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IPCC finds failings in the working practices of MPS Southwark Sapphire Unit between July 2008 and September 2009

February 26, 2013, 12:52 pm

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is today publishing the findings of its investigation into the working practices of Southwark Sapphire Unit between July 2008 and September 2009.

The IPCC took the decision to examine the local practices for the reporting and investigation of sexual offences on the borough after four previous IPCC investigations into Southwark Sapphire unit. The findings of a fifth investigation concerning a rape reported to Walworth police station in November 2008 are also being published today.

This investigation found that during this period the Southwark Sapphire unit was under-performing and over-stretched, and officers of all ranks, often unfamiliar with sexual offence work, felt under pressure to improve performance and meet targets. Victims were questioned closely by a Detective Constable before they met an officer trained in dealing with sex crimes to ensure crimes were classified correctly.

The unit also adopted its own standard operating procedure designed to encourage officers to take retraction statements from victims in cases where it was thought they might later withdraw or not reach the standard for prosecution. By increasing the number of incidents that were then classified as ‘no crime, sanction-detection rates improved and the performance statistics for the unit benefited.

IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass said:

“Todays report brings to an end the IPCCs involvement in this sorry chapter of the Sapphire Units history.

“The approach of failing to believe victims in the first instance was wholly inappropriate. The pressure to meet targets as a measure of success, rather than focussing on the outcome for the victim, resulted in the police losing sight of what policing is about – protecting the public and deterring and detecting crime.

“The findings of our investigation into the rape reported in November 2008 were also deeply disturbing. The victim was failed by the people from whom she had sought help.

“Since 2009, when the unit came under central command, Sapphire has changed considerably and continues to evolve.

“But given the number of cases where the MPSs response to victims has failed, either through individual officers criminality or neglect or more systemic problems of training, priorities and resources, the response that “lessons have been learned” begins to ring hollow. That is why I asked representatives of those who actually deal with victims to advise me of their experience of whether lessons have indeed been learned and I am very grateful to those who attended a meeting at the IPCC in December 2012 for sharing their expertise.

“It is encouraging that this experience has, for the most part, improved considerably, though there is still more to be done. The MPS have recently reconstituted their external reference group and it is their responsibility to maintain this vital link – which if properly used will provide them with an early warning system against potential future problems before they become headlines.

“The MPS must now ensure that this improvement is built on and continues – and remain vigilant to ensure that they do not lose focus on this area as other policing priorities emerge, or as they face further pressure on resources.”

The MPS has accepted all the recommendations in our report. In light of the feedback from the voluntary sector the IPCC has made further recommendations to the MPS, which include:

  • Training for frontline officers and staff should include guidance and information around consent, the cultural issues that may arise in these situations and what to do when they are faced with an allegation that is based around consent;
  • The MPS should do more to monitor victim satisfaction – confidential surveys will provide essential feedback on whether the changes they have made are working and identify further areas of improvement;

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