Friday, March 27, 2009

Serial rapist? Ho hum say British police

Scotland Yard was accused yesterday of a “total and abject failure” after it admitted that mistakes were made that allowed a serial sex attacker to continue preying on women for four years after first being identified as a suspect.

Crisis meetings have been held at Scotland Yard about the case of Kirk Reid, who was convicted yesterday of carrying out a string of sex attacks. Senior officers are said to be shocked at the incompetence shown by the investigators. The Times can report that police chiefs view it as a “Lawrence moment” that will lead to a fundamental change in the investigation of sex crimes, just as the botched inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death in 1993 changed police attitudes to racist attacks.

Reid, a chef who also refereed women’s football matches, was found guilty of 26 offences, including two rapes, and had previously admitted two indecent assaults. Police have linked him to 71 attacks in the South London area over seven years.

Despite having been narrowed down to one of three suspects early in the investigation, Reid, whose brother is a policeman, was never interviewed and did not have his DNA taken.

His conviction follows the jailing of the taxi driver John Worboys this month for a series of sexual assaults against female passengers. Officers from Wandsworth borough specialist sex crimes unit in South London were involved in investigating both crimes.

A senior officer at Scotland Yard said that colleagues were “embarrassed and staggered” by the blunders in the Reid case. “This is a total and abject failure of management, a momentous disaster,” he told The Times. “It is absolutely staggering and has caused more than a little bit of alarm in the corridors of power at the Yard. This is not about a system failure, it is not hindsight, it is not even making a bad judgment call. It is complete and utter incompetence, no more, no less.”

After the judge criticised the “inadequate work” of officers, Scotland Yard apologised to Reid’s victims — an unprecedented step because it is believed that the Met has never previously apologised to victims of sex crimes. Commander Mark Simmons, of Territorial Policing, admitted that Reid should have been arrested sooner, adding that he was sorry “those women who were subsequently attacked by him have been caused unnecessary suffering”.

Police had narrowed down Reid, 44, as one of three suspects thought to be responsible for 71 violent assaults on lone women in South London between 2001 and 2008 but detectives failed to take basic steps to eliminate him from their inquiries. Officers from the specialist sex crimes unit in Wandsworth did not interview him, search his house or take a DNA sample. The officers from the Sapphire Unit had become fixated on another suspect — a completely innocent man — although his DNA did not match that of the attacker and he was never picked out of an ID parade.

Although records are no longer kept, The Times has learnt that police estimate Reid was logged acting suspiciously in his car in the early hours of the morning at least 30 times in the years preceding his arrest. In January 2004 a man dialled 999 to say that a woman was being attacked and gave the suspect’s registration number but police never traced the owner. A month later a woman police constable saw Reid beeping his horn at lone women. She put his registration into the system and saw that it was the same as that in the emergency call. She also linked Reid to an intelligence report in 2002, when he was spoken to about following a woman, and an acquittal in 1995 for sexual assault. The officer warned Sapphire Unit detectives that Reid could be their man but nothing was done. He went on to attack at least 20 more women before being caught.

Two reviews were carried out into the case in 2004 and 2006 by senior officers at Scotland Yard and the Wandsworth Sapphire Unit.

In January 2008 the Homicide and Serious Crime Command took over the case, saw that Reid was a suspect and collected a DNA sample from him. He was charged three days later.

Judge Shani Barnes said she wanted psychiatric reports before she sentenced Reid and that she wanted to comment on the “unfortunate period of time these matters were allowed to continue through the years”. She praised Detective Inspector Justin Davies, who, “after years of inadequate work” by other officers, “finally brought this matter to the courts and allowed women to walk safely on the streets”.

Control of the specialist sex crime Sapphire units, set up in 2001 to redefine the way serious sexual assaults were investigated, is being taken from borough level and put under the umbrella of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command at Scotland Yard. Critics say this does nothing to address the main problem. Andy Hayman, former assistant commissioner in charge of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, said: “How can a new structure of reporting address the issue of individual failings by officers?”

The fallout from the case could see several officers, some promoted since working at Wandsworth, being sacked or demoted. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that he was “deeply disturbed” by parts of the Reid case.

Commander Mark Simmons said: “It is clear from the evidence heard in court that the standard of investigation was not what we as an organisation or the victims should have expected. Reid should have been arrested sooner and I, on behalf of the MPS and as head of Sapphire, am sorry those women who were subsequently attacked by him have been caused unnecessary suffering.”

Scotland Yard has referred both the Reid and Worboy cases to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Deborah Glass, the IPCC commissioner for London, said there was a “real cause for concern” that it took so long to arrest Reid, and the public would want to know if the police took the victims seriously enough.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “This is one of the worst cases on record where the police have failed to protect vulnerable women despite repeated and bestial attacks.”

At Reid’s trial at Kingston Crown Court, Patricia Lees, for the prosecution, admitted that the “investigative techniques employed by the police officers at the time were inadequate and those failings in following up evidential leads allowed Kirk Reid to remain at large and to continue to prey on women.”

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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