintendent at a separate hearing earlier this month was not proven.
The victim’s family made a formal complaint and the handling of the case was investigated by the IPCC which has released a damning report.
The IPCC’s investigation examined police incident logs and pocket book entries and took statements from witnesses including the victim, family members and doctors.
National and force policies on sexual assault investigations were also looked at.
The IPCC served notices on 11 officers to advise them their conduct was under investigation and interviewed a number of them under caution.
Although the investigation was completed last year, the findings have only now been made public following the completion of the disciplinary proceedings against the officers involved.
Len Jackson, commissioner at the IPCC said there had been “poor policing” and “totally inadequate supervision”.
He said: “Our investigation found serious failings on the part of officers both individually and collectively in their response to allegations made by a highly vulnerable woman.
“Her serious allegations deserved a far more sympathetic, professional and determined response by Essex Police.
“A man has been imprisoned for a sexual assault, but it was only following the entreaties of the victim’s family that a full criminal investigation was undertaken.
“We have substantiated a number of complaints made by the family including that the lack of positive action by officers was adversely influenced by the woman’s mental health history.
“Police wrongly focused on the existence of a mental health condition, yet for instance failed to make arrangements for possible DNA evidence to be secured at the scene, despite the woman offering such evidence to the officers.
“I remain saddened for the victim and her family who have conducted themselves with great dignity throughout these protracted proceedings.
“The lack of help and support for this particular victim on two separate, traumatic occasions back in 2007 did not stem from poor policies - those policies, since updated, were in place. “It stemmed from very poor policing and totally inadequate supervision. I am assured, however, that lessons have been learned and that the contents of the force policy on serious sexual assaults have been re-emphasised to all frontline Essex police officers.”
Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Police, Andy Bliss, admitted his officers had been at fault.
He said: “I have personally apologised to the victim of these appalling and extremely distressing crimes.
“The way that we dealt with her allegations of rape was totally unacceptable. I would like to repeat publicly that sincere apology to her and her family on behalf of the force.
“The perpetrator of this evil, and emotionally devastating, crime has been caught and convicted of rape, due to work by Essex detectives and the CPS.
“However, that cannot detract from the clear failings identified by the IPCC in the way that these matters were initially dealt with by police officers.
“Officers who were at fault have been disciplined. Where the force needed to change the way we dealt with such incidents, we have made those changes. Clear instructions have been given, reinforced by extra training.
“This case was a wake-up call to us about the way we deal with people with mental ill-health – as a direct result we are introducing specific training for frontline officers in this important area.
“Officers have been further instructed in dealing with allegations of serious sexual assaults, particularly where the victim is vulnerable. These actions, taken together, will help to ensure that such mistakes are very unlikely to happen in the future.”