Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Southwark News Column - 28/03/13

Police must listen to and learn from victims of rape.

The police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, recently published a shocking report on the failings of a Southwark Police Unit to investigate rape allegations in 2008-09. The report found that some officers tried to persuade women to drop their cases that they thought they might not be able to bring to prosecution. They were pressurised to withdraw their allegations to help boost the Unit's performance figures, which at the time were among the worst in the Met.

The policy had disastrous consequences. A woman who made rape allegations against Jean Say in November 2008 did not have her case investigated. He went on to murder their daughter Regina, aged 8, and son Rolls, aged 10, with a carving knife, with police having missed the chance to take him off the streets. He was later jailed for life.

Failure to report and investigate rape denies victims justice, leaves perpetrators free to offend, and undermines victims confidence. It also undoes the good work of others striving to improve performance.

We know there is really serious under reporting of rape and sex offences because women don’t have the confidence that they will be taken seriously. And every time the victim of a sexual assault is let down by the police, other victims lose confidence in taking the big step of reporting the crime. This completely undermines all the good work done by other officers in other parts of London.

That is why Southwark MP’s – myself, Tessa Jowell and Simon Hughes –summoned the Met to account for these failings at a meeting in the House of Commons. We were assured lessons have been learnt and things have changed. But what Tessa, Simon and I told the police is that we’re not prepared to take it on trust. This was, after all, the fifth report into the same unit, which has now been disbanded.

Any police officer who has pressurised a woman into dropping a complaint in order to make them look like they are doing a better job should be thrown out of the force.

The police cannot claim to be taking this report seriously if any of the officers involved are still working for the Met. They all swore an oath as police officers to protect the public and bring offenders to justice, and yet it was subversion and lies. Police officers did wrong here and they should be disciplined or sacked.

The only way our trust in local police’s handling of sex offences can be resolved is if after every case they find out from the victim if they were satisfied with the way the case was handled. This would have to be done not by the police themselves but by an organisation like Victim Support, and would have to be reported to we three MP’s on a monthly basis.

Only then will we, as representatives, know whether the police are doing their job properly. And that too is the only way the police will know that they’ve really tackled their shocking failings.

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