Page last updated at 07:18 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Rape complaint woman reaches settlement with police

By June Kelly
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News


"Not only had I been attacked, but I actually had been totally betrayed by the police"

In the first known case of its kind, a woman who made a rape complaint which was not investigated properly has reached an out of court settlement with police.

Catherine says the man who raped her knew he was targeting a particularly vulnerable woman.

She explains: "I am manic depressive. I have bi-polar disorder. On that day I was having a psychotic episode. I invited a stranger into my home. I thought it was last judgement day and everyone had to look after each other.

"I made him a hot chocolate. He was asking me to kiss him and I said no. And then he moved me forcibly into the bedroom and I knew I was going to be raped. "

She says he raped her twice.

The following day Catherine was detained by the police after she was found stopping traffic and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

It was from hospital two months later that she first reported the rape to the police in Cambridge where she lives.

Paperwork 'forgotten'

Police officers are told that rape complainants may not report straight away.

Catherine first spoke to the police in December 2005.

In February 2006, she contacted them to find out how the investigation was going. Nothing at all had been done. It hadn't been recorded as a crime.

A sergeant later said that the paperwork had been on his desk and he had forgotten about it.

Catherine believes her mental illness played a part in the failure to investigate.

She says: "Like the elderly in old peoples' homes, the mentally ill can be trodden on.

"The police officers felt they could act with impunity. They were dealing with a woman who wouldn't fight back. It wasn't forgotten, it was just neglected. I was the woman of no importance."

CCTV footage

In February 2006, the police began their investigation.

But by this stage a vital lead had been lost.

These sorts of cases are very new but I hope more will be brought because it is a good way of holding police to account for failures to investigate
Harriet Wistrich, lawyer

Catherine told them the man had given her only his first name. But she also described how after the attack he had made her walk to a bank and take out £200 from one of the cashpoints.

All this should have been caught on the CCTV cameras nearby.

But the delay in the police investigtion meant that by the time detectives contacted the bank all the CCTV footage from that day had been wiped.

Catherine says one officer told her the cameras at the bank were "dummy" and did not have film in them.

She realised there was no hope her attacker would be caught. She describes how a year later she was in the same bank and spoke to one of the cashiers about the cameras.

The cashier told her that all the cameras had film in them.

Catherine says she was distraught: "I walked around Cambridge feeling like a dirty rag."

She decided to launch a formal complaint against the Cambridgeshire force.

An internal police investigation followed and the report from that investigation has been seen by the BBC.

One officer denied telling Catherine the cameras at the bank were dummy.

This officer said she had contacted the bank who told her the footage had been wiped.

The sergeant who let the paperwork lie on his desk denied that he had ignored the case because the woman making the complaint had mental health problems.

He was given a superintendent's written warning. His colleague was also disciplined - she received what the police call "words of advice".

For Catherine this wasn't enough.

"There are so many people who have mental illness who don't have the strength and the confidence to keep on fighting."

'Duty to investigate'

She fought by enlisting lawyers who were preparing to go to court to sue the Cambridgeshire force.

In a highly unusual move they were planning to use the Human Rights Act.

Harriet Wistrich, Catherine's lawyer, said: "Under the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3 says no-one should be subject to inhumane and degrading treatment and with that responsibility the state has a duty to investigate cases.

"So if someone is a victim of rape - which clearly falls under that category - then the state is under a duty to investigate the allegation.

"These sorts of cases are very new but I hope more will be brought because it is a good way of holding police to account for failures to investigate."

The record keeping of one officer was found to be wanting and another officer was found to have failed to investigate a matter expeditiously
Cambridgeshire Constabulary

Cambridgeshire Police settled out of court.

They initially offered Catherine £1,000 in compensation which she turned down.

They then increased the amount to £3,500, which she accepted.

In a statement, Cambridgeshire Police said it made no admission of liability in this case.

It said: "However, a letter of apology was issued which apologised for any stress or anxiety caused and we can confirm that £3,500 was paid in an out of court settlement.

"The civil claim followed from a complaint that had been made by the claimant over an allegation of sexual assault.

"The record keeping of one officer was found to be wanting and another officer was found to have failed to investigate a matter expeditiously.

"The first officer received words of advice and the second a superintendent written warning."

Catherine says: "I didn't start this action for money, it was about justice.

"I saw myself as a law abiding citizen. I had a comfortable illusion that I would be protected by the state and that clearly isn't the case.

"I now have a completely different perspective and I don't feel the police are a protective force. I don't feel that I have been protected at any level by the police. But I do feel I have achieved a moral victory."

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