On Tuesday a report (Forging the links: Rape investigation and prosecution) by the Inspectorate of Constabularies and the Crown Prosecution Service was published looking at the recent review into rape investigations. There has been a rise in detected (as opposed to convicted) rape cases over the last five years to 24%, which, if looked at in comparison to the national average for all ‘solved’ crimes is only 4% below and should be seen as a major achievement. This hopefully will instil greater confidence in the public and encourage victims to report offences to the police.
One of the major passages from the report that was covered in the news and on social media sites was how police needed to place greater effort into the use of intelligence to assist investigations. ‘This inspection therefore concentrates on the identification and management of intelligence material to support investigations, prosecutions and the protection of victims. This is a structured process that if improved would result in better outcomes.’
Missed from the reporting is the fact that stranger rapes are a rarity and a large proportion of these offences is committed by either the partner or someone who is known to them. Intelligence in these circumstances will be based on what police are told by family members, associates of the suspect and work colleagues. There is generally little that will be held on the police intelligence systems unless the male is a previous offender although full checks should be conducted into any relevant Forces where the suspect has previously lived.
Of greater significance and what the report is, in my opinion, referring to is how intelligence should be used in the investigation of stranger rapes. In these circumstances, all efforts should be utilised to develop a full intelligence profile of the suspect and this should include local, SCAS, (Serious Crime Analysis Section) national (Police National Database when suspect identified) and international checks.
An essential part of the investigative process of stranger rape crimes should be dedicated use of intelligence research and analysis. By using available intelligence material from all available sources a profile of the offender can be developed and this can then be converted into evidence to support a future prosecution case once the offender has been identified.
It is rare for a suspect to start offending behaviour with rape and as such it is imperative that research and analysis is conducted into all types of sexual offences committed within a town and, if necessary, further afield. The modus operandi linked with the suspect description and locations can be used to assist to focus the investigation.
Currently an area of intelligence which is underused is information which can be gleaned on foreign nationals from their home countries. Recent personal investigative experience has shown me offenders who should have been placed on the Sex Offenders Register in this country for their foreign convictions only but which only came to light when relevant checks were made on unconnected offences committed in the UK.
The report also contains a review recommendation of how ‘bad character’ evidence is used. Evidentially this is an extremely important factor and all relevant offences, whether convictions or no further action/acquittals, should be examined and their application discussed with the CPS. Offending patterns can again be identified to support a charge and can be missed if the suspect has moved around the country. Bad Character applications may not always get past legal argument for the jury to hear but if no attempt is made to introduce this evidence then this may not only affect a conviction but also the subsequent sentence.
Moving on from intelligence, the report also recommended the use of the CPS prior to the suspect being interviewed. I have yet to have a CPS lawyer advise on the course of an interview and it is uncommon for one to be able to take the time to attend and oversee one with the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). In a stranger rape situation the planning of the interview would be conducted by a trained and experienced police Interview Coordinator in line with the SIO policy using a staged technique covering all evidential factors discovered from the investigation.
Overall, there are recommendations contained within the report which are relevant and should be taken under consideration by ACPO and the CPS. Some of these are already in practice with specialist RASSO (Rape and Serious Sexual Offence) units countrywide dealing with the majority of rape offences allowing patterns of offending and the offenders themselves to be identified quicker during an investigation. Any review which identifies ways which may assist in increasing the detection and conviction rates for rape offences should only be seen as a benefit.
DS 5-0 is a serving detective sergeant with 17 years' experience who has worked in specialist child abuse and murder investigation teams. He has extensive experience of Crown Court trials.