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14-Feb-2017 01:20

The number of cases being brought to court has increased; the conviction rates for sexual offending have improved - the conviction rate for rape is at a record high - and more defendants are pleading guilty, which is usually a good indicator that the cases being presented are well-prepared and strong.

Yet, despite all this, events over the last 12 months raise fundamental questions about the way in which we investigate and prosecute sexual offences, particularly those involving children.

To that end I have had frank and meaningful discussions with senior police colleagues, including David Whatton, the Chief Constable of Cheshire and the ACPO lead on violence and public protection, Peter Davies, the Chief Executive of CEOP, representatives of the College of Policing and the team leading the HMIC's work in this area.

I am pleased to report that we have made progress and today ACPO and the CPS have announced a package of measures intended to change and improve the criminal justice response to sexual offending, particularly involving children.

Strategies and techniques have improved and policy and guidance have been progressively tightened and improved.

The CPS has also introduced specially trained and accredited rape prosecutors, policy and guidance has been rewritten and soon every CPS Area will have a dedicated Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit embedded in its Crown Court team.

The details of the Rochdale grooming case are now in the public domain and there are other similar cases around the country. Many of the victims are vulnerable precisely because they are not only young, but they often display some or all of the following characteristics: they are unable easily to trust those in authority and still less able to report intimate details; they use alcohol; they return to the perpetrator of the offences against them; and, not infrequently, they self-harm.

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When in September last year I convened a panel to review the whole case, including the reversed decision, it was clear that if the yardsticks traditionally used by prosecutors for evaluating the credibility and reliability of a victim in other cases were used without adaptation in cases of child sexual exploitation, the outcome could potentially be a category of vulnerable victims left unprotected by the criminal law.In the same month, the Home Secretary asked the embryonic National Crime Agency to look again at allegations of sexual abuse in care homes in North Wales, following revelations on , which were themselves to have serious consequences for the BBC.