Prosecution Successes

The 51-year old defendant acted as the 19-year-old victim's stepfather. A few years before he sexually assaulted the victim the defendant showed a sexual interest in her by sending her an explicit message on Facebook. He began to groom her by giving her money and telling her that he cared for her. The victim clearly saw this as a natural father/daughter relationship whilst the defendant's motive was sexual. The sexual assault occurred at the defendant's address. He plied the victim with alcohol to the extent that she lacked capacity to consent to any form of sexual activity with anyone. In any event, she saw the defendant as a father figure and would never have consented to any form of sexual relationship with him. He initially denied the allegations but in his second police interview, he admitted digitally penetrating the victim's vagina but said it was with her consent. After providing her video statement to the police the victim sadly died.  A hearsay application was made by the prosecution to admit her evidence. The defence opposed the application on the basis they argued S.78 PACE applied. The prosecution successfully argued to the contrary and the Judge ruled in our favour. As a result the strength of our case was such that the defendant pleaded guilty at the Pre Trial Preparation Hearing and on 11 August 2017 at Birmingham Crown Court received a sentence of seven years and seven months.

 

CPS West Midlands - RASSO Unit

The West Midlands CPS Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) Unit is committed to improving the way in which we prosecute rape, serious sexual offences, child abuse, child sexual exploitation and Female Genital Mutilation.

These types of offences have their own particular sensitivities and we want to improve public confidence in the way in which we review and progress cases of this nature.

As these cases are often complex, involving difficult and sensitive family relationships and it was decided that such cases should be managed by specialised lawyers and support staff who have received the appropriate training. The cases at court needed to be dealt with by Barristers and Advocates who had the appropriate experience and ability and who had received the proper training.

With this in mind, the Area's RASSO Unit was first formed in 2008 in Birmingham. In December 2012 the Unit was centralised to include all the work from the West Midlands metropolitan area, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and West Mercia. In April 2015 The West Midlands Area took responsibility for all of the British Transport Police's rape and serious sexual assault cases which we prepare from our Birmingham office.

All the following types of criminal offences are referred to the RASSO Unit:

  • Rape
  • Serious sexual offences
  • Child abuse including child neglect and cruelty
  • Indecent photographs
  • Extreme pornography
  • Honour Crimes
  • FGM
  • Sexual abuse of vulnerable adults including those committed within a care facility
  • Homicides where the victims are under the age of 16

The West Midlands RASSO Unit are a dedicated and specialised team chosen because they possess the requisite experience of prosecution work and have demonstrated a commitment and interest in dealing with these difficult and often traumatic cases. They all have a great deal of understanding of the sensitivities of prosecuting cases of this nature and how difficult and harrowing it can be for a victim from the first step of making a complaint to the police, through to giving evidence in a trial.

The team comes from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Some spent many years in defence doing criminal, family or social work before joining the CPS. All of the lawyers have experience prosecuting cases in either the Magistrates' or the Crown Court. All prosecutors have undertaken relevant training courses around rape and serious sexual offences, youth offenders, FGM, domestic violence awareness and victim and witness training. The Barristers and Advocates who prosecute RASSO work have had to attend a mandatory rape training course. Due to this level of expertise, every case of rape is now handled by a rape specialist who will advise and have responsibility for that case from the pre charge advice through to the case at court.

The common factor with the team is that they are all committed to this area of work. They are dedicated to working with the police and other support agencies to build the best cases possible. As a Service, we are committed to providing the best level of support to victims and witnesses.

The following demonstrate some of the tools which are available to victims and witnesses:

Special measures

There are variety of things a court can do to enable the victims and witnesses experience in court to be more comfortable to help them give the best evidence possible. If granted by the Judge a witness can give evidence behind a screen in court, give evidence over a live TV link or have the original video recorded interview with the police played as their evidence in chief.

If children are involved then Barristers and Judges can remove their wigs and gowns. An independent intermediary can also sit with the victim and witness to assist them with the process if they are particularly vulnerable or if they have particular difficulties.

