Police take centralised approach to rape cases

South Yorkshire Police DS Claire Mayfield pictured at headquarters in Carbrook Hall Rd, Sheffield.
South Yorkshire Police DS Claire Mayfield pictured at headquarters in Carbrook Hall Rd, Sheffield.
Have your say

The number of people reporting they have been raped doubled between 2012 and 2013 in South Yorkshire.

And police are having to deal with the rising number of rape allegations against a backdrop of austerity measures and an ever shrinking workforce.

Now South Yorkshire Police have set up a centralised and specialist rape investigation team based at Snig Hill police station in Sheffield.

The aim is to ensure cases are handled consistently throughout the county by a dedicated team of trained and experienced rape detectives. The team is made up of 16 detective constables – eight men and eight women – led by two detective sergeants and overseen by a detective inspector.

It is currently being led by Temporary Detective Inspector Claire Mayfield.

She said: “What we have got now is a dedicated unit which will deal with all aspects of any rape reported to us, from interviews with the victim and gathering of forensic medical evidence to interviewing the suspect and any prosecution that follows.

“Previously cases would have been picked up by the local CID, so Rotherham CID would pick up cases in Rotherham and run with them, and so on. What we have done now is to centralise everything at Snig Hill, so officers from across the force are based there.

“It means we can ensure a consistent approach, so if a line of enquiry in a Doncaster investigation has worked well, we can use that approach on a Sheffield case.”

It means the team can learn from cases which go well, adopt models of good practice and share their previous knowledge and experience.

In 2012 there were 280 rapes reported in South Yorkshire and 271 sexual assaults.

The number of rapes reported rose to 409 in 2013, although the number of sexual assaults remained steady at 277.

Rapes are categorised – domestic rapes, stranger rapes, historic abuse and familial abuse.

When an allegation of rape is first made the first step is for the victim to be visited by a police officer.

The officer takes them to the SARC – Sexual Assault Referral Centre – at Rotherham Hospital where physical evidence, which might be useful for a prosecution, is gathered.

Claire said: “A police officer will come out and see you, it might be a uniformed officer in the first instance, depending on when it is reported.

“The victim is then taken to the SARC where it will be explained what we need from them and that we need them to take part in a medical examination.

“There’s a purpose to it – we need good forensic evidence for use in any prosecution.”

The victim will work with a crisis worker, employed by the SARC, who will also signpost them to other services such as the hospital so they can be tested for sexually transmitted infections.

“These days the forensic examination is done by a nurse, who could be male or female,” said Claire.

“In the past it was a police surgeon. It’s a lot more considerate these days but there is a process that the victim needs to go through and it’s not the most pleasant.”

Next the victim will take part in a police interview which will be recorded on DVD.

Nowadays the DVD is played in court as the victim’s evidence in chief, saving the victim from having to give live evidence to the court.

‘Special measures’ can also be applied for to make the whole court experience less of an ordeal.

They include screens being put up in the court room, shielding the victim from the alleged perpetrator, while he or she is being cross-examined.

Claire said: “The video interview also takes place at the SARC.

“While all this is going on the investigation is running alongside.”

Victims are allocated a member of the rape investigation team who will look after their case. They are called the ‘officer in the case’ or OIC and provide regular updates on the police investigation.

Victims are also supported by Independent Sexual Violence Advisers or ISVAs.

These are staff from the voluntary sector who help victims through the judicial process and liaise between them and the police.

They can arrange for the victim to attend court with a witness care officer prior to the trial in order to familiarise themselves with the court.

“We get the victims as much help and assistance as we can in order for them to be strong enough to pursue the prosecution,” said Claire.

“Sometimes they don’t want direct contact with the police, so we liaise through the ISVA.”

Claire said victims can also self refer themselves to the SARC if they don’t want the police to become involved.

She said: “I would always encourage victims to come forward and contact the police. However, some people just don’t feel able to. As well as taking samples, there are other investigations which can be done in the early stages of an investigation – for example, there could be CCTV footage which shows the victim being dragged, but it could be lost.

“An early complaint where the police are involved maximises the investigation side of things.”

Once all the evidence has been gathered, the Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether or not there is a realistic chance of a successful prosecution.

Of the 551 rapes and sexual assaults reported to the police in 2012, only 162 were detected in South Yorkshire.

Of those, 10 were dealt with by means of a caution, 151 ended in court and one was dealt with in another way.

Six reported offences were ‘no crimed’ as false allegations.

“We do whatever we can to secure a prosecution, but sometimes going to court isn’t necessarily the best outcome for the victim,” said Claire.

Police chiefs are putting the rise in the number or rapes down to the ‘Savile effect’ – the Jimmy Savile investigation – and the force’s targeted work to tackle child sexual exploitation. The force have also centralised its Public Protection Units.

Claire said: “Whenever you get anything reported in public it creates further reporting to the police.

“For example, the Ben Needham case. Whenever Kerry Needham does a piece in the media, I can guarantee that for two or three weeks afterwards the number of sightings will have rocketed.

“I think that it is not one thing that has led to the increase but a general combination of a few, including corporacy and the public having more confidence in reporting that might have increased our figures as well as the possibility of the ‘Savile effect’.”

Speaking about the Jimmy Savile investigation in January, South Yorkshire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt said: “One of the things about that dreadful case is that it has given victims the confidence to come forward and report sexual offences.”

Claire, who has been a police officer for 22 years has worked in a variety of roles including in public protection, complaints and discipline, CID, intelligence, child abuse and sexual offences.

She said: “For me we just need to encourage people not to be afraid to come forward. They will be believed.

“It’s an extremely difficult and courageous thing to do but I would encourage them to come forward and speak to us.”

- Contact South Yorkshire Police’s rape investigation team by calling 101.

- Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Service 0114 2447936

- Rotherham Hospital SARC - 01709 427327