When it was made public that the police had allowed John Worboys to rape dozens and possibly hundreds of women, many people asked, “How could this happen?” A damning report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) issued in response to a rape victim’s complaint, hits the media today. It provides a blow-by-blow of an unconnected rape investigation by London’s flagship specialist rape units – Project Sapphire. It shows that:
* Hundreds of rapes and sexual assaults in one Sapphire unit were turned over to untrained, unqualified officers.
* Supervisors failed to advise, check or monitor them.
* Despite rape being considered the most serious crime dealt with at local level, the rape unit was systematically deprioritised and starved of resources; resources were found instead for motor crimes and robbery.
* Central London Sapphire, which knew the local unit was in crisis, did nothing.
* Officers (in this case women) who tried to get rape taken seriously were rebuffed and blocked at every turn by men at the top.
* The detailed procedures and requirements for investigating rape were ignored.
* Two of the same officers had been the subject of a complaint on another rape case.
* Trained officers are allowed to pick and choose whether to work in Sapphire units – and many refuse. “Proactive” roles (aggressive targeting of suspects) are considered more exciting and better for an officer’s career, than “reactive” investigations such as rape.
* Home Office pressure to gather statistics seemed to be undermining rape investigations.
The sentence must fit the crime
The IPCC report is in response to a formal complaint about the rape of a 15-year-old girl by a 28-year-old man in 2005. After months of pressure by the mother, the accused was finally arrested and tried. But crucial evidence which would have confirmed what the girl was saying was not gathered or was lost; not surprisingly the jury did not convict.
The IPCC report is a breakthrough, achieved by a determined team: the victim and her mother; Women Against Rape, with 30 years experience of campaigning and support; and a lawyer. Unlike most other complaints, this one did not get buried under the lies, carefully worded “apologies” and “local resolutions” that so often allow officers who have sabotaged rape cases to avoid any punishment or censure.
When the man was acquitted, the girl’s mother contacted WAR, and soon became part of its campaigning team. A meeting with the Borough Commander arranged through the local MP sparked an internal investigation, exposing much more of the truth than comes out in most complaints. Not satisfied with merely an apology, a formal complaint was lodged demanding that the officers responsible leave the force.
While the truth is now out, the disciplinary measures meted out by the IPCC are an insult. The officers involved had previous: the IPCC reveal that when they were let loose on this investigation they had already mismanaged the pursuit of another young person’s rape. Yet the IPCC is not recommending that they should be sacked, or even suspended; they do not ask for a misconduct hearing, as is expected in the much publicised Worboys case. Instead, three officers are to be given “written warnings”, and a fourth is to get “words of advice”. The Borough Commander and Deputy Borough Commander were told but were doing nothing about it. The Deputy retired from the Met while the investigation was under way.
The report proves what we have been saying for years: the problem is not merely “canteen culture” at the lowest ranks, but the deprioritising of rape organised from the top. While government targets focus on property crime, hounding sex workers, spying on protesters, and terrorism, nothing is done about the much more widespread terrorism suffered by victims of rape and domestic violence. The report makes clear that the most junior officer struggled under an impossible workload; it blames the man in charge, the Deputy Borough Commander. Yet he was allowed to dodge interview, denying his responsibility in a 37-page written statement, and to swiftly move elsewhere. (He is now at the Centre for Policing Excellence.) This may be common practice in the Police Service, but it flies in the face of natural justice and should not be allowed.
The girl’s mother speaks for Women Against Rape:
“The implications of such botched investigations for women’s and girls’ safety are wide. Statistics often show that when rapists go unpunished, they go on to attack again. As a mother my concern is to get justice for my child, and also to prevent other families going through the trauma we’ve had to go through. I hope one of the outcomes of this is to show other victims that if you feel something is wrong, it’s your right to challenge it. I can’t emphasise enough, You have a voice. But it will continue to happen while those responsible for deprioritising rape get away with it. The PC has been used as a scapegoat. He should take a small amount of the blame. But the higher ones should be sacked for it, they should not be allowed to move on, be promoted, and then retire on full pensions.”
Content of the IPCC report
Police lost vital telephone evidence. Proof that the man made calls to the victim’s mobile, which he denied, was lost when the PC requested the wrong information.
They never visited the man’s flat, the scene of the rape, to gather forensic evidence, which any detective would expect to find there.
They never used available CCTV footage, and never spoke to witnesses who saw the distressed victim in a shop she ran into immediately after the rape.
Police delayed three months before the accused was arrested, despite having his address, name, car registration, and witnesses: as the report says, “on a plate”. They had gone to his address “to make enquiries with the occupiers” “but did not receive a reply.”
He was only arrested after a second woman reported this same man for rape.
A PC was sole investigating officer in this case. He had no detective training, let alone training in rape investigations. While Standard Operating Procedures for rape dictate that the officer in charge of each case must be at least a Detective Constable, this PC was in charge of this case and up to 33 sexual offences, including many rapes.
THE REPORT: “The bigger question is . . . why such an officer, without skills or experience in the investigation of the most serious offence routinely dealt with by Borough officers, was posted to a Sapphire Unit as his first-ever investigative role in the first place; and why he was then routinely allocated the most serious category of cases dealt with by that unit, in clear breach of MPS policy, as part of a punishing workload which would have tested even an experienced investigator.” (268)
The Investigating Officer’s decisions should have been guided and regularly supervised at specified intervals by the Detective Sergeant, of 22 years experience. Instead there is no record of any input from him at any stage. Scandalously, this DS is still employed by Southwark police.
The report found DS guilty of “nothing less than a grave and sustained neglect of duty”.
