When Bernard Hogan-Howe said, in February 2016:
My […] proposal is for a clear public statement about our approach to victim testimony in these very sensitive cases. The public should be clear that officers do not believe unconditionally what anyone tells them.
It appeared to herald a new beginning for the Metropolitan Police who had so recently been the subject of adverse publicity. The £1.8m Operation Midland collapsed in a welter of comment from the main stream media concerning the gullibility of police officers. They had subjected high profile names to intense unwarranted media scrutiny as ‘sex offenders’ on the word of the anonymous ‘Nick’.
He specifically quoted Dame Elish Angiolini’s review of the investigation methods used in potential sex offence cases:
Dame Elish questioned whether it is appropriate, or possible, to instruct an officer ‘to believe’. […] “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’.
Hogan-Howe made a point of saying in response to this:
I agree, and would add that a good investigator would test the accuracy of the allegations and the evidence with an open mind, supporting the complainant through the process. This is a more neutral way to begin than saying we should believe victims, and better describes our impartial mindset.
Hogan-Howe announced a review by the retired judge Sir Richard Henriques to ascertain how the police could ‘avoid the appearance of believing any story they are told’. That review has not as yet been published. Has it even started?
Imagine my surprise last week to be handed a copy of a letter addressed to every Chief Constable in the land, all the Police and Crime Commissioners and every Public Protection Unit, written a scant four weeks after Hogan-Howe’s announcement, saying that the College of Policing had carried out their own review. Their ‘review’ had been carried out by ‘senior representatives of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police Service, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC)’.
The College of Policing exists to ‘represent the police service’s desires and aspirations. A fundamental development within the College is the use of knowledge and research to develop an evidence-based approach to policing‘.
They hope one day to have a mandate to set standards in professional development, including codes of practice and regulations, to ensure consistency across the 43 forces in England and Wales. I should point out that they have been waiting five years so far:
As soon as Parliamentary time allows, the College of Policing will be established as a statutory body, independent of government. While the necessary legislation is prepared, the College has been established as a company limited by guarantee.
Whilst they while away the time until they have a mandate to enforce codes of practice on 43 forces, they have given the impression that the contents of this letter are based on their ‘knowledge and research to develop an evidence based policy’….and concluded that:
At the point when someone makes an allegation of crime, the police should believe the account given and a crime report should be completed on the relevant force system. If, at the time of reporting, there is credible evidence to the contrary that determines no crime was committed then the matter should be recorded as an incident.
…it is therefore not necessary to make a change to existing standards and guidance.
Compared to some of the fissures appearing in police practice – I have in mind Hillsborough, where rather than stand up to the bullying at times practised by football fans, police chose to lie about how the gate came to be open, claiming that it was forced open and thus landing themselves in ten times more trouble through those lies; Daniel Morgan’s murder inquiry, indeed that of Stephen Laurence; there is a grinding repetition of sight of the schism between honest policemen and those in places of authority who are prepared to lie and twist and turn in order to stay in position.
I was sadden to see that the article on the South Yorkshire branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers was hastily removed; it is no longer possible for anyone to say that a police officer at Hillsborough ‘did a good job’; every officer there is tarnished with the same brush that the same senior officers chose to paint themselves with. Of course there were good officers at Hillsborough – life is never black and white; in the same way that there were some drunken ticketless fans, else the question of the gate being either ‘opened’ or ‘forced’ would never have arisen. We are no longer permitted to say so – all Police Officers are lying bastards; all fans are sober and well behaved.
The Police, as the ‘adults’ of the relationship, have only themselves to blame for this atmosphere of mistrust.
Policing is supposed to be an impartial investigation to see whether a crime has been committed, providing evidence to both prosecution and defence so that a fair judgment can be made as to where the truth lies.
It isn’t a faith based religion, which is where the mantra of #Ibelieve belongs. Those charmingly furnished ‘rape investigations units’ aren’t confessional boxes, presided over by a uniformed minster with his dog collar on back to front and the power to make the sign of the double cross # and absolve you of any autonomous part in the sin which you say has occurred. ‘Say three Hail anonymous’ and you shall be protected for life’.
We have recently had the ‘disgusting’ – in the sense of the law being used by those who should have higher standards – scene of a senior barrister who had accepted a caution for indecent behaviour, having been found outside Waterloo station in full view of the passing commuters with her knickers around her ankles, whilst her drinking companion from the train she had arrived on performed a sexual act with her, who then doubled back to the police station some three weeks later, when she discovered that her companion was pleading not guilty and had not accepted a caution – to claim that she wanted to withdraw her acceptance of the caution, and ‘on reflection’ wished to claim that she thought she was the victim of a sex attack that she had not consented to because she was so drunk.
Voila! Instant anonymity and the man concerned, who was originally only quietly contesting that he had exposed himself, finds himself defending his reputation as a ‘sex offender’ in the full glare of the media.
In Gloucester, four young men had their charges of gang rape thrown out of court, because the police had concealed evidence that their ‘innocent victim’ had a history of making such claims after group sex. Ironically, had the police not concealed that evidence, the defence would have been barred from questioning her on her previous sexual history – yet she still has anonymity in the community; young men are still at risk of being lured into bed with her.
The policy of #Ibelieve, was introduced after police ‘blundered’ in a series of cases of serious sexual assault. Notably the ‘black cab driver’ assaults. It had hovered in the background for some years prior to this.
Warboys had drugged and assaulted 29 women in his cab. It was alleged that it was ‘the attitude of front line officers’ which meant that ‘at least’ another 100 hadn’t come forward. I don’t doubt that another 71 came forward in the wake of the court case; but, how would those ‘100 women’ have known what the attitude of front line officers would be – since they hadn’t come forward? Is it possible that they felt that being drunk in the early hours of a Soho morning, accepting a glass of champagne from the cab driver and then being raped was something they would rather keep to themselves? That giving evidence in court was not going to heal their hazy memories of what might or might not have happened?
Vocal activists insisted that the problem lay entirely with the police. The media, for their own reasons, accepted that wholeheartedly. It left Senior Officers, in an era of ‘tick box quality control’, to push up the statistics of rape crimes as an indication of performance – and left the door open for the newly discovered ‘historical sex crimes’ and the mnemonic of #Ibelieve.
As Hogan-Howe said: “The remarkable thing about Savile wasn’t the handful of people who had made allegations during his lifetime, it was the hundreds who didn’t.”
It remains to be seen whether Hogan-Howe can hang onto his job by returning the Met to an honourable and objective evidence gathering force or whether policing is to remain a ‘faith based’ cult – without the shackles of the sacramental seal pertaining to their confessional box, or indeed celibacy.
“To ensure the suspect is treated fairly, I would only allow police to name a suspect in a sexual assault case after an application to a court, so that a judge can assess the public interest. The media could argue their case if they wished to name someone, as happens in other areas of the law.”
Bernard Hogan-Howe 10th February 2016.