Vera Baird DBE KC

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

My response to an article on Liberty website.

I recently read an article entitled \”Skewed Priorities\” on the Liberty Human Rights website. It was important that I addressed a number of the points they raised, below is my reply.

I read with interest the article entitled \”Skewed Priorities\” by Liberty\’s Emma Norton and felt that as Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria I had to respond to ensure all the facts were in the public domain and the importance of Northumbria Police launching an inquiry into \”no criming\”

She writes that Northumbria Police \’has had to announce\’ that 11 rape allegations previously recorded as “no crimes” are going to be reinvestigated.\’ How they have \’had\’ to do so is important. It is far from new that the police \’no crime\’ rapes, in questionable circumstances. It has been happening, nationwide, for many years, publicised by campaigners, usually relying on individual or client experience or disparity of figures between forces – and yet no force before has \’had to announce\’ a reinvestigation.

The difference this time is that Her Majesty\’s Inspectors of Constabulary now inspect from less of an internal police vantage point. The majority of Inspectors, since the advent of Tom Windsor, are drawn from a civilian scrutiny roles such as membership of the Audit Commission. There is only a minority of the former police who used to monopolise the organisation. Thus Inspectors have a better chance of seeing cases as members of the public might see them. That is because some of them are members of the public.

Added to that I, as the elected local Police and Crime Commissioner, can scrutinise police files when it is necessary for me to fulfil my role of ensuring that the police are carrying out the public\’s wishes. Those wishes are expressed through the statutory consultation each PCC is obliged to carry out and are digested into the five year local Police and Crime Plan, giving strategic direction to the force. Domestic and sexual abuse were a top priority of the Northumbria public. I read the entire year\’s \’no crimed rapes\’ and, as an experienced criminal lawyer, found 11 of them seriously wanting. To ensure the implementation of the Police and Crime Plan and the delivery of what the people have told me they want from the police, I control the police budget. This is a significant and little appreciated shift of power from the police towards the public. HMIC have an independent perspective and a systematic process, but they cannot enforce a response. Holding the police budget means that I can do exactly that.

Liberty could, therefore, be pleased with this development. It could welcome the news that a Senior Investigating Officer has been appointed in Northumbria, not only to re-investigate the alleged rapes themselves but, with the Professional Standards Department, to investigate the officers who \’no crimed\’ them in the first place. A more independent inspectorate, and tighter local oversight secured by the leverage of being elected and possessing financial power can forcefully challenge police attitudes on rape. A number of local rape and domestic violence activists welcomed, at last, the promise of change.

The problem is not performance statistics. There are no rape performance demands in Northumbria police, for good reasons around building the confidence to complain. All rapes must be recorded within 24 hours and those \’no crimed\’ are then recategorised. The statistics would not be significantly affected if 11 cases were wrongly \’no crimed\’ out of the 20,000 to 32,000 which, according to ONS, are reported, nationwide, in a typical year.

Ms Norton thinks this problem has been about –

\’protecting innocent men from false allegations\’. The Senior Investigating Officer will shortly tell us what it is all about, but we know the usual prejudices that are used in such matters, however, I have confidence that the force will look at all the evidence, ensuring that the victim is at the heart of the review.

The Chief Constable has taken a strong stance in moving senior detectives from the department and serving some with notices of serious misconduct. This is not moving the deckchairs round while the Titanic goes down. The entire force knows what has happened and why. A strong signal is being sent that outmoded attitudes to rape are now as unacceptable in the police force as they have been to victims and the organisations that support them.

Her Majesty\’s Inspectorate of Constabulary read a sample of \’no crimed\’ rapes from every force in the country and will shortly publish some early results. We should all be watching to see if other areas react with the same determination and rigour that has marked Northumbria\’s response.