The Detective Inspector who oversaw the Sapphire unit, begged her Detective Chief Inspector for trained officers, telling him they were ”in breach of MPS policy”. For much of the time this unit, which while this investigation was proceeding dealt with nearly 100 rapes, had no trained DCs at all.
DI: “I made it clear that . . . if an issue happens such as we’re sitting here now, our position was indefensible”.
DI “I even tried the tack with [Deputy Borough Commander], ‘is it because I’m a female and my supervisor is female . . .’ because the robbery DIs and DCIs are all male, seem to be getting more resources . . .
THE REPORT: they were “understaffed . . underskilled and overburdened [this] was properly the responsibility of more senior managers . . the situation was known, problems anticipated and action could have been taken . . .” (214)
Instead of putting more officers onto rape investigations, the Deputy Borough Commander further depleted her team by sending some of them to work on a street robbery initiative being promoted by the Home Office.
DI: “. . . the Motor Vehicle Crime unit, the Borough Intelligence Unit, the Dedicated Source Unit, the Burglary Team, the Robbery Team and the Task force had more substantive [trained] DCs than the Sapphire Unit. The picture painted was that greater importance was given to motor vehicle crime than victims of serious sexual assault.” (106)
THE REPORT: “she was required by [Deputy Borough Commander] to provide officers from her understrength unit to staff a Borough robbery initiative, Operation Challenger.” (104)
DS: “If you’re not in priority business then you will not tend to get the more experienced or able individuals.” DPS investigator: “Was Sapphire considered a priority do you think?” DS: “Not at all . . . The office wasn’t staffed with substantive [qualified] detectives. . . it would always have been possible to do that. So I can only assume that there was a clear choice not to. . . “ (330) [our emphasis]
Sapphire’s London HQ took no responsibility. They were aware of the situation but did not ask the Commissioner to intervene. Shortly before this rape was reported, because of the “performance figures in the unit” the DI was
“called to meetings by [Commander], at that time the senior officer in charge of Sapphire Met-wide, to explain” . . . “Her plea for extra resources at borough level went unanswered, however.” (104)
When the case came to trial, the judge strongly criticised the officers for losing evidence, and the telephone evidence in particular:
Trial JUDGE: “A most important piece of evidence was lost. It pains any judge to say this but this is a disgrace . . .” (145)
Two of the same officers had been the subject of a complaint about their handling of another young person’s rape (not by the same man). But the complaint had been handled illegally: a) as so often happens in police complaints, the complainant was offered “local resolution”, which is not allowed for a matter this serious b) she accepted this because she was told the matter would go on the officers’ files. But as it was a local resolution no disciplinary action could be taken, so it did not get recorded as a complaint, it was not on the computer when the new complaint came in, so the officers erroneously appeared to have a clean record. This matter should have been referred to the IPCC, but the IPPC has so far refused to look into it.
Further quotes from the report
THE REPORT: PC “was then asked what he knew of the Standard Operating Procedures on the Investigation of Rape and Serious Sexual Assaults:
‘Yes I think it was mentioned when I was there’ ‘Did you ever read it?’ ‘No I didn’t.’ ‘So you had no kind of induction process?’ ‘No, I just turned up and got on with the job.’
DS: “this was a successful rape investigation in the fact that it [reached court] – something that doesn’t happen in the majority of rape cases” (356) . . . “I don’t think I let anybody down. (358)
DPS INVESTIGATOR to DS: “Don’t you think as a supervisor, you ought to know if an unskilled PC is dealing with a stranger rape of a 15-year-old girl?” . . . “Everything you needed was handed to you on a plate – as far as rapes go, this was an eminently solvable, easy one to do because you had it all there” (390)
DI: “I went on leave for a period of a week ... when I came back I found that my last DC had been removed and posted to the financial unit. . . by that stage when I left I had none, and the reply I got was they’ve got issues so they couldn’t come into Sapphire Unit. Seemed to me the whole of Southwark had issues” (415)
DI: “even the public protection unit officers who had appointments to see serious sex offenders, they were going out on robbery patrol because of Operation Challenger, that was a Met initiative at that time.”
DS: When [Deputy Borough Commander] left and a new woman was made Superintendent, “within . . . a month or six weeks, we had at least 6 or 8 exceptionally good experienced detectives working in the office.” (334)
THE REPORT: [This] “indicates the immediate and substantial improvement capable of being achieved through the exertion of senior management will, and b) that this was always achievable from within the borough’s own resources, had SMT [Senior Management Team] but chosen to do so.” (335)
THE REPORT: [The Deputy Borough Commander] made “a surprising informal agreement” with an incoming DCI to bring in a team of experienced detectives but only with “guarantees that they would only be posted to ‘proactive’ roles.” “(Proactive in this context means roles aggressively targeting suspected offenders. It is considered by many officers to be the ‘exciting’ part of policing, and proactive roles are often much sought after, as success in this arena is considered useful in an officer’s career development. Sapphire, dealing with the aftermath of crime which had already occurred, and often involving lengthy and difficult investigation with uncertain outcomes, is defined as reactive.)” (493)
THE REPORT [re failing to interview Detective Superintendent, who retired from the Met in the middle of the investigation:] “Considerations of difficulties with [his] diary, his location, his other commitments, and the possibility that he might be leaving the service and thus place himself beyond the reach of discipline interviews were held to render this option impossible.” (224)
Note: The IPCC is widely discredited for its pro-police bias. In Feb 2008, the Guardian reported that the Police Action Lawyers Group had resigned from the IPCC’s advisory board. The Guardian’s own investigation at that time found, “A pattern of favouritism towards the police with some complaints being rejected in spite of apparently powerful evidence in their support.”
Press Release 17 March 2009