UK

Rape case referrals to CPS reach five-year low

A distressed young woman
Image caption Rape Crisis said it was worried victims of historic abuse cases were not being taken seriously

The number of rape allegations handed to prosecutors in England and Wales has hit a five-year low - despite a 30% increase in the number of rapes reported to police, it has emerged.

Police sent 5,404 cases to the CPS in 2012/13 but received more than 17,000 reports, figures have suggested.

It compared with 6,597 rape cases referred out of 13,096 reports in 2008/9 and 8,130 referrals in 2010/11.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) expressed "concern".

This concern was echoed both by the government and the shadow attorney general.

The figures emerged in a written answer to a parliamentary question.

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said she was worried police officers were coming under pressure following budget cuts and might be "cutting corners" as a result.

'Worrying trend'

She said she had been in contact with rape victims' charities who said cases were being dropped that could have been sent to the CPS.

She said: "I think on the face of it this is a very worrying trend.

"The CPS is doing a lot of work on trying to improve the way in which they prosecute these cases and that is to be applauded but if they are not being given the cases to prosecute you have to ask why that is.

She added: "The police are under huge pressure to produce results, to get convictions. Targeting cases that are easier to get convictions on, I can understand that. I don't know whether that is the case or not but I worry that it may be."

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, national policing lead on adult sex offences for Acpo, said the police would continue to provide a "victim-focused response" to rape investigations.

"There have been significant improvements in the specialist training of officers, the introduction of early evidence kits, greater access to sexual assault referral centres and increased partnership working with support groups," he said.

"The fall in the number of rape or domestic abuse cases that police are reporting to the Crown Prosecution Service is a concern."

Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said the government was concerned by the fall in number of CPS referrals.

He said it had already held a meeting with the director of public prosecutions and police leaders and agreed to establish a scrutiny panel to look at how forces were dealing with rape cases.

Mr Baker said: "I am determined to drive through the government's commitments to improve the criminal justice system's response to rape, to encourage more victims to seek help and to bring more perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice and to push up level of convictions."

"The government is concerned by the falls in referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service."

'Historic abuse'

The charity, Rape Crisis, expressed fears the police might not be taking victims of so-called historic abuse cases seriously, despite the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal and subsequent police investigations

Spokeswoman Katie Russell said what appeared to be a decrease in justice for rape victims was "counter-intuitive" and undermined efforts by police forces to improve their handling of such cases.

She said: "We are certainly across the country seeing anecdotally a rise in particularly survivors of what is sometimes referred to as historic abuse coming forward, either to the police or to support agencies like Rape Crisis.

"If that's translating into reduced referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service obviously our fear would be that so-called historical cases and particularly cases where adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse come forward are not being handled as well or sufficiently or taken as seriously as they might be."

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