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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Call for society to change to lift Cumbria rape conviction rate

SOCIETY needs to wake up to the full horror of sexual violence if there is to be a improvement in rape conviction rates in Cumbria’s courts, says a leading charity.

The comment came after national figures revealed only 45 per cent of the rape cases that go to court in the county result in a conviction.

Safety Net Advice and Support Centre works with young people aged between three and 25 and families affected by sex crimes and domestic violence. Its Carlisle-based boss, Abigail Finnegan, defended the Crown Prosecution Service and suggested the low conviction rate may be down to cultural values.

She said: “The CPS are doing their absolute best, working within existing case law.

“But we are finding that in some of these cases which come to court – which should carry certain convictions – the jury are acquitting them and nobody understands why.

“Juries are finding [some] people not guilty where there is overwhelming evidence that they committed the crime. It has to come down to the cultural position.

“Society has to wake up to the reality and the horror of sexual violence and challenge it properly: some people, for whatever reason, seem to believe that sexual violence can be acceptable.

“That may be down to background, or social prejudices, such as the clothes people wear or stereotypes; ideas which an eloquent defence barrister can use.”

Ms Finnegan pointed out that Cumbria’s Safer Cumbria Sexual Violence Operational Group – a multi agency body whose members include the police, CPS and other organisations – routinely review cases to see what lessons can be learned.

She suggested that it may be valuable to have an in-depth academic study of why some juries have acquitted defendants in the face of evidence that CPS lawyers had assessed as being strong.

Cumbria’s police and crime commissioner Richard Rhodes said the way courts operate could have an impact on cases.

“The adversarial system can be seen by some victims as leading to a situation where they feel they are on trial,” he said.

The county’s assistant chief constable, Michelle Skeer, said rape can be “a very difficult crime to prove”.

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