Prosecutor 'care' urged over retracted rape claims

Image caption,
The director of public prosecutions wants greater consistency in the way rapes are prosecuted

New guidance for prosecutors says they should treat "very carefully" cases of people retracting rape allegations.

Last month, a woman was jailed after retracting a rape claim, but freed when the appeal court heard she had suffered violent abuse by her husband.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said such a decision must be examined, including whether the person was "under pressure or frightened".

Any resulting prosecution in England and Wales will now need DPP approval.

Mr Starmer announced the launch of a consultation exercise in the new year on the factors to consider before bringing a prosecution for perverting the course of justice, which will involve charities and special interest groups.

He said: "While we must be robust in prosecuting those who seek to pervert the course of justice, cases where someone has reported a rape but then retracts the allegation must be treated very carefully and we must explore the issues behind the retraction, particularly if the victim is under pressure or frightened."

Violent abuse

The 28-year-old Powys woman was jailed for eight months in November for falsely retracting claims she had been raped six times by her husband.

After initially reporting the crime, she told police she wanted to drop the charges - although she still maintained they were true.

She later changed her mind, saying the original allegations were false, and was subsequently arrested and charged with perverting the course of justice.

Several months later she said the rape allegations were true and the retraction was false.

The woman was eventually freed and given a community sentence by the Court of Appeal, which heard she had been subjected to violent abuse and was "emotional" and "confused".

She told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I'm over the moon, to be honest, that my horrible experience is going to change it for others.

"It's good now that there's another governing body coming in to have a look at these vulnerable victims of rape and assault, and that should they do what I did, it will be properly looked at."

The new guidance also covers people investigated for falsely claiming they have been raped or suffered other violence.

Mr Starmer told the BBC that about 110 retractions were considered for prosecution each year in England and Wales - out of a total of almost 4,000 rape cases.

Last year, 68 of those went to trial, and in 61 the prosecution was successful and in seven it failed.

The DPP said: "The obvious distinction we want to explore is between a retraction of a rape allegation that was false and malicious, which would almost certainly be prosecuted, and a retraction made by a complainant who may have been under pressure, or in an abusive relationship, where it may not be appropriate to prosecute."

'Deserve justice'

The DPP is also stressing the need for prosecutors to ignore the possibility of jurors being swayed by certain "myths and stereotypes" about rape when deciding whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a prosecution.

Examples of those include the belief that if a woman has no physical injuries then she must have consented, and the belief that a delay in reporting a rape suggests the allegation is false, because a genuine victim would report the crime immediately.

The CPS says such assumptions "have bedevilled... rape cases".

"Cases should be judged entirely on the merits of the evidence: myths and stereotypes have no place in a criminal justice system underpinned by basic human rights," Mr Starmer said.

"Rape victims deserve justice and I am determined that we will deliver it."

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