18 March 2008
A specialist unit set up by Scotland Yard to investigate sexual assaults has been severely criticised for failing to properly manage a rape allegation by a 15-year-old girl.
In a damning report the Independent Police Complaints Commission has found that there were “significant errors” made during the inquiry by the much-vaunted Sapphire unit in Southwark.
Although someone was charged in connection with the serious sexual assault, he was acquitted after a trial. The report says that during the court case “it became clear that a number of errors had been made by the police”.
The criticism comes just days after John Worboys, a London taxi driver, was found guilty of a series of sex attacks on 12 women. The Times revealed that 12 women went to the Metropolitan police to complain about a taxi driver but their allegations were never linked by Sapphire teams.
They also missed an opportunity to stop Worboys in July 2007 when he was arrested and then set free.
Control of the Sapphire units, launched in 2001 to set the standard in rape investigations, has now been taken from borough level and placed under the control of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command at Scotland Yard.
In the current inquiry a police constable was allocated to the case even though the investigation should have been headed, at the very least, by a detective constable.
Three officers will be given written warnings and a fourth will receive words of advice for their part in the rape investigation failures.
The IPCC found that forensic opportunities at the scene were never explored, there was a failure to identify and arrest the suspect at the earliest opportunity and there was also a failure to properly and effectively supervise the investigation after the teenager reported the matter to police in February 2005.
The police also failed to properly examine the girl’s mobile telephone, only looking at the numbers stored in her phone rather than requesting the full billing list to see who had called her.
By the time they did the records were no longer available.
Amerdeep Somal, the IPCC commissioner, said: “The report into this investigation highlights that significant errors were made that compromised the quality of the investigation into a very serious offence.
“It paints a troubling picture of an inexperienced, overburdened police officer with inadequate supervision working in an under-resourced unit. This was not a complex investigation but basic lines of inquiry were not pursued.
“It is imperative that victims of crimes, particularly of serious sexual offences of this nature, have absolute confidence that the police will properly investigate and allegation that a crime has been committed. Sadly the police investigation into this matter fell far short of what the victim had a basic right to expect.
“It is important to maintain the confidence of victims within the criminal justice system, that matters of this nature are investigated thoroughly and that action will be taken when officers don’t do the job that they should.”
After the trial of the alleged rapist, the Metropolitan Police Service carried out a number of internal reviews that culminated in an admission of errors.
It apologised to the girl and her mother but decided that no disciplinary action should be taken against any individual officers.Southwa
The teenager then submitted a formal complaint about the way she was treated and the investigation which was then referred to the IPCC.
The girl, who is now 19, had trouble reading the report because she was so upset.
Her alleged attacker, whom she is said to have met on a date, still lives near her.
She said: "I expected the police to get me some justice. When I heard about the verdict I just felt crushed. The police and the Government are meant to protect you - if they can't do it, who can?"
Her solicitor, Debaleena Dasgupta, from Fisher Meredith, said: “My client thought the investigation was normal and it was not until she got to trial that she realised how bad an investigation it was.
“I have never seen a report that so explicitly sets out the failures from beginning to end. It is disgraceful.”
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "Officers from the MPS's directorate of professional standards carried out an investigation into a number of officers from Southwark's Sapphire unit, following a complaint from a member of the public.
"The investigation was managed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
"Following the investigation, it was concluded that disciplinary proceedings should be taken against four officers. The MPS and the IPCC are working together to finalise the exact details of these disciplinary outcomes.
"As the investigation has not yet concluded it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage."