Why we oppose prosecutions of women accused of making a false allegation

Evidence given to the DPP, February 2011

1. Alleged false allegations have been a distraction: bungled rape investigations and prosecutions are the problem.

    • False allegations for rape are extremely rare, yet they are treated as a major problem. This distracts from the true rape scandal that: 90% of rapes are never reported; up to 45% are no-crimed; the conviction rate for reported rape is 6.5 %. So over 90% of rapists are getting away with it.
    • In our experience prosecutions for alleged false allegation often follow biased and negligent rape investigations for which the woman bears no responsibility. Evidence is lost or not even gathered, witnesses not interviewed, statements not taken.
    • There is an increasing trend to discredit rape victims by pressuring them to withdraw their complaint or even accuse them of lying.

While there are no reliable figures on false allegations, looking at our casework and media reports we found that:

▶ 2006 to date: 50 women were prosecuted in England & Wales:
▶ 2006-2008: 3-4 women per year prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.
▶ 2009: 7 women prosecuted.
▶ 2010: 23 women prosecuted, including 7 teenagers. Plus one woman was acquitted and one sentence quashed – both were domestic rape cases, one in Manchester and the other in Wales.
▶ At least 5 women suffered from mental illnesses including symptoms of PTSD, a common result of sexual abuse.
▶ 9 said they had been abused as children or suffered domestic violence or rape. No account was taken of this; instead it was used as another sign of lying.
▶ In addition to the 50, we know of 9 other women accused, charged or acquitted.

Sentences: Between 2006 and 2010 sentences seem to have increased from six months to two or three years. Judges justify these high sentences by claiming the women had to be severely punished in order to protect ‘real victims’, effectively accusing women of being responsible for the low conviction rate. Even mothers have received high sentences.

2. Prosecuting women for alleged false allegations is not in the public interest.

  • It is a misuse of public funds and not in the public interest. It deters rape victims from coming forward. Many women who contact us now say they are afraid to report in case they are disbelieved and sent to jail.
    It is not hard for an investigation to establish when an allegation looks unfounded. It could be dropped before any harm has been done to anyone.
  • Every time a woman doesn’t report, an attacker is free to attack again. Every time a victim is disbelieved and prosecuted, a message is sent to rapists that they will get away with rape, but their victim will be punished twice: by them and by the criminal justice system. The public service a victim does by reporting a dangerous man so he can be stopped from raping again is never taken into account.
  • So many rapists have got away with it over the years that those who are caught consider themselves unlucky – they are outraged and blame women for their misfortune. They have had the ear of the police, the media, the courts and some parliamentarians. They have succeeded in mounting a pernicious campaign regarding false allegations which threatens to undermine any progress rape victims have made in the past 30 years.
  • Sex workers who report violence are prosecuted for prostitution related offences on the information given to the police to enable them to arrest the attackers. This flies in the face of public campaigns for women’s safety and protection.
  • Rape victims who are prosecuted lose their anonymity and are more vulnerable to attack.
  • Men do not suffer the same malicious prosecutions. Even after women victims accused of assault or harassment by a violent partner or ex-partner are found not guilty in court, and the man lied, we never hear of him being prosecuted for making a false allegation or perverting the course of justice.
  • Accused men rarely suffer more than questioning. Women may be blamed for what the accused suffered as a result of a police investigation that was out of the woman’s control. Prosecutions are then brought on that basis.
  • After the Wales false retraction case, and the prosecution of a number of teenagers, the results of a perverse and vindictive prosecution policy are beginning to be acknowledged. Afua Hirsch, the Guardian’s legal correspondent, has argued that it is not in the interest of justice to prosecute false allegations of rape, nor is it a deterrent.
  • Sending more women to prison goes against all the respected voices, such as that of Baroness Corston, who have called for fewer women to be sent to prison and pointing to the devastating effect on children whose mothers have been jailed.
  • Are police and CPS intending to raise conviction rates by lowering the rate of reporting?

3. Victims are under pressure to retract.

  • Police often turn on the woman when she reports a rape or an attack. In some of the cases we have dealt with, the police pressured the victim to say she had lied.
  • In other cases the victim was pressured by fear of retaliation by the attacker or his family, fear of losing her children – social services have been known to take the children of victims of domestic violence.
  • Other women who report rape are arrested for unrelated offences, such as speeding fines.
  • Women are threatened with arrest for calling police too often; many are told ‘this is your word against his’, ‘it will never get to court’ or get a conviction, etc.
  • Some prosecutors know better. A Chief Crown Prosecutor and a specialist rape prosecutor told us that they do not prosecute women for false allegations or retractions of rape because they are aware that victims may sign a retraction under pressure from the rapist, his friends, police or even her own family; this is particularly common in cases of domestic rape. We have heard similar comments from people working at Sexual Assault Referral Centres.

