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Avon and Somerset Deputy Chief Constable Sarah Crew is the National Police Chief’s Council lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences. Here, following today’s sentencing of grime artist Andy Anokye, she writes about the importance of putting victims first, the complexities of rape investigations and the work being down to improve confidence in the criminal justice system.
It is abundantly clear the heinous acts committed by Andy Anokye have had a devastating impact on his victims and are likely to continue to do so for the rest of their lives.
Their powerful accounts in front of the jury and their moving statements ahead of sentence highlighted just how traumatic the experience of both the crimes and subsequent criminal proceedings have been.
I personally take great pride in the investigation team led by DCI Neil Rice who were outstanding in the care they provided to those affected by this case. The support and empathy shown towards Anokye’s victims was evident in how they sensitively carried out their investigation and supported them throughout the trial.
It is cases like this one which should reassure the public and give confidence to victims to report their experiences to police. Investigators put victims first, diligently look into all the allegations made while treating them with the care and compassion they deserve.
Rape is one of the most complex crimes police investigate and there are many evidential difficulties we can face but we are committed to achieving justice for those who have suffered.
A lot has been made of the current trend of falling referrals made by police forces to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the number of CPS charges and convictions being at their lowest level and the public need to know steps are being taken to address these.
Together with all our partners with a stake in the Criminal Justice System, police and the CPS are engaging in a cross-Government review assessing the full criminal justice process experienced by rape victims with the aim of understanding what’s going wrong in the criminal justice system and to improve outcomes.
In Avon and Somerset, all officers involved in investigating offences of rape or serious sexual assault have undergone substantial training to ensure they provide victims with the best possible service.
Yet we know there is more to do to increase the number of cases brought before the courts and we are learning with every investigation.
When the first complaint was made against Anokye there was no way of knowing how big the inquiry would ultimately become.
The case of a single victim reporting a single offence developed into one involving at least four victims and 30 serious crimes and subsequently saw a team of investigators assess more than 2.3m digital files over many months and speak to multiple witnesses, some of whom were abroad.
It was a massive commitment but one which was absolutely right to invest in – not just to ensure a dangerous man was locked up but to show the victims and the wider public police will listen to them, take their allegations seriously and do everything in our power to secure a prosecution.
And if there is a case which highlights the complexities of such investigations and the value of having the ability to call on those with specialist skillsets, along with adequate resources to effectively manage such an inquiry, then this is it.
In addition to having the right levels of funding in place to ensure we’ve the right people and numbers to handle such significant workloads, it’s also vital there are victim support groups and services available for everyone who needs them. The role of the Independent Sexual Violence Advisor is in my view an essential part of the process and I look forward to the day when every victim of rape can access one, and do so quickly and for as long as they need to.
Many of the organisations which provide such functions are charities and it’s essential they too have the backing they need. The support they provide to victims to help, heal and recover is, quite simply, priceless. And if we’re truly going to improve confidence in the criminal justice system then they are certainly best placed to help us understand the barriers some victims feel exist when it comes to engaging with police.
Finally, I want to address the defence relied upon by Anokye in court.
I want to make clear that just because someone may consent to sex on previous occasions it does not mean they always consent.
There is a clear distinction between consent and submission and if someone submits out of fear or for other reasons such as being blackmailed or feelings of guilt, they lack the capacity to give consent.
I can’t stress enough how resolute we are in investigating incidents which on the face of it appear to be one person’s word against another’s – we will pursue every reasonable line of enquiry. I also want to reassure all victims that even when they don’t want the police to investigate or make arrests, we will still work to provide safeguarding and support and, if appropriate, look to use other methods to protect them from dangerous individuals.
The first job of police is to keep people safe and every single officer takes that role very seriously so please, if you are a victim of rape or serious sexual assault have faith in us, I promise we will do everything we can.