Last week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its annual crime figures for England and Wales, revealing that the number of sexual offences recorded by the police had continued on its upward trend and increased by 41% over the past year. This is equivalent to an additional 27,602 offences.
The total number of offences recorded for the year ending June 2015 now stands at 31,621 rapes and 63,861 other sexual offences, putting them at their highest level since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard in 2002/2003. The increase is thought to have come about as a result of improvements in how the police record crimes. However it is also likely to be a reflection of an increased willingness of victims coming forward to report these crimes: The so called “Savile Effect”.
The increase in reporting is illustrated by the news last month that the Metropolitan Police had set up a new team to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse. Comprising 90 officers, the team will look into 29 allegations of police corruption in investigating claims of child abuse, including those made against high-profile individuals. In addition, the new team will deal with investigations arising from Operations Fairbank and Yewtree, as well as the demands following Justice Lowell Goddard’s public inquiry into child sex abuse.
All this activity indicates that the police are dedicated to maximising their resources to deal with the surge in these types of allegations. However, such resolve only goes so far in the context of swingeing budget cuts and a reduction of police manpower in recent years.
Indeed, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, just a day before the figures from the ONS were released, publicly expressed his concerns of the effect next month’s spending review could have on the Met’s ability to carry out its frontline duties. Mr Hogan-Howe believes that he may lose up to 8,000 officers if his fear that cuts of up to £1bn to the Metropolitan Police is realised, and he warned that this will result in longer delays in the police responding to reported crimes.
Increases in other forms of violent crime, together with fraud, cybercrime and maintaining the ability to respond to major incidents requires a well-resourced police force which is equipped to deal with a wide variety of specialised crime. Yet the reality is that the pressures faced by both police officers and CPS lawyers are understood to have led to serious delays in both investigations and prosecutions.
The news that more people than ever feel able report crimes of a sexual nature may be welcomed as an indication that the police and courts are more willing to take such offences seriously, but with a correspondingly over-burdened police service and CPS, the delays currently being experienced in investigating these matters and getting them to court only look set to increase.
This is not good news for victims or defendants and the Government must commit resources to ensure that justice is dispensed fairly and efficiently.