Olliers, Ruth Peters considers the stages of a rape investigation and advises how Olliers can assist those falsely accused of rape and under investigation in relation to rape and sexual assault offences
What is rape?
Rape is defined under Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as the intentional penetration of another person’s vagina, anus or mouth with his penis, where the other person does not consent and he does not believe the other person consents.
Rape is an indictable only offence – this means that an allegation of rape can only be heard in the Crown Court. A conviction for rape carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
What happens when someone makes a false allegation of rape?
An individual can report an allegation of rape to the police either in person at a police station or by contacting the police by telephone. If this is a recent allegation, then the police will usually want to ascertain whether there is any forensic evidence that they can use as part of their investigation. The police may use an early evidence kit and may then ask the complainant (the individual who has made the complaint) whether they consent to a forensic medical examination. This will usually take place at a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).
Sometimes an individual may not wish to report a matter to the police at the time however they can still attend at a SARC without making a complaint to the police. The SARC will store any forensic evidence collected in the event that the matter is subsequently reported to the police.
There is no time limit on individual making a complaint to the police in relation to allegation of a sexual nature. Accordingly, complaints can be made in relation to historical allegations. In such cases there is no need for a complainant to attend at an SARC for a forensic medical examination.
The police will take an initial account from a complainant. They won’t ask detailed questions about the incident but will seek to obtain sufficient information to commence an investigation.
The matter will be assigned to a specialist police officer who should have training in sexual offences.
The police will then make arrangements to take a formal account from the complainant. This is usually recorded on video and is often known as an Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview. This can usually be played during court proceedings if the matter results in a prosecution.
The police will commence their investigation which will involve further investigative work, speaking to potential witnesses and making arrangements to speak to the individual alleged to have committed an offence either by way of a voluntary interview or by arresting them and speaking to them by way of interview whilst in custody.
As indicated above there are usually two ways that the police would speak to an individual who faces a false allegation of rape. Sometimes the police deal with this by way of voluntary interview. This means that the police contact the individual either by phone or attending at their home address and organising a mutually convenient time and date in advance for them to attend at the police station. They are able to arrange a solicitor and disclosure in relation to the allegation would usually be provided in advance.
The interview is conducted ‘under caution’ and needs to be conducted in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and all protected afforded to an individual interviewed under arrest still apply ie there being no requirement to answer questions and the entitlement to legal advice.
Sometimes the police will make a decision to arrest an individual instead. This may be because they have a concern in relation to preservation of evidence ie they want to undertake a house search and seize items for example electronic devices so they can send this for forensic analysis. It may also be that they want to consider imposing bail conditions following the interview for example non contact with the complainant.
The decision as to whether to arrest an individual or interview on a voluntary basis depends on a number of factors including the views of the investigating officer themselves and the time since the allegation.
Notwithstanding the above, when an individual is aware that a false allegation has been made against them we can seek to prepare as much as possible. We can be instructed to prepare for the interview involving taking detailed instructions from our client in considering any evidence they are in possession of fo example messaging.
Prior to the interview, following receipt of disclosure, we would advise in relation to the strategy to adopt in interview. There are a number of option including answering questions in full, providing ‘no comment’ responses and drafting a prepared statement to be read out during interview.
I am on bail – what should I be doing now?
Following the interview there will be a large amount of work to undertake in terms of what we refer to as pre-charge engagement.
Pre-charge engagement refers to any voluntary engagement between parties to an investigation after the first interview under caution.
It can involve:
- Giving a suspect an opportunity to comment on further lines of enquiry
- Establishing whether a suspect can identify other lines of enquiry
- Asking a suspect whether they can provide access to digital material
- Discussing ways to overcome barriers to obtaining evidence
- Agreeing key word searches of digital material
- Obtaining a suspect’s consent to access medical records
- A suspect identifying and providing details of potential witnesses
- Clarifying whether expert or forensic evidence is agreed
How long could I be on police bail for?
Initially you can be released subject to police bail for a period of up to three months. This can then be extended on the authority of an inspector to six months. A second bail extension can then be authorised by a Superintendent who may authorise a further extension from six to nine months. When the nine-month extension by the Superintendent is about to expire and the police consider they require additional bail time, they can apply to the Magistrates Court for an extension.
Click here to read more about time limits in relation to police bail.
How can Olliers help me if I am falsely accused of rape?
What sets Olliers apart from other law firms is the proactive approach we adopt during the pre-charge investigative stage of a case. This approach is absolutely crucial when a client faces an allegation of rape.
During the investigation stage of a case we will always look at early pre-charge engagement with the police. From the outset we will focus upon the Charging Standard and the need for a ‘realistic prospect of a conviction’ in order for a prosecution to commence. Our objective will always be to make effective representations against charge.
In the early stages of an investigation we prioritise obtaining and preservation of vital pieces of evidence. This can range from messages between parties, social media activity, medical evidence, telephone activity, evidence of financial transactions, CCTV evidence and witness testimony. This is precisely the kind of material that can be presented to the police as part of successful representations against charge.
If we are instructed post-charge the same methodical ‘no stone unturned’ approach applies. Our specialists have experience that few, if any defence teams could match and an extremely impressive acquittal rate.
Will I be charged with rape?
For an individual to be prosecuted the police/Crown Prosecution Service need to be satisfied that firstly there is a realistic prospect of a conviction based upon the evidence. Secondly, a prosecution has to be in the public interest.
- Evidential Test: It must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect. The finding that there is ‘a realistic prospect of conviction’ means that an objective, impartial and reasonable tribunal properly directed and acting in accordance with the law is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged.
- Public Interest Test: A prosecution will usually take place in rape cases and sexual assault cases unless there are public interest factors tending against the prosecution which outweigh those tending in favour. The public Interest test will, almost invariably, be met in such case.
What experience have Olliers got in representing individuals falsely accused of rape?
Olliers have significant experience of representing individuals facing false allegations of rape.
Mr X was investigated for an allegation of rape following the breakup with his wife. Mr X denied the allegation and suggested it was malicious as his ex-wife failed to cope with the breakdown of their relationship.
What Olliers did to assist
- We obtained a detailed statement from the client and his two sisters
- We obtained a number of witness statements from other parties including the complainant’s ex-boyfriend
The witnesses we spoke to all described unusual behaviour from the complainant. Due to this we asked a psychologist to look at the behaviour and comment upon whether or not the complainant may have a psychological or psychiatric condition The psychologist concluded that due to the behaviour described, the complainant had either a personality disorder or mental health condition.
We forwarded all this material to the police and the police dropped the case without referring it to the Crown Prosecution Service.
For more case studies please click here.