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Inadequate investigation into complaint of rape a breach of article 3, £16,500 damages

The Northern Ireland High Court in C (A Person under a Disability) v Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland [2020] NIQB 3 has awarded damages of £16,500 for a breach of article 3 in respect of a failure by the police to conduct a proper investigation into the reported rape of a twenty-year-old woman with Asperger’s syndrome.

The Claimant was diagnosed with Asperger’s when twelve years old and lacked capacity to bring the proceedings in her own right. She alleged that she was raped and that the police failed in a number of respects. These included:

– The police failed to seize any relevant CCTV footage and did not conduct house-to-house inquiries to seek further witnesses;

– No attempt was made to follow up the Claimant’s statement that she had left personal belongings in the place where she was raped;

– No attempt was made to retrieve the Claimant’s diary, which her mother told the police might contain relevant information;

– There was no follow-up of the Claimant’s mother’s telling the police that her daughter had received text messages asking her not to proceed with the allegation;

– The police initially failed to take any statements from the people who were with the Claimant on the night of the rape;

– The Claimant was not interviewed until six months after she had been raped;

– The police failed to submit relevant evidence for analysis for over five months;

– The investigating officers had received inadequate training with respect to the investigation of rape relating to a vulnerable adult and were not aware of Achieving Best Evidence Guidelines.

The judge recounted the detailed history of the investigation. Without repeating all of that here, his conclusions were:

– There had been delay in conducting an ABE interview, due the inability of the police to assemble an appropriately credited and experienced team to conduct it. When an issue arose as to the Claimant’s wishes to continue with the complaint, an officer should have visited her to ascertain whether she wanted to proceed [61].

– The investigating officer had no specific training in the investigation of serious sexual offences, particularly those involving vulnerable victims. He had no familiarity with policy documents and document on investigating child abuse and rape. The absence of training was a systemic failing [62].

– There were operational failures of a failure to obtain statements, a delay in obtaining statements, a failure to follow up investigative leads, a delay in following up investigative leads, a failure to secure and process evidence, delay in securing and processing evidence, a failure to reassess the overall strategy when it was clear that the interview of the Claimant was going to be delayed and a failure of supervising officers to direct a change in strategy [63].

The judge considered that these encompassed both operational and systemic failings. The operational failings could not be described as minor or insignificant but were serious. They resulted in the Ombudsman recommending misconduct proceedings for two officers, who accepted that they had failed to conduct a thorough investigation. Two more senior officers received advice and guidance for their supervisory failings. The combination of all the failings represented a failure to carry out an effective investigation and undoubtedly constituted a breach of article 3 [92].

The judge further considered that although the police’s failures would have caused the Claimant some upset, distress and frustration, the significant and severe psychiatric and psychological deterioration which occurred following the incident would have occurred even had the police conducted the investigation in a flawless manner. In those circumstances, the judge awarded damages of £16,500 including interest.

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