4. The women most vulnerable to attack are the most likely to be disbelieved.

  • Women who have been raped more than once are particularly vulnerable to being disbelieved, particularly if they had reported an attack which didn’t get a conviction. Yet three different research papers found that 37% of rape victims were raped more than once. “A history of making demonstrably false complaints” may be a history of being disbelieved.
  • Women who named the wrong man out of fear may be prosecuted for malice. Their genuine fear of retribution is not taken into account.
  • We have found police and CPS particularly prejudiced against women & girls who are mentally ill, drug users, immigrant & asylum seekers, working class, work in the sex industry, or have a criminal record. These women are most likely to face police hostility and even prosecution.
  • Once women are disbelieved, prosecutions for alleged false allegations are only a small step further.

5. Rape victims are accused of making a false allegation even when there is no credible motive.

  • The Guidelines say that a prosecution is less likely if the “allegation appears not be have been motivated by malice”. But in some of the miscarriages of justice we are dealing with, for example the wrongful convictions of Gail Sherwood and Layla Ibrahim, are not only not motivated by malice, but no credible motive at all for lying was found. Ms Sherwood was accused of being an lonely attention seeker: she is a mother of three, an amateur dog breeder, she has a loving partner, a wide circle of friends, she has been a trusted childminder. She had nothing to gain by accusing an unidentified stranger of raping her. Ms Ibrahim was also attacked by an unidentified stranger. She was badly injured and had no reason to lie. Police and prosecutor must have a very low opinion of women to believe their allegations were false.
  • What are the motives of police and prosecution? How much does it have to do with the Proceeds of Crime law? In Ms Sherwood’s case they took a substantial amount of money from her house which has not been returned still. In Ms Ibrahim’s case, the family is mixed race in an overwhelmingly white area; her teenage brother had previously complained about being assaulted by the police and his complaint had been upheld by the IPCC. Were the police seeking revenge? Or were they diverting attention from a series of other unsolved rapes in the area?
  • The consequences are horrendous. Not only two innocent women have been imprisoned but their attackers are free to attack again. A man whose description matches that of Ms Ibrahim’s attacker has been reported in other attacks.

6. Given negligent and biased investigations and prosecutions, accusations of perverting the course of justice are unsafe. We believed many to be miscarriages of justice.

  • It is common for police to disbelieve women reporting and. 2/3 of victims withdraw at the investigative stage. Home Office research “A gap or a chasm?” (2005) identified “an over-estimation of the scale of false allegations by both police and prosecutors”, feeding into a “culture of scepticism”, with officers commonly disbelieving victims’ reports and reluctance to investigate. This was the experience of many victims of John Worboys; some were even laughed at. What is to stop them from prosecuting the victims they disbelieve?
  • Violent men often counter-accuse their victims in order to deflect attention from their rape. Police and CPS often choose to believe the man over the woman. Instead of taking an independent view of the evidence, the CPS rubber stamp the police view.
  • Police don’t investigate thoroughly e.g. don’t interview possible witnesses, gather CCTV, don’t get evidence tested (e.g. DNA, phones).
    • Police use unskilled officers – e.g. poor quality ABE interview with victim. We know of one ABE with a minor where the police failed to turn on the equipment; and another that is so poorly conducted the CPS are not using it, forcing the girl to recount the rape in court. Both victims are under 16.
  • Police and CPS use discrepancies to dismiss a case instead of asking the woman to explain them. Pre-trial witness interviews are allowed but still not widely implemented.
  • CPS doesn’t prepare the evidence properly before court. (Even Baroness Stern acknowledged that judges complain about the CPS allowing victims to be discredited by not preparing cases properly and being caught out by evidence they didn’t know about.)
  • Police and CPS apply the wrong charges, removing rape from its context, especially when there is domestic violence, so it appears as a one off crime rather than a pattern. They accept a plea bargain so rape is downgraded and given a lower sentence.
  • Police latch onto the wrong suspect (e.g. Colin Stagg, ignored report from Robert Napper’s mother and from another police force which was on to Napper).
  • Rapists are sometimes protected for unrelated reasons, e.g. they are police informers or have connections with the police or others in authority.

7. Officers responsible for botched up investigations are rarely disciplined/sacked so there is little incentive to change. We suspect the same is true of prosecutors.

