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Rape – Who’s On Trial?

Two police officers who feature in the documentary

A documentary exploring the way Avon and Somerset Police detectives investigate rape and serious sexual offences was broadcast on Channel 4 on Monday 8 November.

Avon and Somerset Police teamed up with Hardcash Productions for a new documentary entitled Rape – Who’s On Trial? 

The programme shows how the force handle reports of rape and serious sexual offences, from the moment a victim makes an allegation, right through the investigation, to potential court proceedings and conviction.

Led by Producer/Directors – Rachel Lobb-Levyt and Imogen Wynell-Mayow – the all-female team followed their investigations team over 18 months to provide insight into how they investigate cases along with the many, complex, reasons conviction rates are so low.

Four cases investigated by Avon and Somerset Police were featured in the documentary:

  • The conviction of a man who raped a 16-year-old girl in Easton last year after following her once she got off a bus.
  • A woman who reported being raped by her mother’s boyfriend in Bath.
  • A trial in which a man was accused of raping two women at a hotel in Bristol.
  • And a woman who reported to police she was sexually assaulted by a male she had met in a bar in Bath.

The documentary featured interviews with Temporary Chief Constable Sarah Crew, who is also the NPCC’s national lead for rape and serious sexual offences, officers involved in the investigations plus victims whose cases we’ve investigated.

It was followed by a televised debate bringing together politicians, police, prosecutors, campaigners and survivors to discuss the crisis in the investigation and prosecution of rape and serious sexual crime.

“This documentary is an eye-opening account of the challenges of investigating rape and serious sexual assault. It’s challenging to digest the fact that, in the past, many victims of these types of incidents have been failed by the wider criminal justice system. It’s obvious something has to change.

“I am confident that Avon and Somerset Police’s new approach – Operation Bluestone – will change the way the police deal with RASSO cases for the better. Thanks to this new ‘pioneering approach’ the police service will boast a team of specialist officers who will be equipped to deal with reports of rape and sexual assault. Since the introduction of Bluestone we have also seen victim support services, the police and CPS strengthen their relationships and work more closely together in the hope of obtaining justice for victims of these awful crimes.

“I believe we’re on the edge of change and I look forward to supporting the work of the RASSO investigation teams to provide a better and more efficient service for victims, to disrupt offender behaviour and ultimately free our streets of these types of criminals”.

PCC Mark Shelford

Force lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Assault, Detective Superintendent Lisa Simpson said: “Our over-riding message to any victims of rape or serious sexual assault is you will be listened to, respected and supported. It doesn’t matter if it happened today, last month or even 30 years ago. We will investigate your case thoroughly and compassionately, and we will ensure you get access to any support services you may need.”

Since filming concluded on the documentary, Avon and Somerset Police launched Operation Bluestone in June 2021, designed to improve how we investigate these cases and to ensure we achieve the best outcome for victims.

Operation Bluestone is pioneering an evidence-based approach to tackling rape and serious sexual offences which has been developed with leading academics and in consultation with partners across the criminal justice system and local victim services. Improvements include:

  • A specialist team of trained officers dedicated to rape and serious sexual assault investigations
  • An uplift of officers to support the specialist teams
  • A ‘Gold Standard’ framework focusing on investigating the suspect and improving victim engagement
  • An emphasis on early and collaborative work, including joint training, with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to focus on the relevant parts of the investigation to minimise any additional trauma to victims and expedite decisions and charges
  • Improved use of data, building stronger and more effective relationships with victim support services

Detective Superintendent Lisa Simpson added: “Quite simply, conviction rates for these types of offences are too low. We as a police service wouldn’t be doing our duty if we didn’t acknowledge that, and act on it by working with other agencies and the legal system to understand why and make necessary changes.

“Opening our doors to work with academics and set up Operation Bluestone has made us examine everything we do, from the moment we receive an allegation through to getting a case to court. The learning from this, and the way in which we shape our understanding and our processes will be in instrumental in improving victim care and outcomes not just in our Constabulary, but nationally.

“Our focus during investigation has to be on the perpetrator, and on perpetrator behaviours. In the past there has been instances where our investigation focus has been too much on victims. But rape is never the victim’s fault.

“A new approach is needed and we believe Operation Bluestone will help us increase the chances to achieve justice for victims who have gone through the most horrendous experiences. Victims have to be exceptionally brave in reporting to us  we would be failing them if we didn’t make changes to our processes to help them, and we are resolute in our ambition to be so much better to serve the victims as they truly deserve.”

Support for victims and survivors

Avon and Somerset Police works closely with victim support services including Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) who are highly skilled professionals able to provide the emotional and practical support to victims of rape and/or serious sexual assault.

Help is available whether you report to the police or not, and no matter how long ago the crime took place. Find out more about local support services.