Figures uncovered by shadow home secretary show one-third fewer cases referred to Crown Prosecution Service since 2011
Sex offenders are evading justice because the number of child sex abuse cases being sent for prosecution by the police has dropped by nearly one-third over the past two years, according to official figures uncovered by the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper.
The detailed statistics from the solicitor-general, Oliver Heald, show the number of child sexual abuse cases being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by police forces across England and Wales has fallen by 28% from a peak of 13,018 in 2010-11 to 9,381 in 2012-13. This is the lowest level for more than five years and comes over a period when the number of such cases reported to the police has risen steadily to a record high of 18,915 in 2012-13.
The rise has partly been a consequence of victims coming forward following publicity surrounding the high-profile Operation Yewtree investigation into widespread allegations of child abuse by Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011, and others.
The detailed figures, based on a Commons written answer by the solicitor-general, show the proportion of reported sexual offences against children that have led to a pre-charge decision being made against a suspect has fallen from 75% in 2008-09 to just under 50% in 2012-13.
The fall in the rate of child sex abuse cases being considered for prosecution mirrors similar patterns in rape and domestic violence cases, where an increasing number of cases are being reported to the police but fewer are being referred for prosecution.
Cooper said the figures showing the sharp fall in the number of child sex abuse cases being sent by the police for prosecution were “extremely shocking”, and that a reduction in specialist police child protection units was a possible explanation.
“This is an appalling drop of nearly a third in the number of child abuse cases that the police are referring for prosecution, even though more cases are coming forward. It shows the disgraceful way the police have been hollowed out by Theresa May, with so many specialist child protection units also being cut, letting victims down and letting abusers off,” she said.
She said children who were victims of sexual abuse had to show remarkable courage to report what had happened to them to the police.
“They should have the confidence that when they report abuses everything possible will be done to prosecute abusers. These are some of the most devastating crimes of all, which can destroy people’s lives.”
Cooper said the criminal justice system was starting to get better at investigating and prosecuting child sex abuse cases, but claimed that since 2010 the clock had been turned back.
“Since the election Theresa May has cut 15,000 police officers, including many with specialist skills and experience. We are now seeing the same pattern in domestic violence, rape, sexual offences and child abuse where the cases reported to the police are going up, but the referrals from the police for prosecution are badly down.
“In all these areas we know the cases can be more complicated, requiring a lot of specialist work – yet these are the areas hit badly by the government’s cuts and chaotic reforms.”
A radical overhaul of the way the police and prosecutors handle child sex abuse cases was outlined in new guidelines published earlier this year. Both have been urged by the director of public prosecutions to ignore myths, stereotypes and prejudices when considering whether there was a realistic prospect of conviction. Both were also urged to work together from the start of cases and to share information much earlier to ensure their speedy progress.
The new guidelines ask police and prosecutors to focus on the overall credibility of the allegation rather than the credibility or perceived weakness of the victim making it.