Did the Met betray rape victims to avoid bad PR?

An astonishing allegation in Brian Paddick's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

Former Metropolitan Police officer -- and Lib Dem mayoral candidate -- Brian Paddick has appeared at the Leveson Inquiry, and his witness statement contains an astonishing allegation against his ex-employers.

In a section about the Metropolitan Police Service's attempt to improve its image in the media, Paddick details the "negative commentary" on Ian Blair after he took over as Met commissioner. "The Met went from being very open to being almost paranoid," he writes.

One of the consequences of this, he adds, was that he was asked to "water-down" a report critical of the Met's handling of rape cases. Paragraph 19 reads:

Shortly after he became Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair asked me to review rape investigation in the MPS. Performance was patchy and he wanted the MPS to be the best in the world. The review revealed serious shortcomings and made strong recommendatons but senior officers were concerned about the impact the report would have on the MPS' reputation, particularly against the background of the criticisms levelled at the new Commissioner.

As a result I was told to tone down the criticisms and water-down the recommendations. My original report highlighted the changes over a period of four years, 2001/2 - 2004/5. It showed a large increase in the number of allegations of rape, but a similar fall in the percentage of allegations classified as rape by the police. It also identified wide variations in the way rape was investigated by the MPS within London.

The final report only analysed performance over two months in 2005 and sidestepped any criticism of the force, saying: "Any assessment of the performance of the MPS in the investigation of rape must be placed in the wider context of the complexity of rape allegations that are reported" and "without detailed case-by-case analysis, it's not possible to determine the extent to which police performance affected the outcome of the investigation."

In terms of remedial action, I recommended a radical change in approach, supporting a "consistent, victim-centred approach to the management of rape allegations". However, the final report concluded that existing practices were adequate, saying "it is adherence to best practice that needs to be addressed to ensure a consistently excellent service is delivered across London to the victims of rape."

[emphasis mine]

Paddick also claims that the Met's press officer told her that "her job was to ensure [the report] received no coverage at all". He concludes: "As a result, the service the MPS provided to rape victims was sacrificed in favour of the MPS' reputation."

If true, this is shocking. Campaigners have fought to bring attention to the low rates of conviction for rape, and the usual rejoinder is that there is no proof that cases are dismissed due to anything other than lack of evidence. The report outlined by Paddick would have provided useful statistics to challenge this, and help forces across London improve the way they dealt with victims.

Of course, this isn't the first time the Met's treatment of rape cases has been called into question. In 2010, an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that three officers in the specialist Sapphire unit faked a victim's statement to make it appear as though she had retracted her allegation.

Earlier that year, one of the victims of serial rapist John Worboys told the Guardian that her allegations had been dismissed by the Met, allowing Worboys to continue his spree. (He was arrested, but officers believed his story that the victim was drunk.) "They talked down to me as if it was my fault, as if I was the criminal, and I just felt they didn't take me seriously," she said.

The Evening Standard report into the IPCC's investigation of the case put it like this: "The officer in charge had a "mindset" that a black cab driver could not commit such an offence ... the report describes a culture in which officers did not believe women if they made allegations of a sex assault after a night out."

If Paddick's claims are borne out, it seems that problems with some Met officers' attitudes to rape victims had been identified long before these two cases -- and the chance to address them was missed. All in the name of positive PR.

Thanks to our legal correspondent, David Allen Green, for bringing the evidence to my attention. I'm on Twitter: @helenlewis

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.