CPS & the false allegation report
July 1, 2013 Leave a comment
Not until the present day has the CPS ever come under such unrelenting pressure from politicians and lobbyists alike. Much of it is pointedly ‘Political Correctness’ and it must make their task very difficult dealing with so many sensitive egos.
From certain quarters – the usual culprits – much criticism has been heaped upon the CPS and on Keir Starmer QC the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) for the recent Report into false rape allegations released in March 2013. One of the many criticisms emanating from a women’s lobby group even claim that many women don’t understand the word “consent”. This speaks volumes about their clientele or the deceitfulness of such groups. It is difficult to imagine a person not knowing what ‘consent’ meant – as difficult to imagining a person not knowing what ‘to refuse’ meant. However, if that is honestly the situation then we are dealing with many very young, poorly educated or dim women.
Despite its general shortcomings the CPS has to be congratulated for standing firm in the circumstances and simply presenting the facts as they see them.
Those who are interested in false allegations broadly fall into two camps; on the one side are those that see all false allegations are lies and that every women who claims to have been raped is telling the truth, i.e. there are no false rape allegations.
In the opposite encampment are those that see false allegations as a fact of life and the numbers involved as only the tip of a huge iceberg of mis-trials, lack of evidence, mistaken convictions, lack of DNA proof, and false justice due to the handicapping of the defence team’s sphere of operations.
Our interest in the topic should be in the numbers and how they are collected – not in the politics or self advantage and funding it may bring.
I first brought to the attention of the Home Office (HO) several anomalies and incongruities in data presentation some 15 years ago when I was an occasional adviser. In particular, the persistent use by the HO of the phrase “conviction rate” when the actual number they quoted represented the “attrition rate.”
The attrition rate refers to the number of convictions secured compared with the number of that particular crime reported to the police (it must be noted that a crime that is ‘reported’ does not automatically imply that the crime actually took place). The conviction rate refers to the number of convictions secured against the number of persons brought to trial for that given offence.
Baroness Stern’s enquiry
The Home Office remained obstinate until the Stern Review (2010) which validated all the points I had earlier made to them. The two main areas were the erroneous “6% conviction rate” a figure repeatedly cited by the HO in their Press Releases and, secondly, the misleading nature of those same claims on the general public and legislators when the true conviction rate was really in excess of 50%:
- ‘It is clear to us that the way the 6% ‘conviction rate’ figure has been able to dominate the public discourse on rape, without explanation, analysis and context, is extremely unhelpful. There is anecdotal evidence that it may well have discouraged some victims from reporting. – Stern Review, 2010 (page 46).
- “We have looked closely at the information about conviction for rape and it is clear to us that the figure for convictions of people of all ages charged with rape (as the term is normally used in relation to crime) is 58 per cent. The confusion arises from mixing up the conviction rate with the process of attrition. ‘Attrition’ is the process by which a number of cases of rape initially reported do not proceed, perhaps because the complainant decides not to take the case further, there is not enough evidence to prosecute, or the case is taken to court and the suspect is acquitted. The attrition rate figure has been the cause of considerable concern, and attempts to reduce it are behind many of the reforms that have been introduced in recent years.” Stern Review (2010).
Found within the Stern Review’s recommendations (on page 41) was the view that such was the level of controversy surrounding false allegations, the strong feelings the subject aroused and the part the controversy plays in the response to rape complainants, that an independent research report should commission. it was intended that such an enquiry would compare the frequency of false allegations of rape compared with other offences, and it is this later point that make rape so unique, i.e. it is more susceptible to false claims that one can not imagine happening in other serious crimes such as homicides, arson, fraud etc.
But the fact of the matter is, and disregarding all the attendant rhetoric for a moment, that both of the HO own studies of the 1980s and 1990s into rape convictions found that around 80% could not be substantiated and so could not be brought to trial. Yes, there has been one or two further studies since, e.g. “A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases” (2005), but even with a known arch feminist author (Liz Kelly) in charge they still had problems in squaring the false allegation numbers.  (See Annex A for fuller list).