Witnesses will also have the opportunity to use the services of the Witness Care Units. This can include a court familiarization visit or a pre-trial meeting with the advocate who will be dealing with the case in court.

The use of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAS) and support from other specialist teams are set up to assist, provide advice and support to victims throughout the prosecution process. There are many other organizations which will also assist and aid victims. The RASSO staff work and maintain links with any agency that provides support to victims and witnesses.

Pre Trial Witness Interview

This is a process in which a specially trained lawyer can conduct an interview with a witness or victim to enable the lawyer to reach a better informed decision about an aspect of a case.

Our lawyers have conducted a number of such interviews and the feedback from the witnesses who have participated have been positive. The meeting has enabled them to feel part of the process and they have felt that they have been kept informed. This is particularly the case if, after the interview, a decision is made not to proceed as the case no longer meets the evidential test.

Anonymity

As a matter of law, victims of rape and serious sexual offence are entitled to anonymity in the media, even if their name is given in court. Witnesses' addresses are not disclosed to defendants and will not, as a rule, be mentioned in the court room.

Questioning in the trial

The Barrister/advocate in court should and can challenge offensive and irrelevant questioning and deal with inappropriate cross examination of the victim about any previous sexual experience.

Direct communication with victim and witnesses

Every attempt will be made to keep victims and witnesses informed of what is happening with their case. This is done by our dedicated Witness Care Unit or by the lawyer or paralegal officer direct by a letter or a meeting with the victim after or during the case.

We always ask the police to see the victim to obtain a victim impact statement to put before the court when an offender is sentenced so that the effect of the offence on the victim is clearly stated.

Victims should not be suffering in silence as there is a lot of support. We need victims and witnesses to be brave and have the courage to report the crimes. Then, through the constant dedication of the professionals, more offenders can be brought to justice.

Female Genital Mutilation

Your local CPS is committed to working with our partner agencies and victims together in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

FGM is a collective term for a range of procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is sometimes referred to as female circumcision, or female genital cutting.

The FGM Act 2003 makes it illegal for such practices to be performed in the United Kingdom. It is also an offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to carry out, or aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad on a UK national or permanent UK resident, even in countries where the practice is legal.

If you are a victim of such abuse or know someone carrying out such illegal practices, then please contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or the NPSCC's FGM Helpline on 0800 028 3550.

Senior Management Team

Sarah Hammond, Senior District Crown Prosecutor

Sarah HammondSarah qualified as a solicitor in 1996 and joined CPS in 1998 having previously worked as a Magistrates' Legal Adviser. During her time at CPS, she has undertaken Advocacy in both Magistrates' and Crown Courts across the region. She is the Area Rape and Serious Sexual Offences lead and has represented the CPS at many conferences and community forums speaking on the work of CPS on Violence Against Women and Girls. Sarah was involved in implementing the Violence Against Women and Girls Scrutiny Panel and Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts locally.  Sarah became a District Crown Prosecutor in August 2013, initially managing the Allocated Trials Unit on the Crown Court before moving to lead the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences team. Sarah is the Senior District Crown Prosecutor with responsibility for Crown Court and RASSO work.

Robin Allen, District Crown Prosecutor

Robin Allen Robin qualified as a solicitor in private practice in 2000 and joined the CPS in 2007 working at our Stafford and Stoke offices in both the Magistrates' and Crown Court Units. He was invited to deputise as the manager of the Staffordshire Crown Court Unit in 2012 and following the merger of the Crown Court Units in 2013, he has worked on the Allocated Trials Unit and deputised in the Magistrates' Court Unit. Robin was promoted to District Crown Prosecutor in November 2015 and co-managed on the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit for six months prior to moving to his current role managing the busy Not Guilty Gateway Unit where the volume Crown Court work is dealt with. He is the Area Hate Crime Specialist and has been one of the Area leads for the digital case file and standard operating practice and is part of the team who are working on the creation of the common platform.