About damned time! A piece in today’s Times by David Brown (Chief News Correspondent) and Fiona Hamilton (Crime Editor):
A Metropolitan Police officer involved in two collapsed rape cases was removed from active duty last night. Detective Constable Mark Azariah was stood down as a “precaution” while the force reviews all open sex abuse cases, prioritising roughly 30 alleged rapes about to go to trial.
Two cases collapsed in one week after failure to disclose material that assisted the defence. Jeremy Wright, QC, the attorney-general, described them as “appalling failures”. Mr Wright is conducting a review and Theresa May told the Commons: “It is important that we look at this again so we make sure we are truly providing justice.”
The Times understands that at least two other police officers were involved in the disclosure process in the case of Isaac Itiary, 25, which collapsed on Wednesday. Mr Itiary, a father who spent four months in jail awaiting trial for child rape, is considering suing the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
A legal source connected with the cases said they believed that Mr Azariah, a member of the force’s child abuse and sexual offences unit, was being “hung out to dry” by the Met, which seemed to be portraying him as a “rogue officer”. The truth was that disclosure problems were far more widespread, the source said. [J4MB emphasis]
On Friday The Times revealed the collapse of the trial of Liam Allan, 22, a criminology student accused of rape. Police had failed to disclose texts from a woman that proved his innocence. Mr Itiary, from Walworth, southeast London, faced six charges of sexual activity with a child, two of rape and one of making indecent photographs. The girl was 14 and 15 at the time of the alleged offences but the case was dropped at Inner London crown court after police disclosed texts that showed she routinely posed as a 19-year-old.
Mr Itiary’s defence lawyers had been asking for the records of the complainant’s mobile telephone since September but they were not emailed by Mr Azariah until Sunday. The next day the CPS said that it was dropping the case.
Sundeep Pankhania, of Gower Solicitors, and the barrister Mary Aspinall-Miles, who acted for Mr Itiary, said that disclosure had been “disjointed, piecemeal and in contravention of repeated court orders”. They added: “It has become apparent that there may be additional evidence as yet undisclosed to the defence which informed the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision.”
Commander Richard Smith, who oversees rape cases for the Met, denied that there were systemic failures but acknowledged that the review could affect hundreds of cases. [J4MB emphasis] Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, told the BBC that police and prosecutors had made mistakes and needed to learn lessons, but her officers were professional and fair.
A Met source said that officers were overwhelmed by the amount of digital evidence and were handling up to 30 investigations at any given time.
The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association reiterated criticism from senior lawyers that the collapsed prosecutions reveal the “tip of the iceberg”. [J4MB emphasis]
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