RADICAL measures to transform the way the criminal justice system tackles child sexual abuse have been agreed in a bid to head off “another Savile moment in five or 10 years’ time”, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said today.
DPP Keir Starmer QC and the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on violence and public protection, Chief Constable David Whatton, set out plans for an overhaul of guidance, a programme of training, and proposals for a panel of officers and prosecutors to look at past decisions if requested.
Mr Starmer said: “We cannot afford another Savile moment in five or 10 years’ time. Whatever approach is now agreed it has to be fully informed, coherent, consistently applied across the country and able to withstand the test of time.”
The late DJ Jimmy Savile was one of Britain’s most prolific sexual predators but slipped under the radar and was allowed to abuse on a massive scale.
Mr Starmer said: “Police and prosecutors have significantly improved the way we investigate and prosecute sexual offences in recent years, particularly those involving children.
“The results have been encouraging with more cases being brought to court, higher conviction rates and more defendants pleading guilty. Yet, despite all this, events over the last 12 months raise fundamental questions about our approach to these cases.”
He added: “We are clear that the yardsticks for testing the credibility and reliability of victims in sexual abuse cases do not serve the police or prosecutors well and risk leaving an identifiable group of vulnerable victims unprotected by the criminal law.”
In a speech this evening in London to an invited audience of representatives of charities, campaigners and Government officials, the DPP will set out the results of discussions undertaken with leading police officers, including Mr Whatton.
Mr Whatton said: “By working shoulder to shoulder with the Crown Prosecution Service and the College of Policing, ACPO is keen to ensure that we continue to build on progress in the area of sex offence investigation.
“We have proposed a package of measures, including a rationalisation of guidance, training and consideration of a review panel mechanism to ensure we have truly learned from the lessons of the past.”
The CPS and ACPO have agreed:
• A clearing of the decks in relation to policy and guidance. All existing policy will be decommissioned, with one overarching and agreed approach to investigation and prosecution of sexual offences to be applicable in all police forces and agreed by the CPS. The CPS will also draft new guidance to ensure consistent best practice, which will be open to public consultation.
• Training will ensure there is no gap between policy and practice. The training will be hands on and provide practical advice to police and prosecutors about when a complainant can and should be told about other complaints, among other things.
• To propose the formation of a national “scoping panel”, which will review complaints made in the past which were not pursued by police and prosecutors, if requested.
Mr Starmer said: “There is an urgent need for an informed national debate about the proper approach to the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.
“That debate needs to extend well beyond the CPS and the police. Above all, a national consensus needs to be reached on the issues.”
To this end, ACPO and the CPS will host a series of “round tables” with bodies and individuals with responsibility, interest or expertise in the field in order to explore and test the revised guidance on investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases.