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DPP statement on Savile cases

11/01/2013

In May 2007, a complaint was made to Surrey Police alleging that in the late 1970s Jimmy Savile had sexually assaulted a girl aged about 14 or 15 at Duncroft Children's Home (allegation 1).

That allegation was investigated by Surrey Police. In the course of that investigation, two further allegations came to light; first, that in about 1973, Jimmy Savile had sexually assaulted a girl aged about 14 outside Stoke Mandeville Hospital (allegation 2); secondly, that in the 1970s, Jimmy Savile had suggested to a girl who was probably aged about 17, in Duncroft Children's Home, that she perform oral sex on him (allegation 3).

Separately, in March 2008, a complaint was made to Sussex Police alleging that in about 1970 Jimmy Savile had sexually assaulted a young woman in her early twenties in the back of a caravan in Sussex (allegation 4). That allegation was investigated by Sussex Police. In the course of their investigations, Surrey Police came to know of the Sussex allegation and Sussex Police came to know of the Surrey allegations.

On a number of occasions, Surrey Police consulted the Crown Prosecution Service for advice about the allegations that they were investigating.  In October 2009, the CPS reviewing lawyer with responsibility for the cases advised that since none of the complainants was "prepared to support any police action", no prosecutions could be brought.

In October 2012, in light of the more recent allegations of sexual offending by Jimmy Savile, I asked my Principal Legal Advisor, Alison Levitt QC, to examine the decisions taken by the CPS in relation to the four allegations made in 2007 and 2008 and advise me whether they were correct or not.

Ms. Levitt QC has prepared a report in which she concludes that:

  • There is nothing to suggest that the decisions not to prosecute were consciously influenced by any improper motive on the part of either the police or prosecutors.
  • However, despite the fact that, looked at objectively, there was nothing to suggest that the complainants had colluded in their accounts, nor that they were in any way inherently less reliable than complainants in other cases, the police and prosecutors treated them and the accounts they gave with a degree of caution which was neither justified nor required. This manifested itself in different ways. Surrey police decided not to tell each complainant that other complaints had been made; Sussex police told the complainant that corroboration would be needed; for his part, the CPS prosecutor, when told by police that the complainants did not support the prosecution, did not probe this or seek to "build" a prosecution.
  • Whilst most of the complainants continue to speak warmly of the individual officers with whom they had contact, most of those spoken to by Ms. Levitt QC  have said that had they been given more information by the police at the time of the investigation, and in particular had each been told that she was not the only woman to have complained, they would probably have been prepared to give evidence.
  • Having spoken to the complainants, Ms. Levitt QC has concluded that, although there are a number of imponderables, had the police and prosecutors taken a different approach a prosecution might have been possible in relation to three of the four allegations.

I accept the conclusions reached by Ms. Levitt QC and, in the interests of transparency and accountability, I have decided to publish her report in full. In doing so, I would like to take the opportunity to apologise for the shortcomings in the part played by the CPS in these cases.

But I also want to go further. If this report and my apology are to serve their full purpose, then this must be seen as a watershed moment. In my view, these cases do not simply reflect errors of judgement by individual officers or prosecutors on the facts before them. If that were the case, they would, in many respects, be easier to deal with. These were errors of judgement by experienced and committed police officers and a prosecuting lawyer acting in good faith and attempting to apply the correct principles. That makes the findings of Ms. Levitt's report more profound and calls for a more robust response.

In my view, there are clear links to be drawn between these cases and the approach taken in other cases involving vulnerable victims of sexual abuse, particularly children. For example, the findings in Ms. Levitt's report echo in many respects the finding of the recent reviews into the so-called "grooming" cases, including my own review of the Rochdale cases.

In order to guard against false allegations, police and prosecutors have approached complaints of sexual offences with a degree of caution which is not generally justified. In doing so, their concerns understandably reflect those of society at large, namely that there is a real and prevalent risk to suspects that someone will make a false allegation that they will find impossible to disprove. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in sexual offences being subjected to a different and, in reality, more rigorous test than that applied to other crimes.

By way of example, many people feel that for sexual offences, where it is "one person's word against another's" and there is no or little scientific or other evidence to support the allegation, no prosecution should be brought. But this is to ignore the reality of many sexual offences which, by their nature, do not usually take place in front of witnesses and result in no meaningful scientific evidence. Taking a cautious approach to all complainants, on the ground that some might be making a false allegation of a sexual offence, can have the consequence that a prosecution for a true complaint may not take place.

There can be no doubt that considerable efforts have been made by the police and the CPS in recent years to improve the way in which cases involving vulnerable victims of sexual abuse, particularly children, are dealt with. For example many police forces now have designated units to deal with sexual assault allegations, staffed by specially trained officers and the CPS now has robust policies and guidance on prosecuting cases of rape and domestic violence.

The CPS has also introduced specially trained rape prosecutors and established co-ordinators across England and Wales. The result has been an increase in the number of prosecutions and convictions in cases involving violence against women and girls.

More recently, in the aftermath of the grooming cases last year, I have established a national network of child sexual exploitation prosecutors, headed by Nazir Afzal, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West. I have also decided that specific guidance on prosecuting child sexual exploitation cases should be drawn up. This will provide a real opportunity to underline to prosecutors that the credibility of the complainant's account has to be seen in its proper context.

But if the criminal justice response to allegations of sexual assault is to continue to improve, the police and prosecutors need to go further and, having had discussions with ACPO, I have jointly agreed with David Whatton, Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary, ACPO lead on violence and public protection, that:

  1. The approach of the police and prosecutors to credibility in sexual assault cases has to change. Testing the complainant's account is only one part of the exercise in determining whether a prosecution can properly be brought. Equally important is testing the suspect's account and building stronger cases by linking evidence and allegations where it is appropriate to do so. New guidance will be issued by the police and by the CPS to this effect.
  2. More support needs to be given to complainants who do report allegations of sexual assault. In particular, further consideration needs to be given to how best to implement section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 which provides for pre-recorded cross-examination of child witnesses. In addition, the extent to which vulnerable complainants can be subjected to repeated cross examination on the same issue on behalf of multiple defendants needs to be reconsidered.
  3. A mechanism should be set up to enable those who have made allegations of sexual assault in the past which they consider were not dealt with appropriately to have their cases looked at again. To this end, I have agreed with ACPO that joint Police/CPS panels should be set up to consider any such complaints. The panels will consider whether the approach taken in any case where the police or CPS previously advised against taking further action was obviously wrong and whether an effective prosecution could now be brought. There will be a number of panels across England and Wales that will provide advice to Chief Constables who will then decide whether or not to reinvestigate a case.

Finally, I am concerned that more robust arrangements should be put in place to enhance the CPS contribution to the already established information-sharing duties across the Criminal Justice System in cases where a serious allegation of sexual assault is made but, for good reason, a criminal prosecution is not possible. Therefore, I intend to issue prosecutors with guidance that they should highlight matters of concern within the evidence to the police which they, in turn, should share with the relevant agencies including local authorities.

I recognise that the application of these fundamental principles is often not straightforward, as is demonstrated by this case in which a number of committed individuals, acting in good faith and attempting to apply the law, nevertheless reached the wrong conclusion. With that in mind, I have directed that additional training should now be given to ensure that prosecutors are given really practical help with how to approach these often complicated and difficult cases.

I have already circulated Ms. Levitt's full report to all CPS Violence Against Women and Girls co-ordinators and she will now conduct a number of training exercises on the revised approach.

The executive summary of Ms. Levitt's report can be found on the CPS website, as well as the full version.

Ends