Skip to main content

Rape: Operation Soteria

Volume 827: debated on Monday 23 January 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what are the most recent rape (1) reporting, (2) prosecution, and (3) conviction, rates in England and Wales; and how many forces have rolled out Operation Soteria.

My Lords, the most recent statistics show that 70,600 rape incidents were recorded by the police in the year to June 2022; there were 2,326 prosecutions for rape and 1,019 convictions. Nineteen police forces and nine CPS areas are participating in Operation Soteria and informing the development of new national operating models for the investigation and prosecution of rape. These models will be available to all forces and CPS areas from June 2023.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but recent Home Office research, including under Soteria, revealed a dismal picture of police attitudes towards rape complainants and whether they are at fault for the crimes committed against them. British women are reeling from Couzens and Carrick. Is it not time that the Government took this problem out of the long grass and legislated for police vetting, training and disciplinary reform?

My Lords, I spoke from the Dispatch Box last week on the review into dismissal processes. We talked a lot then about vetting and the various changes that have been made to both the vetting processes and the vetting verification processes, which are being advanced. Operation Soteria pioneered a new model which will effectively put the needs of victims above those of suspects. The initial evidence is that it is working. Avon and Somerset Police was one of the pioneering forces; it has reported an increase in its adult rape charge rate from 3% to over 10%. I do not think that is good news but it is progress.

Does all this not underline the need for urgency in sorting out the deep-seated problems which are constantly coming back from the Metropolitan Police? My noble friend referred last week, and has mentioned again today, to a review lasting four months, I think it is. We need changes now. Home Office officials should have been working towards a conclusion—a conclusion that we should reach before the lapse of four months.

I thank my noble friend for that. As I explained from the Dispatch Box last week, the Home Office believes it is necessary to obtain evidence and make sure this is an evidence-based review in order to deliver the correct outcome for those police forces. As regards the Met, I attended a speech given by the Met Commissioner last week. He indicated the change in the Met’s thinking towards serious sexual offences, saying:

“we are targeting men who prey on women and children. The figures are far from where we would like them to be but the number of rapists we bring to justice is increasing.”

He went on to expand on some innovative use of data and technology which is helping him. I think the Met is making serious progress.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree with me and Professor Betsy Stanko, who carried out a review of rape investigation in the Metropolitan Police, that victim satisfaction is the most important measure for judging police performance against rape? Is it being measured?

My Lords, I can only go back to quoting the statistics that I just gave to the noble Lord. I have not heard of the professor who the noble Lord refers to. As I said earlier, the pioneering police forces in Operation Soteria are reporting an improvement in these cases, though I think it is probably a little too early to tell. I of course agree that the victims should be paramount in this.

My Lords, Operation Soteria sounds fantastic and I support all of its aims, but the fact is that there is a long way to go, is there not, particularly within police forces? For example, in the year up to last April, nine in 10 formal allegations against Greater Manchester officers resulted in no misconduct action. That is a huge gap in culpability and responsibility. Are the police getting more funding for this?

My Lords, we have put a lot of funding into the police, as the noble Baroness will know. The Ministry of Justice has allocated significant funds towards victims’ groups, and so on and so forth. In the year ending June 2022—and this comes off the back of the last rape review—the police recorded an increase in rape offences of about 20% compared to March 2020. Eighteen months into implementing the rape review action plan, we have seen some improvements: the number of adult rape cases referred by the police to the CPS was up 96%; the volume of adult rape cases charged by the CPS was up about two-thirds; and the number of adult rape cases reaching court was up 91%. Progress is being made—not quick enough, I agree.

My Lords, for the Minister’s information, Professor Betsy Stanko wrote the Operation Soteria report. One of the things she recommended in that report was the improvement of data quality. It may sound mundane, but it is at the heart of improving police force quality and the response to sex and rape allegations. One of the central points she made was that the data was unevenly recorded across the country. Does the Minister agree that this should be seen as a priority to try to do better for victims, who are not getting the justice they deserve?

I agree with the noble Lord and thank him for the clarification—the professor predated me, obviously. Operation Soteria is bringing together all aspects of policing and CPS work with regards to rape cases. It is elevating the status of the victims above those of the suspects, which I would argue is long overdue. As part of that, and in order to validate the work of the operation, it is clear that data collection has to be uniform across the country. It will be available to be rolled out in June, as I say, across all police forces, but it is showing signs of improvement.

My Lords, Operation Soteria is described as having exposed the underbelly of policing, which, as we know from the David Carrick statement only last week, is not a pretty sight. I welcome the Minister’s comments about the national rollout. I also endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said about proper policing and vetting. In addition to that, would the Government please consider discipline reviews, taking the legal process out of it and restoring discipline back to police chiefs themselves?

As the noble Baroness will be aware, that is part of the terms of reference of the review into dismissals that was announced last week, as I talked about at the Dispatch Box. It will deliver its results in four months. I have to tell the noble Baroness to wait until then.

My Lords, following on from a question that several noble Lords have asked, could the Minister give us further assurance in this House about the importance of victims’ voices being heard, and that they are heard to be satisfied with what is being done by the police force investigating the crimes against them? If there is an issue with the quality of data, can he advise the House that, when we are looking at that, we will look at what the victims are saying?

Absolutely—I can give that assurance. I am also going to go on to one of the reasons why it was a little difficult in the past to prosecute some of these cases; it was to do with the attrition of victims from the process. In the year ending June 2022, 62% of adult rape offences ended up not being supported for further police action because the victim withdrew. There were a number of complicated reasons for that but, obviously, it is necessary to collect the data which supports that.

My Lords, Professor Betsy Stanko’s report on Operation Soteria, which was published on GOV.UK last month, had two other key findings in addition to those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. She found that investigators and other police staff lack sufficient specialist knowledge about rape and other sexual offending. She also found that disproportionate effort has been put into testing the credibility of the victim, and that there is a need to rebalance investigations to include a more thorough investigation of the suspect’s behaviour. Can we see action on both of those points?

Action is being taken on both of those things. The noble Lord is completely right about specialist knowledge, and this finding is now being applied in South Wales Police and the Met, two of the pioneering forces in Operation Soteria. Structural changes have been introduced in Durham, another of the pioneering forces. That has improved shift patterns, supervisor ratios and so on, which will enhance officer and organisational capability.

My Lords, one reason why so many victims pull out of proceedings is the backlog in cases being heard. Could the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and point out to them again that the danger of these backlogs and the damage they do go right back to why the figures on rape are so poor?