  • Most officers don’t admit mistakes and don’t apologise. Victims are left without protection or justice. The IPCC have told us that the number of complaints for botched up rape investigations has skyrocketed. Yet DPS and IPCC rarely hold the police to account – both are widely discredited for nearly always endorsing the police version of events, and for recommendations that have no teeth. Guilty officers are allowed to retire on a full pension; the few who are sacked often appeal and are reinstated.
  • This is not confined to rape cases. Aside from deaths in custody, in 2009 the IPCC found the police guilty of misconduct in only 10% of cases. In over 300 deaths in custody barely a single officer has been convicted – we only know of one such conviction. The officer who attacked Ian Tomlinson (filmed and watched by millions all over the world) has not been prosecuted. Are rape victims expected to trust the police when we know that’s what they can get away with? The corrupt forensic pathologist appointed by the police to examine Ian Tomlinson had already excused Camden Ripper Anthony Hardy of murder, enabling him to kill again. Why didn’t the CPS proceed in a case that rested on a corrupt individual who had already been discredited?

21 February 2011


Layla Ibrahim, 22, was found guilty of perverting the course of justice by a Carlisle Crown Court jury on 17 June 2010. She reported being attacked on 4 January 2009 on a footpath near a canal. Judge Paul Batty QC described the crime as “wicked” and commended the police officers who led the investigation; sentencing her to three years. Was it racism/payback because the police were disciplined for harassing her brother? At 14-years-old he was hauled naked out of bed, and taken to the police station without an adult, as a suspect for a crime he didn’t commit, and harassed over several weeks. The officer responsible also threatened their mother with arrest if she made a complaint, but she did, and it was upheld. Layla Ibrahim was pregnant at the time of her trial and gave birth in jail. She has always protested her innocence. Her mother, Sandra Allen, 53-year-old teaching assistant, the rest of her family and everyone who knows them believe she is innocent. She is fighting to get her conviction overturned.

Gail Sherwood, 52-year-old mother of three girls, living in Stroud Glos. In March 2010 she was found guilty of three counts of perverting the course of justice and sentenced to two years. This resulted from a series of rapes and stalking over 2008-9 by a stranger who was never identified or caught. Police say the hooded figure on CCTV leaving the house the night she claimed she was abducted was her staging the rape alone; she denies this. Eighty friends and relatives stand by her and wrote to the judge to say so. WAR worked with her a year before trial, wrote to the DPP, police and local MP, attended the whole six-week trial, visited her in prison and conducted a campaign to free her. We are still working with her to clear her name.

JD, 30-year-old mother of a girl of four. Sentenced to two years in July 2009 for perverting the course of justice. She had called the police during a row with boyfriend at her home. Police found her concussed and injured. They questioned her for two days without sleep. Eventually she named her boyfriend, who she had fought with that night. Next day she realised it was a flashback to a rape six months earlier committed by a different man. JD told the police that she had made a mistake and the accused was released after just a few hours. He had not been publicly named. The CPS decided to prosecute her, and once the prosecution against her was instigated, his name was headline news. He said in court that he did not want to see her imprisoned, he just wanted his name cleared. She lost her appeal against the sentence. Appeal Court judges commented, "Allegations such as this drive yet another nail into the conviction rate. . . An immediate custodial sentence is inevitable when a false allegation of rape is made . . .” It was vindictive, but typical, and quoted Lord Justice Judge.

Hannah Morris, reported two violent men after a threatened arson attack on premises, the men were believed to have shotguns. The police turned the investigation on her and she is being prosecuted for running a brothel. The investigation against the men has been abandoned.

A woman who was acquitted: A young Pakistani woman with a baby who reported her older husband for rape. He wasn’t convicted. He tried to have her prosecuted for perjury/PCOJ, claiming she lied. She was put on trial by the CPS relying on the following points: no visible injury; neighbours said they didn’t witness anything; only reported it after he had left her; she tried to reconcile with him after the rape. The defence pointed out that the investigating officer was the same man in both the rape and the perjury/perverting course of justice case; the policeman and husband were closely in touch; husband is wealthy and influential.

We are in touch with six other women who were acquitted or had charges dropped.

Plea Bargain: Ms W was a drug addict, raped by dealer. He kidnapped, tortured, drugged and raped her for 17 hours. He was initially charged with rape, attempted rape, threats to kill, false imprisonment, and administering substances. But after a plea bargain, most charges were dropped and he was only convicted of assault. His sentence: community service.