Whitehall and false allegations

 by Robert Whiston FRSA  Jan 3rd 2011


In 2002 it was claimed by the Home Office that New Scotland Yard had no idea how many false allegations of rape there were.

Andrew Paternoster, Policy Support advisor at the Home Office’s Sentencing and Offences Unit , wrote saying that as a result, “[New Scotland Yard] are unable to supply a estimated cost [ of false rape allegations ] due to the number of factors involved.

However, he did reassure me that, “researchers have estimated that false complaints account for only 2% of the rape statistics, which is about the same percentage as for many other crimes.”

The ‘only 2% of the rape claims are false’ is a self-fulfilling and circular assertion many authors take on trust and feel safe in doing so simply because everyone from police to HM Inspectors of Constabulary etc do so. No one can point to these ‘reseachers’. Institutions and lobby groups have simply manufactured a wall of deafness to defeat any challenge – no one cites the actual source, the specific literature or researcher.

However, information which I came across I forwarded in Aug 2010 to Nigel Hawkes at Straight Statistics (see http://www.straightstatistics.org/).

“ . . . .  the 2% figure originates in the US and has been frequently cited. An attempt to trace it to its source by a US lawyer, Edward Greer, found that it originated in the feminist writer Susan Brownmiller’s 1976 book “Against our Will”, using data quoted by a judge that in turn came from the Commander of the New York City Rape Analysis Squad in the mid-1970s. There appears to be no published report to substantiate the claim, nor any evidence of how the statistics were collected.”

It has taken until 2010 (8 years) for first the Stern Report and then the Ministry of Justice review to question the size and the lack of research into the question of false rape allegations

Did Andrew Paternoster deliberately not want to understand my letter when he wrote:

Polygraphs are not currently used in criminal court cases in England & Wales, as they are not considered reliable. The question here is whether they would be admissible as evidence – even if used voluntarily, as the use would require the views of a third  person, which would be classed by the courts as ‘hearsay’.

How and why does he make the leap from verifying stories in police stations, as I had suggested, to using polygraphs in court ?

Perhaps because on October 31st 2000, ‘The Independent’ carried a story headlined “Truth test to uncover false rape allegations” [1] which stated that:

“Between 10% and 41% of allegations of rape are made up by the “victim”, according to previous research. In the new test, a claimant’s statement is analysed and points are given from a list of set clues – people who have made up a rape allegation get a low score, while genuine complaints get a high score.

Using this technique in two studies, police officers and researchers had a success rate of between 72% and 100% in identifying genuine rape victims from liars.”

[Aside – If it was 41% ten years ago and approx. 50% today, will it be 60% in 10 years time ? ]

Andrew Paternoster then went further in not just missing the point of my enquiry but being disingenuous about what sticks in people’s minds;

“Investigating these crimes is a complex area, and reflects many of the misunderstandings and stereotypes involved in the handling of rape complaints . . . . . . Cases that appear to be false complaints are considered to be ‘newsworthy ‘, both within police stations and in the media. These cases stay in everyone’s minds, whereas the greater number of confirmed cases often does not.”

Getting traction when dealing with Whitehall is always difficult; they are particularly fond of blaming government or courts for powers they themselves claim not to have. An example is this:

“ …..  where a court decides to withhold a name from the public during the trial, the court has power to prohibit publication of that name. However, mindful of the need to preserve the principle of open justice, the courts have ordered that this power should only be used in limited circumstances, such as the safeguarding of the identity of children and young persons, complainants in rape cases, witnesses who might later be exposed to violence or blackmail, or revelation of whose identity might prejudice national security.”

What piffle ! All the above is set down in statute law and passed by parliament. The courts and judges have to bend to the dictates of government and to ministers who execute policies devised by Whitehall’s civil servants, ipso facto, what the Home Office wants the Home Office gets.

With regards a complaint I had also made about the presentation of Home Office data – statistics, evidence and the so-called ‘conviction rate’ etc – as circulated to newspapers in the form of Press Releases, he replied:

” . . . I am sorry I unable to comment on the way the Home Office statistics are presented to the public by newspapers.

We have no control on the way they are quoted.

The Home Office is quite frequently asked for statistics and it has a duty to provide them, but it has no control over the way that the statistics are quoted or interpreted. Therefore the Home Office is in no way able to comment on misinterpretations.

No control on the way they are compiled or quoted ? That’s not what happened during PSA-8 committee meetings when junior minister Rosie Winterton MP, alerted to errors in the Guardian’s coverage (of fathers being supposedly a lethal danger to their children), called in and corrected their representative and source of the story.



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