A woman holds a banner as she takes part in a 'slut walk' in London on September 22, 2012 to protest against the police and courts' treatment of alleged rape victims. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The coalition can't ignore the fall in sexual and domestic violence prosecutions

A future Labour government will require police forces and the CPS to regularly publish how they perform on violence against women and girls.

More women are summoning the courage to walk into police stations to report sexual and domestic violence and yet prosecutions are falling sharply. Whenever I have asked the government about this disturbing trend, which has emerged over the past two years, ministers have complacently pointed to rising headline conviction rates without addressing the fact that thousands fewer cases are making it to trial at all. A future Labour government will require police forces and the CPS to regularly publish how they perform on violence against women and girls at every stage of the criminal justice system, from report to conviction.

Since 2010-11, the number of prosecutions for rape has fallen by more than 12 per cent despite a three per cent increase in the number of offences reported to the police. Prosecutions for child abuse have fallen 18 per cent over this period, while the number of offences that the CPS categorises as child abuse has drifted up six per cent. Meanwhile, domestic violence prosecutions have slumped 14 per cent, even though the Office of National Statistics maintains that incidents of domestic violence have been steady at around a million or so a year since 2008-9.

Prosecutions are falling because the police are referring fewer and fewer cases to prosecutors. In total, there were nearly 20,000 fewer cases of rape, child abuse and domestic violence referred to the CPS than in 2010-11. In rough terms, whereas it was once the case that around half of all reports of domestic and sexual violence would get referred to prosecutors =, now it’s only about a third. 

Ideally, all crimes as serious and complex as rape should go before prosecutor before a decision either to charge or to drop is made. This has been stressed in national guidance to police and prosecutors. Officially, the two agencies were supposed to be striving to co-operate more closely to build the cases that once might have been dismissed out of hand. Last month, however, it was reported that police forces were reaching local agreements with CPS about how to dispose of more of these cases earlier in order to clear backlogs of casework. As a result,  police forces are applying more of the prosecutorial tests for bringing charges themselves, while in others, prosecutors are being consulted but only to give early informal, "on the nod" assent that cases should be dropped rather than a formal examination of all the evidence available.

None of this – the collapse in referrals, the slump in prosecutions, the divergence between national standards and regional practice – can be discerned from the information that is currently made routinely public. Labour has had to compile it from parliamentary answers and freedom of information requests and disparate reports from various agencies. A future Labour government would make law enforcement agencies publish this information because the people of Cumbria have a right to know that last year their police force referred 54 per cent fewer rapes to the CPS for charges than the year before, just as the citizens of Liverpool have a right to know that CPS Merseyside Cheshire takes no further action on nearly three quarters of rape cases referred to it by the police. Publishing this data would help the public hold them to account. The former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer is also advising Labour on how it can enshrine the rights of victims into law if it wins the next election.

Last month, the High Court delivered a landmark ruling that systematic  failures by the police to investigate serious violent crime can constitute a breach of the victim’s rights under the European Convention, in particular, Article 3, freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.  The claim was brought by the victims of the serial rapist John Warboys against the Metropolitan Police who failed to investigate their allegations properly and thus failed to stop him attacking again.

This judgment shows that the system has to change. We need to have a system whereby, when a victim walks into a police station, she can be confident that she will be believed and that every effort will be made find evidence to support her in court. We must work with women brave enough to complain because the only way to stop these violent and abusive men is to prosecute them.

Emily Thornberry is MP for Islington South & Finsbury and shadow secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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