Rape and violence reports wrongly cancelled by police in up to half of cases, study reveals

Charles Hymas
·4 min read
TELEMMGLPICT000227998725.jpeg
TELEMMGLPICT000227998725.jpeg

Reports of rape, sex offences and violence are being wrongly cancelled by police in up to 50 per cent of cases, without many of the victims being informed, analysis of official reports reveals.  

Inspections of 43 police forces in England and Wales show how officers are wrongly wiping reports of sex offences without investigating them in up to 53 per cent of cases, of rapes in up to 43 per cent of reports, violence up to 50 per cent and robbery up to 33 per cent.  

The data, drawn from reports by HM Inspectorate of Police (HMICFRS), shows that in some forces more than a third of victims were not told their crime report had been cancelled.  

The figures, compiled by the BBC’s shared data unit from HMICFRS inspections from 2016 to 2020, were based on detailed analysis of samples of crime reports in each force where officers then decided no crime had actually taken place and should be “wiped” from the record.

Officers can correctly cancel a crime if new information comes to light - such as CCTV footage or a victim statement - which indicates it did not take place.  

However, the data showed at least 19 forces wrongly cancelled reports of rape,  including  incorrectly deciding there had been consent, or mistakenly ruling they were too drunk for it to be a crime.  

Thirty-eight forces incorrectly cancelled at least one record of a sexual offence with Hampshire wrongly cancelling 53 per cent of its sample of reports.

Katie Russell, from Rape Crisis, said the "premature and inappropriate” dropping of cases which could have a lifelong impact on victims was “completely unacceptable.”  

Andy Higgins, research director at think tank The Police Foundation, saidthe problems around recording crime were "systemic" especially for sex offences where numbers were “massive” and investigative resources “slim” and forces “strategised and prioritised.”  

Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, said: “We have a crisis in how the criminal justice system handles rape. 

“In five days we have heard that prosecution levels are at a record low, over 80% of CPS letters to rape victims fall below an acceptable standard and now, some police officers are deleting crime records without evidence to show the crime didn’t happen. 

“It re-enforces my message that nothing short of a radical systemic cultural transformation in the handling of rape cases can bring about the justice rape survivors deserve.”  

The figures showed Hampshire incorrectly cancelled 53 per cent of sex offence cases in its sample, followed by Humberside (40 per cent), Gloucestershire (39 per cent), City of London (33 per cent), Cheshire (30 per cent) and Wiltshire (25 per cent).  

For rape, Cheshire stood at 43 per cent, Derbyshire (20 per cent), Surrey (20 per cent), Hampshire (16 per cent) and Norfolk (15 per cent).  

For violence, Gloucestershire stood at 50 per cent, City of London (40 per cent), Derbyshire (32 per cent) and on 30 per cent Bedfordshire, Avon and Somerset and Wiltshire.  

For robbery, North Yorkshire and North Wales stood at 33 per cent, Staffordshire (31 per cent), Surrey (29 per cent) and Greater Manchester (25 per cent).  

A National Police Chiefs' Council spokesman said it was "working to further improve the accuracy of crime reporting,” adding: "Police will never close a case if they are merely unclear as to whether a crime happened or not.”.  

The Home Office promotes a victim-oriented approach to crime recording, which states a belief by the victim a crime has occurred is, in most cases, enough to justify its recording.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: "We expect crimes reported to the police to be investigated appropriately. "We provide clear guidance to forces on when it is appropriate to cancel crimes and how this should be done and we expect them to comply with this to ensure victims have the confidence to report crime."

An HMICFRS spokesman said: “When we first started our crime data integrity inspections in 2014 we found that too many crimes were incorrectly cancelled. Since then, although some forces are still underperforming, we have found that overall crime recording has significantly improved, including forces’ approach to cancelling crimes.

"There are still improvements needed in some areas, in particular informing members of the public on the decision to cancel a crime which they have reported. We continue to monitor how well forces are recording crime and make recommendations where improvements are needed.“