There was a howl of outrage when it appeared that the Presumption of Innocence had been suspended for those individuals with a penchant for strapping explosives around their waist and ensuring that the police had a neat pile of 24 or 48 disembodied hands to match up in an effort to find the guilty pair responsible for blowing up their fellow citizens.
Liberty, all manner of glossy barristers, Amnesty International; practically chained themselves to the railings in Parliament Square on behalf of suspected terrorists who had been deprived of their internet and mobile phones under Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 – the Presumption of Innocence was apparently the most valuable asset the United Kingdom possessed, and any abrogation from it – like assuming someone might be guilty without benefit of lengthy multi-barristered trial, rendered us no better than a rogue State. How dare the Police take it upon themselves to presume guilt? Who did they think they were?
Not one of those expensively tutored, liberty loving, legal assinegoes can be found complaining or even mentioning an internal Police document – Special Notice from 2002 (11/02) – which formed the genesis of formal Police Policy being ‘Believe the Victim’. Everything about that statement reeks of abrogation from the Presumption of Innocence. It is ‘Believe’ not ‘treat with a professional impartiality’. It is the use of the word ‘Victim’ rather than complainant.
Special Notice from 2002 (11/02) has never been made public. I have had to work from excerpts which appeared in a 2013 hearing regarding compensation for victims of John Warboys, and an old Observer article; it might appear to be the Holy Grail for those like myself seeking the origins of the dramatic change in policy that #Ibelieveher represented – but I confess, I am no nearer to discovering who wrote that Special Notice nor why – if you can throw any light on this I would be grateful. This is what it said:
It is the policy of the MPS to accept allegations made by any victim in the first instance as being truthful. An allegation will only be considered as falling short of a substantial allegation after a full and thorough investigation.
If you want the fullest available details of this official policy change, you will just have to wade through all 129 pages of DSD & NBV v Commissioner of Police for Metropolis. Enjoy.
By 2014, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary was grandly proclaiming:
‘The presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised.’
It is said there is a current perception amongst many officers that the policy of belief applies throughout the life of the investigation.
When Dame Elish Angiolini reviewed the Met policy ten months ago (so why is Sir Richard Henriques invited to review it once again?) she was surprised:
to hear the suggestion made in several focus groups, that it is police policy for officers always to ‘believe the victim’. It was clear too that this understanding caused resentment amongst some officers, especially when it led to a perception that they must continue to investigate cases regardless of whether or not the allegation was true, while being required to suspend disbelief.
Dame Elish suggests that:
‘it is more appropriate for criminal justice practitioners to remain utterly professional at all times and to demonstrate respect, impartiality, empathy and to maintain an open mind’.
The alternative approach of ‘always believing’ the complainant may prejudice the impartiality of the officer’s role and lead to their failing to recognise or give weight to other evidence inconsistent with the complainant’s account.
We begin to see the tussle taking place within the Metropolitan Police between the blind, blinkered, uncaring, bloody evil, pernicious, ideologues who will persist in bankrupting the tax payer and persecuting the innocent on the grounds that there is no such thing as a false allegator – and those who adhere to the time honoured tradition of an impartial police force, investigating without fear or favour, but retaining common sense when dealing with outlandish allegations. We could call it the Spindler/Settle Line in the quicksand that is the murky world of Historical/hysterical Sexual Allegations.
On the subject of false allegations, we see Mr Justice Green referring to that same hidden Policy note:
Research on false allegations have shown that they account for as few as 2% of all crimes of rape, the same percentage as for many other crimes.
However, where officers detect false allegations, consideration should be given to obtaining medical assistance for the victim and/or charging them with perverting the course of justice.
Yet that figure is open to reinterpretation – depends how you count the numbers:
‘A variety of definitions of false allegations of rape were found to be in operation amongst police and prosecutors. These ranged from a broadly drawn definition of false allegations relating to intoxicated complainants (and poor recollection of details), delays in reporting, witness retractions, lack of physical injury and lack of medical evidence, and a narrower definition based on situations where the complaint was considered malicious’.
The review identified that where the ‘broadly drawn’ definition was used 36 cases out of the 299 (12%) could be classified as false. Using the ‘narrower’ definition, just 9 cases (3%) qualified as false.
However, the CPS soon stamped on that suggestion:
If there is any question as to whether the original allegation might have been true, then there is not a realistic prospect of conviction, and no charge of perverting the course of justice should be brought’.
Perverting the Course of Justice – (2011) Crown Prosecution Service.
Neither definition mentions the most likely categories: mental health issues; learning disability/difficulties; repeat victimisation; and people seeking attention and or affection.
This division between believers and non-believers can be seen in the focus groups:
A focus group of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) claimed that ‘in four years as an ISVA I’ve never met a woman I felt made a false allegation’. There was also a belief that so-called ‘false allegations’ can be re-living earlier, including childhood, experiences.
Some specialist officers trained in sexual offences investigative techniques (SOIT officers) who participated in the focus groups reported that they regularly encountered false allegations. One estimated it might be as high as 30% of cases though this was an extreme view.
Young people lying their way out of trouble were considered not uncommon, and as in the Crown Prosecution Service report on perverting the course of justice and false allegations SOIT officers said they had encountered complainants who, having embarked on a lie, found it difficult to ‘stop the ball rolling’.
A Detective Constable described making a rape report as like ‘unleashing the dogs of war’, as once started it was almost impossible to halt the investigation. Criminal compensation claims were also suggested by a minority as a potential motive for a false allegation.
While these views were not shared by all the SOIT officers who spoke to the review, there was widespread agreement that many complainants needed specialist support.
Concern, and sometimes resentment about the resources taken up dealing with false allegations, was expressed in focus groups. First response officers described such cases as‘a complete waste of time’. SOIT officers identified there being insufficient resources to investigate all reports and that they had to ‘filter the false jobs out’ to focus on the ‘real jobs’.
Detective Constables expressed concern that time spent on false allegations diverts officers away from genuine reports.
Some police officers perceived a reluctance at senior level to admit or discuss the true level of false or ‘delusional’ reporting, and that this was down to political pressure and inextricably bound up with attitudes towards ‘no criming’.
All of the above was recorded a bare ten months ago – you can see that the fissures in the Met police’s confidence in #Ibelieveher are both deep and current. Does that mean that #Ibelieveher would be more effective if more Police were forced into line? Or was it only ever just a catchy phrase and ‘disbelief’ not truly the problem?
According to 2005 research key factors preventing complainants from completing the initial investigative process included ‘being disbelieved and fear of the criminal justice system’.
However, in the2011/2012 British Crime Survey, ‘female complainants’ most frequently cited reasons for not reporting were that it would be ‘embarrassing’, they ‘didn’t think the police could do much to help’, that the incident was ‘too trivial/not worth reporting’, or they saw it as a ‘private/family matter and not police business’.
Focus groups of complainants told the review that failure to report was less to do with attitudes towards the police and more to do with their own feelings of guilt, shame and wanting to protect their privacy.
Perhaps the real reason Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe would like a new inquiry is that he would really rather you didn’t read this recent and comprehensive review of Metropolitan Police Policy and behaviour towards sexual offending – a review which reveals more than it conceals for once?
In a recent BBC interview, Sir Bernard said:
‘I think we have really got hung up on this word belief, it’s confused officers, and my point would be we of course have to be empathetic, we want people to believe we are going to listen to them.
‘We want to be open minded about what they tell us and then what the suspects tell us.
‘And then we have got to test all that evidence.
‘There is a great danger at the moment with the advice that is around that perhaps there is a tendency to think we will always believe any complaint that is made.
‘That’s not wise for any good investigator.’