Police in the country’s biggest force are to use the licensing laws to shut down pubs and clubs where high levels of rape and sexual assaults take place as part of a radical attempt to create a hostile environment for rapists.
In his first interview, the new head of the Metropolitan police’s sex crime unit, Sapphire – which has been beset by controversy – has revealed a rape prevention strategy that will target men and women.
It will challenge male behaviour while attempting to speak to women about reducing their vulnerability to rape.
Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Duthie is taking action as the Metropolitan police investigates a big decrease in rape reporting, which has sparked an outcry from victims’ groups concerned that women have lost confidence in the police because of failings in the unit supposed to be the gold standard for the country.
This month a former Sapphire officer, Ryan Coleman-Farrow, faces sentence for failing to investigate rapes, pursue suspects or submit evidence over a three-year period. His activities have left 11 alleged sex attackers at large.
At Southwark crown court, Coleman-Farrow has admitted 13 counts of misconduct in public office for failing to investigate 10 rapes and three sexual assaults over three years. The officer, who was based in Kingston upon Thames, south-west London, has admitted falsifying computer records to bring cases to an end when no such decision had been made.
Another detective from Sapphire is being investigated as part of what one source said was a major inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into almost identical offences to Coleman-Farrow.
Duthie said he was determined to root out below-standard officers. “It is a big responsibility investigating rape; if we get it wrong, a rapist walks free, I don’t want that to happen on my watch.” His tactics to bring more rapists to justice and prevent sex attacks taking place include:
• Using the licensing laws for the first time to shut down pubs and clubs which generate a high level of rapes and sexual assaults.
• Using covert police tactics to target men who have never been charged and convicted of rape, but where intelligence suggests they are perpetrators.
• A hard-hitting prevention campaign to target male behaviour and speak to women about reducing their vulnerability.
• Increasing supervision of his officers by restructuring Sapphire into five or six large regional teams.
He also pledged to reduce what he says is the unacceptable 13 hours it takes on average for victims to be interviewed and medically examined after reporting rape.
On the unprecedented use of licensing laws to deter potential sex offenders, he said: “If you were in Lewisham High Street at night and someone had a glass or bottle stuck in their neck, we would use the licensing legislation to close that place down. But until now we haven’t done that for sexual offences.
“We are looking at areas that generate high levels of sexual offences, identifying nightclubs or pubs where this might happen, and which we can link back to rapes and use the licensing laws against these premises.”
Duthie admits using covert policing tactics is unlikely to lead to the male targets being convicted of rape. Instead he hopes they will be taken off the streets for other offences. “These are Al Capone type tactics. We will possibly end up prosecuting them for something other than rape. We don’t want them out there committing sexual offences so if they are disqualified from driving or locked up for having weapons this will help prevent rape.”
Duthie’s new rape prevention campaign takes its lead in part from a strategy launched in Scotland last month. “We can stop it” targets young men aged 18-27 and asks them to consider their behaviour and become role models with their peers to prevent rape.
Duthie is aware that the Met’s intention to target women as well as men could prove controversial. “We have to make sure we are not targeting the victims but the suspects,” said Duthie. “But we do need to educate people that if they go out and get hammered they are vulnerable – vulnerable to being assaulted – vulnerable to falling over and vulnerable to being raped.
“80% of our victims have one form of vulnerability or another, a permanent or temporary vulnerability through drink, drugs, mental health, age. So there are things that we can do to prevent the offence happening in the first place.”
One of Duthie’s biggest challenges is the big fall in the reporting of rapes in greater London over the last year, which appears to buck the national trend. Women’s groups blame a loss of confidence in the police due to the high-profile failures by Sapphire in the past five years.
In greater London, the latest figures show the reporting of rape is down 15% from April to the end of September to 1,444 reports, compared with 1,712 for the same period last year.
“This is a concern for us,” said Duthie. “Is that because there’s less rape happening, is it because we are intervening earlier in domestic violence or is it because there are fewer people reporting?
“If they are not reporting, why are they not reporting? Is it because victims are losing confidence because there is a perception they won’t get justice, and people wont get charged? We are doing significant work at the moment with our partners looking into all of that.”
He said that although reporting of rapes was down, detections were up since he had taken over – with 330 men charged between April to September this year compared with 259 in the same period last year.
A spokeswoman for Women Against Rape said the new tactics were a diversion. “These so-called prevention strategies are a diversion from what’s needed: thorough unbiased investigations and prosecutions so rapists are caught and convicted, and rape is discouraged,” the spokeswoman said.
“Telling men not to rape will have no effect when the reality is that 93% of rapes don’t reach conviction. Victims want their attackers prosecuted for rape, not for some unconnected crime.
“What makes women vulnerable is that the authorities side with the rapist rather than the victim: victims are disbelieved, especially if they have been attacked before.”