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18.11.14

Police fail to record 800,000 offences a year, including a quarter of sexual crimes

Over a quarter of sexual offences and a third of violent crime reported to the police each year are not recorded as crimes, with over 800,000 offences going unrecorded annually, according to an inquiry by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

HMIC says that it is “inexcusably poor” that 19% of all crime goes unrecorded. It calls failure to properly record crime “indefensible”.

The inspection of crime recording found that 26% of sexual offences go unrecorded as crimes, while 33% of violent crimes go unrecorded. It also found that even when crimes are correctly recorded, too many are removed or cancelled as recorded crimes for no good reason. Of the 3,246 decisions to cancel, or ‘no-crime’, a crime record that was reviewed, HMIC found 664 to be incorrect. These included over 200 rapes and more than 250 crimes of violence against the person.

“Offenders who should be being pursued by the police for these crimes are not being brought to justice and their victims are denied services to which they are entitled,” the report said.

HMIC also found that in 800 of the no-crimed reports there was no evidence to suggest the victim was told of the decision.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor said: “A national crime-recording rate of 81% is inexcusably poor. Failure properly to record crime is indefensible. This is not about numbers and dry statistics; it’s about victims and the protection of the public.

“The position in the case of rape and other sexual offences is a matter of especially serious concern. The inspection found 37 cases of rape which were not recorded as crimes. The national rate of under-recording of sexual offences (including rapes) as crimes was 26%, and the national rate of incorrect decisions to no-crime rapes was 20%. These are wholly unacceptable failings. Some forces have exemplary records in this respect, and some others are very bad. It is particularly important that in cases as serious as rape, these shortcomings are put right as a matter of the greatest urgency. In some forces, action is already being taken in this respect.”

He added: “The police should immediately institutionalise the presumption that the victim is to be believed. If evidence later comes to light which shows that no crime occurred, then the record should be corrected; that is how the system is supposed to work.”

Responding to the report, home secretary Theresa May said: "It is never acceptable for the police to mis-record crime. Failing to do so not only lets down victims, but the wider public who expect to be able to trust the integrity of police recorded crime. This investigation, which I commissioned from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, confirms my concern that there have been utterly unacceptable failings in the way police forces have recorded crime.”

The report stressed that while it draws conclusions at a national level the picture is different at a local level, with some forces recording crimes well and others badly. It found that the problem was worst in four forces, Avon and Somerset, Dyfed-Powys, Northumbria and West Yorkshire, which all failed to record more than 30% of the crime reported to them by the public. The best forces were Staffordshire, South Wales, West Midlands and Lincolnshire.

The investigation was ordered by the home secretary after the police recorded crime figures lost their ‘gold status’ as national statistics after two parliamentary inquiries heard concerns about their integrity from whistleblowers and others.

The inquiry was based on reviewing 10,267 reports of crime by the public and 3,240 ‘no-crime’ decisions, as well as surveying the views of 17,000 police officers and staff.

It included several case studies of how forces have mishandled crime reports. In one, a woman who made a complaint of rape, who knew her attacker and had had intimate relations (but not sexual intercourse) with him on at least one occasion in the past, had asked him to stop. On the day of the rape she was drunk and had been taken into woods by her attacker and had taken off some of her clothes, despite telling him that she did not want to be there. HMIC says the fact she took off some of her clothes before she was attacked was irrelevant and consent should never be presumed. The attack should have been recorded as a rape.

In another rape case, a 13-year-old girl had reported to the police that she had been raped by an 18-year-old boy. The victim was unclear about some of the details. A full investigation was carried out but there were no witnesses and no evidence was found to prove it had happened. The officers no-crimed the report because they did not believe the victim.

But HMIC says that in the absence of evidence establishing it did happen, it should have been recorded as a rape. “To do otherwise implies that the victim is not believed.”

There was also an example of one force ignoring a report of child abuse from social services. They were told that a seven-year-old boy was hit by his father with a wooden spoon and was bruised. As a result of the attack social services put in place safeguarding measures but the police failed to record a crime. HMIC say this was incorrect and “a crime should be recorded if it is reported by the victim or a person reasonably assumed to be acting on behalf of the victim”, as it is clear social services were doing in this case.

The inquiry rejects claims that officers are put under pressure to manipulate figures. However, in its survey of over 17,000 police officers and staff, 39% of those who had responsibility for making crime-recording decisions reported that performance and other pressures were distorting those decisions, and when presented with that picture, a number of forces admitted it.

However the inspectors added that “forces are making considerable efforts to change the culture in which such practices were permitted in the past”.

HMIC has recommended that the College of Policing should establish standard training to be provided by each force which ensures that all officers and staff who are likely to record crimes or have supervision of crime-recording have a sound understanding of the relevant principles to be applied, and are periodically tested on them.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]

Comments

Ben Dover   11/05/2016 at 16:46

This article is scary. What has happened to the prusumption of innocence until proven guilty. HMIC says that in the absence of evidence establishing it did happen, it should have been recorded as a rape. “To do otherwise implies that the victim is not believed.” What??!! So if there was no evidence proving a rape did happen it still should be recorded. He added: “The police should immediately institutionalise the presumption that the victim is to be believed. If evidence later comes to light which shows that no crime occurred, then the record should be corrected; that is how the system is supposed to work.” Down the drain with due process and fair trials then.

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