The gravest problem with the 6% figures is that it is widely quoted by almost everyone in the field. social workers, solicitors the media etc. However, it is its use as a “campaigning tool” to argue for an improvement in the way rape cases are dealt with, which is most destructive. These campaigning don’t give a thought to how it might be undermining their cause by slashing the confidence of women in turning to the justice system.
I have kept records of published cases of false rape allegations which go back over 10 years. But cases cited in newspapers do not tell the whole story of false rape allegation numbers. For the Ministry of Justice’s report into ‘Anonymity’ (Oct 2010 – Nov 2011), Iain Bell, their Chief Statistician was provided with a 10 year supply of published false rape allegations case of which they were totally unaware. Therefore, figures released by Keir Stamer’s report of March 2013, though limited to 17 months, were a most welcome step towards more solid data.
Can only 35 be credible ?
However, there are some difficulties when reconciling the CPS numbers of 121 allegedly false allegations of rape and only 35 convictions, with the data available from newspapers. As I understand it, the CPS looked at a period of 17 months and found that in that period 35 people had been charged (and presumably tried ?) for making a false allegation. 
My data run from Jan to Dec each year, so annualised your figure would be in the region of 25 people charged per annum (including a few false DV claims which are immaterial here)
Yet cases of rape (or where ‘rape’ appeared in the text of the report) and limited to those published in newspaper for the year 2011 amount to over 50 (see Table in Annex B below). Only a very few were not from England & Wales, i.e. 2 in Scotland and 1 in Ulster. Reliance on published cases is not a secure basis but it does, nonetheless, indicate a far greater number at large and ‘off the radar.’
As head of the CPS, Keir Starmer is reported as saying cases of false allegations are “serious but rare”, but 50 plus pa, year after year, is not a trifling amount particularly when it is not the complete picture.
It is regrettable that of late the word ‘rape’ has been over-used by the media and in cases of both assault and sexual assault often attracts the tem rape (perhaps to ‘sex-up’ the case or article ?). As a result it is now a debased coinage for what should be a serious offence and it is not difficult to predict that the next step will be for it to be trivialized as an offence.
In part this is the fault of attention-seeking politicians and the media. Many commentators must be hoping that the CPS will spearhead a resumption in precision of terminology which will restore the gravity of the offence.
It it unhelpful that weighty nationals such as the Guardian rely on estimated numbers, e.g. 78,000 victims of rape per year (69,000 f + 9,000 m), for their articles, followed by “1,070 convictions per year for the offence” which appears to contradict your figure of 5,000 prosecuted for rape and 35 false rape allegations.
With the rape conviction rate so high – at about 50% or more (something I could never get the Home Office civil servants to accept) – it seems that if 5,000 is the true figure then about 10,000 people should have stood trial – but if the 1,070 convictions claim is true then probably only 2,000 trials have taken place. Why is there this public confusion ?
Analysing the police CPS process in the lead-up to a trial an interface has been discovered between police and CPS when deciding whether to prosecute or not. This process is recorded but for some reason not counted by anyone. This would form an obvious and good basis for compiling ‘false allegations’ statistics and conveniently the paperwork trail is already in place (where the CPS and police decide not to proceed the reason has to given and agreed).
There are subtle difference between ‘reported’ and ‘recorded’ crimes (the latter indicating an acceptance that an offence had taken place) and ‘notifiable’ offences – those like rape and homicides that have to be noted down and collected for the HO statistics (see Annex C).
Several years ago a subtle change was made to the treatment of rape offences. No longer were they ‘reported’ crimes but overnight became recorded crimes. Given the extensive use of ‘HO Circulars’ over several years, dictating how all reports of rape are now recorded as a crime’ police forces can expect more intimidation in future.
Re: Baroness Stern’s recommendation, in 2011, for more ‘independent’ research into ‘false rape allegations’ given against a background of pre-existing Home Office research studies (HORS) stretching from 1999 – 2006, which might suggest or be interpreted as recognising them to be somewhat biased by the authors the HO had chosen.
