A piece in today’s Times by Fiona Hamilton (Crime Editor):
The head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council wants forces to rethink their policy of automatically believing alleged victims of sexual crime, The Times has learnt.
Sara Thornton, the former chief constable of Thames Valley, also has concerns about police describing complainants as victims at the outset of an investigation before anything has been evaluated, let alone proven.
It is understood she feels that the police service has gone too far in the instruction to immediately believe alleged victims, a national policy aimed at encouraging people to come forward and give them confidence that they will be taken seriously. The fraught issue has resulted in a deadlock at the most senior level of the police service because the College of Policing, which produces guidance for forces, strongly backs the status quo. [J4MB: The Chair and CEO of the College of Policing are both women – here.]
The policy has been under review for more than a year since Sir Richard Henriques, a retired High Court judge who examined the Metropolitan Police’s disastrous VIP abuse inquiry, said that the automatic-belief policy warped the judgment of officers.
Sir Richard identified a string of failings in Operation Midland, which investigated false claims of a Westminster sex abuse ring, and recommended key changes to ensure similar mistakes were not repeated. He said that the instruction to “believe a victim’s account” should be withdrawn and detectives should approach allegations objectively, impartially and with an open mind.
The belief policy undermined the principle of innocent until proven guilty, he warned.
Sources said that Ms Thornton believed there was force in Sir Richard’s arguments. Lord Hogan-Howe, the retired head of the Met, has previously called for an end to automatic belief.
The issue is understood to be deadlocked because of the opposing views of Ms Thornton and senior members of the College. It says that there is a plethora of evidence, including from the NSPCC and rape crisis groups, that the fear of not being believed was a major factor in victims not coming forward.
A spokesman for the College said: “It is vital that the public have trust and confidence in police investigations and we know, both from past investigations and extensive research, that one of the main reasons victims do not report abuse is a fear of not being believed.”
Existing guidance states that complainants should be believed at the point that they give their account, unless there is credible evidence to determine otherwise, and a full, impartial investigation should follow.
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