Submitted by Professor Elizabeth A Stanko (CA 78)
I wish to comment on questions one and two raised by this inquiry.
At present, I am the Director of the Economic and Social Research Council's Programme on Violence, a £3.5 million 5-year research initiative in its final stage of reporting and dissemination of findings. I am also the team leader of a Home Office Targeted Policing Initiative Grant on Hate Crime, located in the Metropolitan Police's Diversity Unit. I have a long-standing international reputation as a researcher and commentator on all forms of violence against women. I have just accepted a job in the Cabinet Office with the Office of Public Services Reform.
My comments address the paucity of empirical evidence that is available to answer the important questions you raise about police methods in some investigations and the Crown Prosecution Service's "drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted."
After 25 years as an academic employed in this country and the USA, I must say that there is an appalling lack of information that would enable comparisons about the way in which evidence is produced by police in preparation for prosecution and, in turn, how prosecutors assess this information once it is received. My own PhD over 25 years ago explored the way in which prosecutors drew a "sensible" (or not so sensible) line between which criminal incidents were prosecuted as serious violence and which criminal incidents were deemed not so serious. More often than not, the credibility of the victim was a critical factor in such decisions. Evidence of academic studies following my original work suggests that not much has changed. However, you ask specifically about "similar fact" evidence and how prosecutors might assess credibility of witness/victims in cases of sexual abuse of many individuals (now adults).
I suggest that police have little systematic research to inform their trawl for evidence in these rare cases of past cases of abuse in children's homes. Although much of the inquiry in these cases centre on staff (some of whom committed appalling acts on the residents of these homes), recent ESRC research on children's homes funded under the Violence Research Programme suggests that even today there is little attention paid to the range of abuse residents commit on fellow residents. That is, there is no way to paint a picture of all forms of abuse in children's homes in the past (and even more disconcerting, in the present). This research conducted by the NSPCC and the University of Luton found evidence that the safety of a particular children's home was passed from resident to resident in the form of "common knowledge". There seemed to be little or no acknowledgement that children sent to these homes would be met with abuse and violence. It was not always clear whether staff and local authorities knew that these homes were not pleasant places to send children to live and to grow up as "responsible" citizens.
How then police capture evidence that may gain convictions of past wrong doing might raise questions about how police capture evidence about on-going wrong doing and abuse in children's homes (and elsewhere)? Most people assume that violence is unreported. Indeed, a large proportion remains hidden, for reasons many academics have documented over the last two decades. That said, the lessons of the Violence Research Programme and from the Metropolitan Police study of hate crime firmly suggests that much information about violence exists in our public records, including the police records. It is that this information is never tapped for its analysis of patterns of crime reported to the police. For instance, the Metropolitan Police project "Understanding and Responding to Hate Crime" (featured in The Guardian on Friday 15 February) can analyse Crime Reports on domestic violence, racist violence and homophobic violence. We have a picture of what happens to people who choose to inform the police about these forms of crime (over 99 per cent of the victims call the police themselves). We have data on 120,000 crime records for 2001. We have devised a model that paints a picture of what people report to the police, and how to sift through these 120,000 crime records for patterns of dangerousness. We have also enlisted the co-operation of the Crown Prosecution Service to track these three forms of crime forwarded to them for action and advice during February 2002. The results of this work will not be available until June. Preliminary descriptions of the "facts" about these crimes in London are available, and I will forward these to the Home Affairs Committee under separate cover. However, I can say that the effort it has taken to set up the systems to routinely monitor crime records as well as track these cases through the criminal justice system has been considerable. It is however essential that systems be designed to enable us to monitor on an on-going basis the way police respond to forms of crime. Our Home Office project is a model of good practice here. But it is, I think, a one-off project in the country.
My advice to the Committee in this short submission is that it may not find the evidence it needs to answer the questions you raise. But what you could explore is the nature of the systems in place to answer such questions. Moreover, such monitoring systems will enable interrogation about the local picture of forms of crime that might capture crime events as they happen. The "surprise" at the recent rise in street crime might have been anticipated, I suggest, if such monitoring took place on a monthly basis. I know from the Metropolitan Police project that this is now technically possible to do. It would of course take enormous effort to transform the archaic information systems of the police service. However, I am firmly convinced that the time is long overdue for such challenges to be embraced not only by the police service, but by the Home Office in demanding that such change can indeed be put into place through good systems that monitor on a routine basis why people call the police about particular forms of crime. After all, the Prime Minister's principles of public service reform embrace the needs of the public, and it is these needs we have recorded in the public record. We just have little way of tapping into these data to enhance our protection of victims and to better assure us that any conviction, when it occurs, is soundly based on good evidence.