PSNI take rape complainants ‘at their word’ as Met changes tack

Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, who took up the post last year
Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, who took up the post last year

There the PSNI has said it takes sexual assault victims “at their word” and has given no sign it intends to review its approach after the head of the UK’s largest force indicated she has changed tack when it comes to automatically believing complainants.

The PSNI set out what its current stance on the matter is after the Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick revealed she had “rethought” the issue.

In 2014, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary had recommended that “the presumption that the victim should always be believed should be institutionalised” – with particular emphasis on people reporting rape.

However, last year the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Sara Thornton revealed she wanted forces to rethink the policy.

Now in an interview with The Times on Monday (headlined ‘Metropolitan Police ditches practice of believing all victims’) Cressida Dick – who took over as Met commissioner last year – indicated there had been a shift in thinking and said her officers are to approach rape reports with “an open mind”.

It comes after a series of flawed inquiries into sexual assault allegations by The Met.

How the police and prosecution service deal with such cases has come under renewed scrutiny following the acquittal of two Ulster and Ireland rugby players – Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding – after a high profile rape trial.

In the wake of the Metropolitan Police’s move, the PSNI was asked its own policy on believing rape claimants, and whether it was being reviewed.

Detective Superintendent Deirdre Bones said: “In cases of sexual violence, it is PSNI policy to take victims at their word and to follow up on all possible lines of enquiry which may or may not support the account provided by the victim.

“PSNI takes a balanced approach to any investigation and where evidence comes to light which contradicts a victim’s account this will be taken into consideration.

“Furthermore, where evidence suggests that an allegation is clearly false, consideration will be given to investigating the complainant for appropriate offences.

“PSNI would continue to encourage people who have been victims of sexual crimes to report them.

“They will be dealt with sensitively, with respect and will be offered the appropriate support with other agencies.”

In her interview with The Times, Scotland Yard commissioner Cressida Dick said: “Our default position is we are, of course, likely to believe you but we are investigators and we have to investigate.”

The Times report said she was “asked if she was rethinking the belief policy”.

It quoted her as saying in response: “Rethink? I’ve rethought.

“I arrived saying very clearly to my people that we should have an open mind, of course, when a person walks in.

“We should treat them with dignity and respect and we should listen to them. From that moment on we are investigators.”

She also said: “Speaking as a cop, opposed to a citizen, I’m interested in crime.

“If it’s a long time ago, or it’s very trivial, or I’m not likely to get a criminal justice outcome, I’m not going to spend a lot of resources on it.

“And what might be a misunderstanding between two people, clumsy behaviour between somebody who fancies somebody else, is not a matter for the police.”