England: police chief calls for rape cases to be prioritised as Elish Angiolini QC publishes report

Dame Elish Angiolini QC

The commisioner of the Metropolitan Police has said officers will need to be taken off the streets if more resources do not become available to deal with an “overwhelming” rise in reports of rape.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that officers were struggling to handle the number of rape cases and that they should be given as much resources as counter-terrorism and cybercrime.

He warned that as a result of the 68 per cent increase in rapes in the last eight years to over 5,000 in London, officers would need to be removed from the front lines.

Sir Bernard, who was speaking at the publication of a review on the investigation and prosecution of rape cases said a possible 30,000 child abuse cases were going to become less of a priority.

He said: “Unless we have a massive injection of resources, we will have to prioritise in terms of historical offences.”

The review was undertaken by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini QC.

It found the increase in reports of rape was putting “unprecedented demands” on the criminal justice system.

The police say they have seen a sharp rise in claims of sexual violence following a spate of high-profile cases in recent years.

Sir Bernard said: “We have to give the same priority to sex offence investigations as we do to counter-terrorism.”

The report details concerns amongst officers and prosecutors dealing with rape cases about the sheer volume of work.

It states: “High levels of anxiety were observed in both organisations, which, unless additional resources are forthcoming, can only become worse as staff struggle to meet increasing crime reporting.”

The report also looks at concerns that some officers lack empathy because of “burnout”.

It states: “Some detective inspectors were concerned that the impact of ‘burn-out’ on those working in this field and of ‘compassion fatigue’ due to unacceptable workloads has left some officers incapable of recognising any but those they consider the most deserving of complainants.

“Similarly, senior staff at the Havens suggested that the lack of occupational health support available to SOIT officers leaves them susceptible to ‘vicarious trauma’. This, we were told, can desensitise officers, leading to fatigue, lack of ability to cope and, significantly, lack of ability to empathise.”

Dame Elish said those working in the criminal justice system must get rid of myths from “medieval” times about victims’ actions and need to better understand psychological reasons that explain behaviour such as failing to resist rape or being unable to shout or present a consistent account of events.