- HORS 293 “A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases” by Liz Kelly (2006).
- HORS 285 “Sexual Assault Referral Centres: developing good practice and maximising potentials” by Jo Lovett, Linda Regan & Liz Kelly (2004)
- HORS 237 “Rape and sexual assault of women: the extent and nature of the problem. Findings from the British Crime Survey
- HORS 215 “Linking serious sexual assaults through behaviour” by Don Grubin (2001)
- HORS 196 “A question of evidence? Investigating and prosecuting rape in the 1990s” by Harris & Grace (1999) Home Office
NB. The length of the Table for 2011 has necessitated its presentation in two parts.
The subtle difference between ‘reported’ and ‘recorded’ crimes – the latter indicating an acceptance by police that an offence has probably taken place); and ‘notifiable’ offences – those like rape and homicides that have to be noted down and collected for the HO statistics.
Understanding ‘reported’ and ‘recorded’ crimes’
When the goal is a reduction in the attrition rate in rape cases with a ‘come what may’ as the background working premise, this ambition may collide with and disfigures any aspiration a people might reasonably expect of having a justice system free from bias.
In theory the police can do today what they could 50 years ago, and decide to do one of 5 things when faced with a ‘reported’ crime, i.e. upon a person reporting a crime.
The police can decide whether to:
- log it as a reported crime.
- log the reported crime as a ‘no-crime’.
- log the reported crime as an offence that actually happened – in that case it then becomes a ‘recorded’ crime.
- if the police decide to log the reported crime as an actual offence (i.e. as a ‘recorded’ crime), they can also decide to take action it or take ‘no further action’ (NFA).
- if the police decide to log the reported crime as an offence and are satisfied that a ‘recorded’ offence has actually been committed they are duty bound to record it, to take action it and pass it over to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).
- if the offence falls within the ‘notifiable’ offences category of crimes they are obliged to list it as a real event.
Certain key points stand out, firstly, the status / relationship between reported crimes and a recorded offence, and secondly, the discretion not to treat all crime reported as an actual crime.
This discretion has remained more or less intact for most crimes and has allowed police to enforce laws sensibly and in the public’s interest (a test still retained by the CPS).
However, certain crimes have attracted the attention of political lobby groups and as a result some crimes have now come under the thrall of politics. The most obvious one is sexual offences and in particular rape and paedophilia (the definition of some sexual offences can be found athttp://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/prgpdfs/prs144.pdf and interestingly pp 48 – 51 lists in tables the predictive sentences that can expected).
Home Office Circulars sent periodically to Police forces and the CPS have eroded their freedom of action and the discretion aspect mentioned above has been (by 2013) utterly compromised.
All serious “offences against the person” (OAP) were historically put in a slightly different statistical category known as “notifiable offences”. These included murder, manslaughter, rape and a very few others.
While murder and manslaughter can still be recorded as “notifiable offences”, implying no initial certainty as to whether the crime has been committed or not in the mind of officialdom the same is not true of rape.
This state of affairs makes more sense when one realises that homicides and manslaughter can, upon subsequent investigation, be down-graded, e.g. homicide to manslaughter and manslaughter to accidental death or natural causes.
The section once headed “Rape – notifiable offences” was a few years ago re-titled “Rape recorded offences”. The implication is that because a rape claim is now listed as ‘recorded’ and is thus one step closer to being an ‘official fact’, i.e. it definitely took place.
This is the subtle difference and implications that ‘reported’ versus ‘recorded’ offences bestow on alleged crimes.
E N D
 Home Office Research Study 293 (HORS 293), by Liz Kelly , Jo Lovett , Linda Regan
 REF. 35 people were prosecuted for making false allegations of rape and six for domestic abuse in a 17 month period between Jan 2011 and May 2012.
 ‘An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales’ (ONS), Table 3.1 – Police recorded sexual offences by sexual offence group, 2005/06 to 2011/12 = 14,00 female rapes in 2010 -11. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/143910/sexual-offending-overview-jan-2013.pdf.pdf