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Rape Cases (Cheshire)

Volume 586: debated on Monday 13 October 2014

3. What assessment she has made of the findings of the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary on Cheshire police’s handling of rape cases; and if she will make a statement. (905425)

This is my first opportunity as the new Policing Minister to say how proud I am to be at the Dispatch Box. However, I am not proud of what was disclosed by the investigation in Cheshire.

The Government are committed to improving the police response to rape, and it is vital that police-recorded crime statistics are robust, especially for the victims of such abhorrent offences. That is why the Home Secretary asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to carry out an all-force investigation of crime recording practices—this is how the Cheshire situation arose—and I expect the police and crime commissioner and chief constable to use the findings to improve the service to victims in Cheshire.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but the chief constable was quoted as saying:

“HMIC questioned the administration process of recording the crimes at fault, not the investigations into them.”

Does that not show that he has failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation? With a chief constable who is so complacent and a police and crime commissioner who has been unusually silent on this issue, how can any woman in Cheshire have the confidence that if she reports a rape it will be treated seriously?

No matter what type of rape it is—whether it is rape against a woman or against a male—it must be treated seriously across the country as a whole. The hon. Lady says the police and crime commissioner is being quiet, but this is a quote from him:

“I am committed to ensuring that victims are at the heart of policing”

in Cheshire. I expect him to adhere to that.

Horrifyingly, one in five women will experience sexual violence during their life, yet only 15% of the victims of the most serious sexual offences report those crimes to the police. Does the Minister agree that if more victims are to come forward, the police up and down the country need to send out a robust message that these crimes will be taken very seriously?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. When people come forward, they must have confidence in the force and the police officers who are dealing with their complaint. I hope that that is why more people are having the confidence to come forward these days.

Police performance in dealing with crimes of rape is getting worse, not better. Last year there were 4,000 more crimes recorded in the UK, but on this Government’s watch since 2010 we have seen hundreds fewer prosecutions and convictions, and there is a postcode lottery around the country. In Suffolk, for example, we know from freedom of information requests that the police have no-crimed more reports of rape than they have detected rapists. In Lincolnshire, the no-crime rate for rape is over 20%. Does the Minister agree that this is unacceptable, and will he now back Labour’s plan for a commissioner on domestic and sexual violence to raise standards across every police force in this country?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on what I think is her first outing at the Dispatch Box with her new portfolio, but I can agree with hardly anything she said, apart from that we must take rape very, very seriously, whether it be against women or men, and we want more and more people to come forward and to be confident that the investigation will be robust. That is what we need, not running down the police time and again.

Working with the Cheshire rape and sexual abuse support centre and St Mary’s sexual abuse referral centre, Cheshire police have established a dedicated rape unit. Does my right hon. Friend agree that work between the police and third sector organisations is one way of improving the support available to rape victims and helping to encourage them to come forward and report the crime?

This cannot be done by the police alone; they have to work with partners across communities. I shall be visiting this particular part of the world in the near future, and I hope to look at this scheme so that we can possibly see how it can be done elsewhere in the country.