Allegations of rape and sex crimes by police should be investigated by a different force to give victims confidence, MPs heard.
Zoe Byrne, from the charity Victim Support, warned that trust and confidence in the police by victims is at an “all-time low” – particularly for women, girls and members of minority communities – which has led to a “crisis point”.
Speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the former Metropolitan Police detective chief inspector said “something needs to change and victims need to be the priority”, as she called for “genuine” independence in investigations.
Ms Byrne told how a woman she called Rebecca, who was being supported by the charity, had reported an allegation of rape against a serving police officer but the investigation was dropped.
Ms Byrne told the committee: “How can there be any trust if that’s what happens? At the very least these allegations need to be investigated by a different police force.
“I would argue the independence needs to go beyond that because why is the culture any different in a different force?
“There has to be a genuine scrutiny and independent oversight of policing in that context to support those victims who have come forward and reported.
“Because we know, us and other voluntary sector providers are supporting victims that haven’t gone to the police. And the number that won’t (go to the police) will only increase if we can’t rebuild that trust and confidence in the response.”
While there have been “positive words, including from the new Met Commissioner, there needs to be action,” Ms Byrne added.
“Women in this country need to see action to change that culture.”
Kirsty Brimelow KC, chairwoman of the Criminal Bar Association, urged MPs to also consider the wider problems in the criminal justice system when cases do come to court as she highlighted examples of delays at the last minute because there “aren’t enough prosecutors to prosecute the cases”.
One prosecutor told her they have seen three “stranger” rape cases already in 2023 which had been adjourned until the end of the year and each of the complainants have since pulled out, she said.
Ms Brimelow told the committee: “Normally you would not have a complainant drop out in that type of case. The feedback we’re getting is this is just across the board, it’s across the system that witnesses, complainants will not wait for years. Some are waiting five years between allegation to trial.”
In the trials that do go ahead, she said “the quality of the evidence is greatly diminished” because: “You have a complainant who’s saying ‘I can’t remember two, three years ago’. And the jury has to decide on that evidence. So the delays are actually undermining the whole prosecution case all the way through.”