08:36, December 20 136 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-20 08:36:03
Met police deny systemic failure in rape case disclosures

Scotland Yard has rejected accusations that systemic failures have led to officers breaking rules aimed at ensuring trials are fair, after the collapse of two rape cases in a week.

Britain’s largest force was reviewing every rape and sexual abuse case in which someone was charged, which could run into the hundreds, Cdr Richard Smith said.

The full review was announced on Tuesday evening after it emerged that two ongoing cases were dropped after evidence undermining the police and prosecution case was only revealed to defence lawyers late in the day.

Student Liam Allen was cleared last week of multiple counts of rape, and Isaac Itiary, who was charged with raping a child, walked free on Tuesday.

Smith, who oversees rape investigations for the Metropolitan police, told the Guardian the force was investigating about 30 rape and sexual abuse cases that were about to go to court, and potentially hundreds more where someone has been charged.

“We are reviewing all our current cases, prioritising those about to go to court,” as well as cases where “someone has been charged and we are progressing through to prosecution”, Smith said.

He insisted the Met had not engaged in the systemic breaking of a key rule meant to ensure a fair trial, known as disclosure. Police and prosecutors who bring the case are supposed to share material they have with the defence team if it can help the suspect’s case.

“I don’t think we have a systemic issue around disclosure failures,” said Smith, who added he did not believe those already convicted in Met sexual assault and rape cases would have grounds to appeal.

He said the Met drew a distinction between the two cases that collapsed this week.

In the Allan case “we feel something has gone badly wrong there”, Smith said. But in the Itiari case, the Met believed the disclosure system worked as it should.

“What appears, on the face of it, to have happened is what I would expect; is part of a properly run disclosure process.”

Itiari was charged in July, and on 15 December his defence filed their formal statement of their case. Unused material gathered by police from the complainant’s phone was reexamined, and it was handed to the defence on 17 December. It undermined the prosecution case and on 19 December, the Crown Prosecution Service decided to offer no evidence.

Smith said: “Once the defence case statement was received, the officer in the case reviewed the unused material, and identified material he felt had become relevant. It was revealed to the CPS, who told the defence.”

He said the review would ask if disclosure could have happened sooner.

“Our expectation is that the disclosure process has been conducted properly. There are checks and balances, and the police, prosecution and defence have a part to play.”

The police chief said detectives were struggling to cope with the large increase in digital material they had to sift through in cases, a situation no one had imagined 20 years ago when disclosure laws were made.

“The explosion of digital material has increased vastly the material in cases,” he said. “There is a significant challenge around managing disclosure in a digital age.”

Smith said a review backed by the attorney general was under way into how police and the criminal justice system managed the weight of material generated by digital devices.

Angela Rafferty QC, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, suggested “unconscious bias” stopped the police and the CPS “impartially and thoroughly investigating and scrutinising complaints in sexual offence cases”.

“It should be remembered that it is not the job of the police or CPS to judge the truthfulness or otherwise of any allegation made,” she said.

“The deluge of sexual allegations in the system is well known. If the criminal justice system is to cope properly then funding must be found to ensure that there are proper investigations, a proper filtering system for cases that have no merit and a proper approach by the police and CPS to disclosure issues,” Rafferty said.

Allan’s trial was halted after it emerged police had belatedly disclosed phone messages between the complainant and her friends that threw the case into doubt.