Ken Clarke clarifies 'serious rape' remarks


Ken Clarke has spent the day at the centre of a media storm, after remarks he made about rape on Radio 5 live caused controversy.

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Ken Clarke has declined to apologise after he appeared to suggest that some rapes were less serious than others.

It followed a BBC interview about sentencing proposals in which he referred to "serious rape".

The justice secretary later returned to TV studios to stress that "all rape is a serious crime" and that he had used the "wrong choice of words".

Labour leader Ed Miliband had said he should quit for effectively suggesting there were "other categories of rape".

The row began on Wednesday morning with remarks Mr Clarke gave in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live about proposals under consultation to halve jail terms for people who plead guilty early, including rapists.

Start Quote

Ken Clarke was defending his plans to cut in half the sentences of criminals who plead guilty long before they get to court ”

End Quote Nick Robinson

Mr Clarke has not apologised for his remarks in general, but he has written to a victim of attempted rape, who also featured on the show, saying: "I have always believed that all rape is extremely serious, and must be treated as such.

"I am sorry if my comments gave you any other impression or upset you."

'Proper punishment'

At present, a defendant entering an early guilty plea can earn up to a third off their sentence. But proposals to halve sentences are outlined in a Green Paper on sentencing in England and Wales.

In an interview with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5 live, Mr Clarke argued that pushing for an early guilty plea would stop rapists denying charges and would relieve the victim of "going through the whole ordeal again and of being called a liar" in court.

He dismissed suggestions rapists could be out in 15 months - calculated by halving the average sentence of five years, then allowing for the time someone would be allowed to serve on licence - as "total nonsense".

On being told that the five-year figure came from the Council of Circuit Judges, Mr Clarke said: "That includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15 year olds...

"A serious rape with violence and an unwilling woman - the tariff is longer than that."

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke watched Ed Miliband call for his resignation during PMQs while he was on the set of the Daily Politics, but suddenly left

When BBC interviewer Victoria Derbyshire interrupted to say "Rape is rape, with respect", Mr Clarke replied: "No it's not, if an 18-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she's perfectly willing, that is rape. Because she is under age, she can't consent... What you and I are talking about is we are talking about a man forcibly having sex with a woman and she doesn't want to - a serious crime."

He also said date rapes were included in the figures adding: "Date rape can be as serious as the worst rapes but date rapes... in my very old experience of being in trials [from his time as a practising lawyer]... they do vary extraordinarily one from another, and in the end the judge has to decide on the circumstances."

He later admitted he had confused "date rape" with sex with a willing but underage girl.

'Real disgrace'

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said Mr Clarke had, in any case, not been correct to suggest consensual sex with a 15-year-old would be rape - under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 children under 13 are presumed to be incapable of giving their consent to sex. Sex with a 15-year-old would amount to another sexual offence which carries a lower penalty.

In a separate interview with Sky News, Mr Clarke denied he was cutting sentences. He said the proposal applied to every single criminal offence, adding: "Rape has been singled out as an example mainly to add a bit of sexual excitement to the headlines."

At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Miliband said Mr Clarke's comments had implied there were "serious rapes and other categories of rape" adding: "The justice secretary can't speak for the women of this country when he makes comments like that."

David Cameron told MPs rape was "one of the most serious crimes that there is and it should be met with proper punishment" and the "real disgrace" was that only 6% of reported rape cases ended in a conviction.

He said there was already a plea bargaining system in the UK and the government was only consulting on whether to extend it - and had not yet decided what crimes it should include.

The prime minister said he had not heard the interview but Mr Miliband told him to go back and listen to it, adding: "The justice secretary should not be in his post at the end of today."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Mr Clarke "has to go if he stands by these comments because they are absolutely appalling".

Rape sentence comments: no apology from Ken Clarke

In later interviews Mr Clarke said the "most extraordinary spin" had been put on his comments and he had been responding to average sentence figures that were put to him.

But he told BBC political editor Nick Robinson: "My view is all rape is a serious crime and if I have given the impression that is not my view then that is wrong, a wrong choice of words."

Asked if he had been ordered to apologise following the row, Mr Clarke said he had not - and he had not apologised: "I apologise if an impression has been given which is not my view and which I don't think I stated."

He added: "Nobody has had to tell me anything - I have always believed from the days I was a young lawyer that rape is a very serious crime - all rape."

The prime minister's spokesman said it was "clearly regrettable" if anybody had been offended by Mr Clarke's comments but said the PM had confidence in him.

He added there had been some misconceptions about what has been said, but added: "The prime minister has not spent the day watching Ken Clarke interviews."

He said both Mr Cameron and Mr Clarke had thought it important he "went out and clarified the position".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    Aren't we all forgetting the sexual offenders register? Even after they are released, sexual offenders are still monitored. A lighter sentence doesn't necessarily mean they are "let off". However, I have serious doubts the SOR acts as a deterrent for re-offenders, and certainly is little comfort to victims and their families. But what is justice if not a sentence that fits the crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    As a former QC it is staggering that Clarke does not understand the laws relating to sexual offences. As a Justice Minister it is frankly unacceptable. To pontificate on sex offences in such an ill-informed and offensive manner is deplorable and a resignation matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    Here we go again. Mr Clarke seems to be focused on not sending criminals to jail. And again, he is a perfect illustration that some of our MPs who are supposed to be our representitives are so out of touch it is frightening. I'm with Miliband on this one (and that doesn't happen often). Either he should go or agree to meet victims face to face and see some real life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    This seems so unbalanced - all about the perpetrator and saving money. What about the victims who have to live with this hideous crime for the rest of their lives? The rapist ends up back in society and the victim has hardly had time to even come to terms with what has happened to them. On top of which I'm sure that some victims will then be deterred from reporting the crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I do not understand how Mr Miliband can claim that what Ken Clark said is not valid - he was making the distinction between constitutional rape, which comes down to the technicality that even if sex between a 16 y/o and a 15 year and 364 day old couple is consensual it is still technically rape, and violent, non-consensual rape. Of coursed those two should carry different penalties!


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