Essex Police made 'big mistakes'

17 September 2010, 11:05 | Updated: 17 September 2010, 12:51

The Police watchdog found 'serious failings' in how Essex Police treated a vulnerable sex attack victim.

In 2007, the 56 year old woman reported two attacks in her home, but both times officers dropped the case after not believing her story.

A man was eventually jailed for 6 years over it, but only after her family and GP got involved.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission started an investigation after the victim's family made a series of formal complaints against Essex Police in January 2008.

At a disciplinary hearing held earlier this year an inspector, a detective constable, a sergeant and a police constable were fined between 5 and 13 days’ pay, another sergeant received a reprimand and another constable a caution.

A case against a chief superintendent at a separate hearing early this month was directed as not proven. The IPCC is only now in a position to release its investigation findings following the completion of disciplinary matters.

IPCC Commissioner Len Jackson said: “Our investigation found serious failings on the part of officers both individually and collectively in their response to allegations made by a highly vulnerable woman. Her serious allegations deserved a far more sympathetic, professional and determined response by Essex Police. A man has been imprisoned for a sexual assault, but it was only following the entreaties of the victim’s family that a full criminal investigation was undertaken.

“We have substantiated a number of complaints made by the family including that the lack of positive action by officers was adversely influenced by the woman’s mental health history. Police wrongly focused on the existence of a mental health condition, yet for instance failed to make arrangements for possible DNA evidence to be secured at the scene, despite the woman offering such evidence to the officers. I remain saddened for the victim and her family who have conducted themselves with great dignity throughout these protracted proceedings.

“The lack of help and support for this particular victim on two separate, traumatic occasions back in 2007 did not stem from poor policies - those policies, since updated, were in place.  It stemmed from very poor policing and totally inadequate supervision.  I am assured, however, that lessons have been learned and that the contents of the force policy on serious sexual assaults have been re-emphasised to all frontline Essex police officers.

“While the IPCC still comes across cases nationally that raise concerns, I am mindful that police forces generally have made significant efforts in recent years to improve the way they investigate serious sexual assaults. Anyone reporting an allegation of serious sexual assault should be reassured that police are trained to treat them sensitively and to look thoroughly into their report.”

Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Police, Andy Bliss, said: “I have personally apologised to the victim of these appalling and extremely distressing crimes. The way that we dealt with her allegations of rape was totally unacceptable. I would like to repeat publicly that sincere apology to her and her family on behalf of the Force.

The perpetrator of this evil, and emotionally devastating, crime has been caught and convicted of rape, due to work by Essex detectives and the CPS. However, that cannot detract from the clear failings identified by the IPCC in the way that these matters were initially dealt with by police officers.

Officers who were at fault have been disciplined. Where the Force needed to change the way we dealt with such incidents, we have made those changes. Clear instructions have been given, reinforced by extra training.

This case was a wake-up call to us about the way we deal with people with mental ill-health – as a direct result we are introducing specific training for frontline officers in this important area. Officers have been further instructed in dealing with allegations of serious sexual assaults, particularly where the victim is vulnerable. These actions, taken together, will help to ensure that such mistakes are very unlikely to happen in the future."