College proposes end to automatic belief of victims

Forces are being urged to stop automatically believing victims’ accounts due to the fallout of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) investigation into high-profile sex abuse.

Apr 24, 2018
By Kevin Hearty

The College of Policing has backed a change to crime recording rules that would see policing move from a position of automatic belief to one where victims are reassured they are being listened to.

The recommendation, made by Assistant Commissioner Rob Beckley, follows Sir Richard Henriques’ report into the MPS’s handling of historic sex allegations known as ‘Operation Midland’.

The college also proposed continuing to use the word ‘victim’ but encouraged forces to more clearly specify the different ways the word can be interpreted.

It added that it is “continuing to gather views from a number of organisations to ensure there is a clear agreed position on belief across policing before a final decision on the review’s recommendations is taken”.

Mr Beckley said: “The College of Policing and (National Police Chiefs’ Council) should approach the Home Office to amend the crime recording counting rules to remove the words ‘The intention that victims are believed’ to ‘The intention is that victims can be confident they will be listened to and their crime taken seriously’.

“If accepted the College of Policing APP and training materials should be reviewed to support this approach.”

The Henriques review criticised the MPS for its default position of believing all victims, including the description of statements given by fantasist ‘Nick’ as “credible and true”.

The report recommended that ‘complainant’ should be used rather than ‘victim’ during investigations, and that “the instruction to believe a victim’s account should cease”.

Earlier this month MPS Commissioner Cressida Dick announced her officers will take an “open mind” to investigations rather than simply believing people as a matter of course.

While evidence examined by the college suggested use of the word ‘victim’ has become more emphatic in recent years, Mr Beckley believes it is more suitable than alternatives such as ‘complainant’.

People interviewed for the review claimed ‘complainant’ is pejorative and “reflects a less humanised system”.

Mr Beckley also described it as a “depersonalised, somewhat ugly, legalistic word” that can suggest to people that they are being seen as complaining about an issue rather than reporting it.

No-one who took part in the review process was able to come up with a suitable alternative.

The college recommended that authorised professional practice should be updated to reflect different sensitivities around the word ‘victim’ to help investigators choose their words more carefully to fit an audience.

It also proposed that a potential new law to set an official legal definition of what ‘victim’ means in this context.

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