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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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.