Special police unit to tackle rape and serious assault cases

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By Clare Carswell

A SCOTS police force has set up a crack five-strong team of detectives devoted to cracking rape cases and serious sexual assaults.

The team – based with Lothian and Borders Police – is thought to be the first of its kind in Scotland and if proven a success, could be rolled out elsewhere.

It will operate as a six month pilot under the codename ‘Operation Federal’ to be based at Livingston investigating sex crimes within the West Lothian beat only.

The five CID officers will work exclusively on cases of rape and serious sexual assault regardless of any other breaking major criminal cases in the area.

Detective Sergeant John Philip, on the team, said: “Previously, rape inquiries were taken on by a detective sergeant and his team at the main CID office.

“At the same time, they might have needed to deal with a robbery or another serious crime which came in.

“That would obviously have an impact on the rape investigation.”

News of the specialist team has been welcomed by local charity, Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre

Caroline Burrell, centre co-ordinator said: “There’s been significant improvement made by the police in the past few years particularly with officers receiving specialist training.

“I think the police would agree there is definitely still room for improvement.  The women we are working with have had encounters where they feel the have not been believed or have been judged.

“There are some that do really great jobs and make a real difference to victim’s lives, but there is room for improvement, that’s why I think a specialist team will make an improvement.

“Currently police teams investigating rape are also investigating other crimes and haven’t the time that’s needed to investigate these other crimes in the way that they would like.

“It’s great to have a dedicated team in place, I think this shows the seriousness of these crimes and that they require a dedicated response.

“We are delighted this has happened and keen to support it.”

Although the number of recorded rapes in West Lothian dropped to 36 from 40 between last April and March this year,  figures show a dramatic fall in the percentage of solved rape cases in the area.

In 2009, 93 per cent were solved whereas in 2010, the police only successfully concluded 61 per cent, just 22 cases.

Despite these figures, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Crawford denied there was any link to between the number of solved cases and the establishment of this unit.

He said: “It is important to stress that crimes of a sexual nature remain rare in West Lothian and across the force area.

“However, when such crimes are reported, it is imperative that they are investigated fully to ensure those responsible are robustly dealt with.”

The unit will work with the local authority and rape crisis charities in the area of the offices at the West Lothian Civic Centre in Livingston.

The Public Protection Unit will continue to investigate the more historical sexual crimes and will be in regular contact with Operation Federal.

Detective Sergeant John Philip, said: “Operation Federal comes from a model which has been used by forces down south, but this is the first of its kind in Scotland. It’s not a response to any particular issue in West Lothian.

“Our management team feels concentrating our resources in this way will produce the best results.

“The officers in the unit are all experienced in investigating rape cases, and they will obviously become even more proficient by specialising in this area.

“The unit will deal with all rape and serious sexual assaults, but each individual case with a sexual element will be evaluated to decide whether it’s handled by Operation Federal.”

Peter Johnston, leader of West Lothian Council said: “At the heart of our shared work is to improve the experience of sexual assault survivors, increase their confidence in the criminal justice response, and make progress on reducing the prevalence and incidence of all forms of violence against women.”

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