Police rape disclosure failure ‘tip of iceberg’
Times photographer Jack Hill
England’s top prosecutor has apologised to a man who wrongly spent two years on bail before being tried for rape despite the police holding evidence that categorically proved his innocence (David Brown and Alexi Mostrous write).
In a letter to the editor of The Times, Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions for England and Wales, said it was “regrettable” that the disclosure of such crucial evidence “happened at a late stage and I would like to apologise to all parties involved for this”.
Saunders’ apology came as several leading criminal defence lawyers claimed that the case of Liam Allan, a 22-year-old student, was just the “tip of the iceberg”.
According to an inspection report obtained by The Times, dozens of cases have collapsed in the past three years because of serious police failings in the way they handle evidence.
In one case, a man accused of robbery spent six months in jail before a prosecutor found evidence confirming that he had been robbed by the “victim”, who was a violent drug dealer.
Referring to the most recent case involving Allan, Angela Rafferty, QC, chairwoman of the Criminal Bar Association, said that without the intervention of the barristers in court the student “would have suffered an appalling miscarriage of justice” because of the failure of police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Jerry Hayes, a barrister at Goldsmith Chambers in the Temple and a former Conservative MP, was instructed at short notice to prosecute Allan’s trial. Hayes relates to The Brief how he was made aware that the police possibly held evidence that might assist the defence and insisted that it be disclosed.
Rafferty, who practises at Red Lion Chambers in London, warned that the failure was “not an isolated incident” and said that police and the CPS may be “unconsciously bias[ed]” towards people who report sex offences.
Allan’s acquittal comes as concern grows over a series of rape cases involving young men that have fallen apart because of fears about the quality of the evidence.
A report in July by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, seen by The Times, found that police and CPS staff blamed “limited resources and lack of time” for the poor disclosure of evidence.
The inspectors found that the failure to deal with issues early on meant that unauthorised disclosure between lawyers, unnecessary adjournments and discontinued cases “are common occurrences”. The report said that at least 56 cases had been scrapped because of failure to disclose evidence between 2013 and last year.
Dapinder Singh, QC, of Carmelite Chambers in London, who specialises in complex frauds and serious crime, said the failure to disclose evidence in Allan’s case may be “just the tip of the iceberg”.