PCC Blog 52

The eggs of the peregrine falcon are both delicate and beautiful.

In colour they are shades of white and brown with a reddish-brown fleck, rather like measles. I had never seen one until last week when I saw a box full.

I had dropped in on the Sheffield North West neighbourhood police team, who had set up a gazebo outside the Oughtibridge Co-op, one of their engagement events. On their stall they were highlighting, among other things, wildlife crime and were displaying a box of stolen peregrine eggs. It was part of a haul of over 200 eggs found after the police followed up reports from landowners of a man acting suspiciously in the countryside.

When the police raided his home, in addition to the peregrine eggs, they also found seven rare curlew eggs and an incubator with viable golden plover and curlew eggs inside. The offender was subsequently successfully prosecuted, given a suspended sentence, ordered to pay £120 costs and a victim surcharge of £128, and told he would lose all the equipment he had used to further his crimes.

The officers told me that stealing rare eggs can be very lucrative. There is a market for them, both here and abroad. Hopefully, this prosecution will send out a strong signal that SYP are vigilant and ready to act.

They also told me about the training in wildlife crime that some SY officers are undertaking. We tend to think of SY as an urban force, but that is not true – or at least it is not the whole story. The force has a wildlife strategy, there are now officers trained in wildlife crime and a co-ordinator who will be based at Ring Farm, the Mounted Section, at Cudworth.

So my thanks to Sergeant Kieran Frain, PCSO Elli-May Mansell and PCSO Carol Raynes for an instructive morning.

Why are rape convictions so low?

Concern about violence against women and girls (VAWG) had long preceded the terrible death of Sarah Everard. But her murder has given a new intensity to those concerns. And one aspect that causes particular anxiety is why convictions for rape are so low – not just in the case of one or two police force areas, but for all.

Sometimes we can understand why a particular force seems to be performing badly in relation to certain crimes. Her Majesty’s Inspectors publish a report and point to failures or weaknesses that need addressing. But with serious sexual assaults it is not a matter of one or two forces that need to improve, and to do so dramatically, but all forces.

Take, for instance, the rate of charging/summonsing for rape. Among the worst performing forces are Avon and Somerset at 0.1% and Cumbria 0.3%. But even the best performing are poor – Durham is 5.2% and Humberside 4.2%. The average for all forces is I.4% and South Yorkshire is 1.7%. This suggests that whatever is going wrong is not going to be put right simply by the kind of improvements we could probably all think of – for the police, the CPS, the courts and victim services – such as the need for:

  • dedicated police teams to deal with rape cases
  • better training for officers and call handlers
  • better support services for victims
  • victim centres that are not police stations where forensic examinations can be made, statements taken and support given – with video link to the courts
  • improved relationships between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police
  • dedicated rape prosecutors
  • better court lay-out, so that victims and defendants are kept apart
  • a shorter time from incident to trial – and so on

Nor is it that officers are not giving their best – they are. There is something more systemic at work.  But what?

I had not seen any convincing explanation until I read recently about a piece of research that the Avon and Somerset force is undertaking in Bristol with the university. This may offer a clue. The Bristol researchers believe that what is needed is a radical change of approach, from focusing on the victim of rape to focusing on the suspect. At present, forces spend a great deal of time and effort ensuring that a rape victim will be credible when they have to go into court and recount what has happened to them. This is why, for example, and controversially, officers will trawl through a victim’s mobile phone data to establish something of their sexual history with the defendant – and perhaps others. Without realising it, and for the best of motives, officers become a victim credibility unit.

The Bristol researchers believe this mind-set needs flipping so that the focus becomes the suspect not the victim. 25% of those convicted of rape turn out to have a history of being named in previous offences or having complaints made against them; and much of this information already lies there in police data bases if the police look for it.

In a few weeks’ time, the government will publish its review of rape. I am sure it will commend everything on the list above. But I hope it will also take seriously the research from Bristol, because whatever is going wrong will not be put right simply through improvement of present practice. That is necessary but may not be sufficient.

Being careful what we wish for

When I was first married, I said in a casual conversation with my wife’s parents that we hoped to get a car one day – when we could afford it. My father-in-law promptly bought us a second hand Morris Traveller. This was generous of him, but it made life difficult for us financially, because it added considerably to our annual outgoings: suddenly we had to meet on-going costs – tax, insurance, repairs, and maintenance – which we hadn’t the money for. This is the difference between one-off capital spending (the car) and on-going revenue expenditure (the running costs). Something similar is happening with the government’s levelling up fund. There is money for the capital expenditure but nothing for the revenue.

So money could be available for anti-crime and anti-social behaviour capital spending on things like new CCTV cameras, but nothing for their on-going monitoring and maintenance. That would have to come from – well, what? Money would have to be taken from some other part of the police (or local authority) budget – which is already committed – and applied to the CCTV. But this starts to distort the priorities we have already set.

Throwing money at one-off projects of this kind does not add up to a strategy for combatting crime and anti-social behaviour. That needs careful thought – we need to be sure that it will work – and a planned programme of sustainable spending over a longer period. But that is not what is on offer and that presents a difficult dilemma – because no one wants to look a gift horse in the mouth.

My wife and I kept the Morris Traveller, but we ate baked beans on toast and little else for a very long time as a result.

Stay safe and well.