Sex crimes 'almost decriminalised' in east London, as just 1 in 20 leads to charge
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Last week, a sexual predator was jailed for five-and-a-half years after attacking a young woman in Barking.
Lutzim Gaxha, 27, had stalked his victim late at night, dragged her into a bush and tried to rape her.
Fortunately, she had spotted Gaxha following her and had already called the police, who interrupted the attack. After serving his sentence, he will be deported to Albania.
DC Chris Maxim, from the Met Police’s east area sexual offences unit, called Gaxha’s sentence “a great outcome”.
But this is not the way justice is found for most sex assault victims in Havering, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham.
The Metropolitan Police's “positive outcome” rate in rape and sexual assault cases has plummeted over the last five years.
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A positive outcome is where a suspect receives a charge, summons or alternative.
In 2015/16, the force reported positive outcomes in 22 per cent of cases.
It has since fallen annually, to 16pc, then 12pc, then 6pc and finally, in 2019/20, to 5pc.
It means the attacker is being prosecuted in just one in 20 cases.
"These statistics are appalling, but they’re not a huge surprise,” says Jodie Woodward, director of operations at East London Rape Crisis.
“The vast majority of cases we deal with result in no further action and we have seen that steadily increase over the years.”
“The rates have always been really low but there’s a significant decline,” agrees Alex Feis-Bryce, CEO of east London-based SurvivorsUK, which supports male sexual assault victims.
“We are almost to the stage where sexual violence has been decriminalised.”
Both charities feel there are several causes, including a reluctance to bring any case which is not highly likely to result in a conviction.
Ms Woodward feels police and the Crown Prosecution Service are “second-guessing how a jury might respond.”
“It seems as though the cases being put through are the ones seen as having the strongest chances of success,” she says.
But, says Liam Allan, that is as it should be.
Mr Allan was cleared of rape in 2017 when evidence from his accuser’s phone, withheld from the defence until days into his trial, exonerated him.
He has founded a charity called The Defendant, supporting people accused of crimes and facing long waits for charging decisions or trials.
“An individual should only be charged if there is a likelihood of conviction,” he says. “If there is not, charging someone only extends the trauma for both victims and defendants.”
Detective Superintendent Paul Trevers, head of the east area CID, said last week that changes to data recording could have impacted positive outcomes, as could a recent “move away” from taking uncharged offences into consideration during sentencing.
He added: “One important aspect is also the willingness for a victim of crime to support a prosecution, particularly in matters such as domestic abuse and sexual offences.”
But figures show the proportion of London sex offence cases in which complainants withdraw support has fallen.
In 2015/16, the Met published outcomes for 1,848 sex crime reports. In 176 – or 9.5pc - complainants withdrew support. In exactly half of those, police had not yet identified a suspect.
In 2019/20, out of 2,200 cases, complainants pulled out in 200 – or 9.1pc. Again, in half, police had not identified a suspect.
Complainants withdrawing, says Ms Woodward, “certainly doesn’t account for anything like the volume of decline that we have seen” in positive outcomes.
In many such cases, she adds, complainants withdraw out of frustration at slow progress – indicating a larger problem.
“The police are under-resourced,” says Mr Feis-Bryce. “Cuts have reduced specialist officers. Sexual assault officers are carrying quite large caseloads.”
We revealed last week that while reports of serious crimes in Havering, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham have risen by 20pc in five years, officer numbers have decreased.
“We struggle to get communication from officers,” says Ms Woodward. “But that won’t just be because officers are not doing their jobs. It would be remiss not to take into account increased workloads.
“Cases are still at the police stage 18 months, two years later. People feel their whole life has been left on hold.”
Rape Crisis helps complainants appeal when their cases are dropped, says Ms Woodward. In those that are successful, it is often because police never followed important leads.
The Met said it was improving, particularly in rape cases.
Cases where suspects are identified but a complainant is “not able to support a prosecution” are known as “Code 16” outcomes.
A spokesperson said that in the 12 months up to September 2020, Code 16 was applied in 28.3pc of rape cases, compared to 37.4pc in the previous 12 months.
They said: “This is believed to be partly due to the closer working between the Met and CPS, as well as more effective and supportive police engagement with victim-survivors.”