Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

Letter to the Editor of The Times

Yesterday’s decision by Theresa May to cut the Police Inspectorate’s inquiry into the Worboys and Reid rape cases means that lessons from these two shamefully badly investigated cases will never be learnt. Sexual assaults committed by the London taxi driver Worboys were reported to police by a number of victims but he was left to rape again and again, in all seriously assaulting about 120 women. Kirk Reid was reported a dozen times and finally convicted of 26 serious sexual assaults, most of which ought to have been prevented. Scrapping this inquiry is the equivalent of refusing to investigate the causes of a train crash that injured 150 women.

Importantly, these offences were “stranger rapes”. Officers are supposed to be good at those.  Police defend poor conviction levels by blaming cases between former lovers, or “date rapes” by acquaintances. There, the issue is consent. It is one person’s word against another and a jury less is less likely to be sure of guilt. Campaigners and complainants would say that the police undervalue this kind of complaint. They think they are unlikely to be winners.  A typical comment recorded by The Stern Review (into how the public authorities deal with rape) is   “If a case isn’t likely to result in a charge and conviction I won’t record it as a crime” New research from London Metropolitan University shows that even cases which are recorded as crimes, drop out in high numbers,  prior to trial and that “insufficient evidence” and “victim withdrawal” are the attributed reasons.  Campaigners would call those causes “complaint treated with scepticism” and “women told they haven’t a chance” Nonetheless this type of “Acquaintance rape” is more difficult for police to prove.

However, both in the case of Kirk and that of Worboys, women were complaining of rape by a stranger, of serious assault by someone randomly attacking many diverse women in the capital at night. Neither assailant was known to any of their victims and there was scant chance of a defence of consent. Yet these women were treated with the same scepticism as in the other kinds of case and none of their complaints was recorded as a crime. These cases make clear that there seems to be no situation in which the police will usually believe a woman who says that she has been raped.
After ten years of training, protocols, policies and high levels of specialisation brought to rape investigations by Labour Government, negative police attitudes are still prevalent. They are the key reason why the conviction rate remains low. It is an awful irony that Reid and Worboys looked like the cases that conclusively made that point. The Met could not begin to make the usual excuses and the truth was therefore clear at last. The Police Inspectors, on the back of an Inquiry, could drill down into attitudes and bring real change. The £441000 saved by preventing this work is small compared to the price that rape complainants will continue to pay, if police do not learn to treat them with respect.