London: Scotland Yard is considering reviewing its policy of automatically believing a victim alleging rape or sexual abuse to ensure neutrality and fair treatment to the suspect, it chief said today.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of Metropolitan Police, has launched a review of the force’s handling of historic sexual abuse allegations against prominent public figures amid criticism over its handling of the case.
Today he wrote in the ‘Guardian’ newspaper that the UK Inspector of Constabulary’s current guidance means that any complaint of sexual abuse must be immediately recorded as a crime and a victim should “always be believed”.
“A good investigator would go and test the accuracy of the allegations and the evidence with an open mind, supporting the complainant through the process. This is a more neutral way to begin than saying we should believe victims, and I believe it better describes our impartial mindset,” Hogan-Howe wrote.
“Emotionally, though, it may not be enough to give victims confidence in our approach. There’s a tension there that’s hard to reconcile, so I’d like it to be given due consideration as part of the independent review of how we investigate historical cases, which I announced yesterday,” he said.
Operation Midland, launched to investigate a so-called VIP paedophile ring in the political corridors of London in the 1970s, was prompted by allegations from a single complainant known only as ‘Nick’.
Critics say the allegations were not solid enough to warrant criminal investigation and the distress caused.
Alleged victims of sexual offences are granted automatic lifetime anonymity under current UK laws but there are no restrictions on naming suspected offenders.
In the ‘Guardian’ article, Hogan-Howe also calls for a new law banning news organisations from naming suspects in sex abuse cases until they are charged.
“To ensure the suspect is treated fairly, I would only allow police to name a suspect in a sexual assault case after an application to a court, so that a judge can assess the public interest. The media could argue their case if they wished to name someone, as happens in other areas of the law,” he wrote.