Yorkshire rape survivor calls for 'more dignity' from investigators as Attorney General pressured to launch inquiry into decreasing rape charge rates

Claire Ashwell was 19 when she was raped.

By Susie Beever
Saturday, 1st February 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 3rd February 2020, 12:32 pm
Rape victim Claire Ashwell
Rape victim Claire Ashwell

The mother-of-two, who has waived her anonymity, has lived for nearly 17 years both initially suppressing, then later reliving the attack, which happened in Leeds in 2003.

One day in 2017, Claire picked up the phone and told the police everything.

"It took a lot of guts", she said.

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Rape victim Claire Ashwell

Despite this, West Yorkshire Police were unable to charge the person she identified as her attacker, claiming too much time had passed.

"I was in Asda when they rang me to tell me they wouldn't be taking it any further", said Claire, 38, who now lives in South Elmsall near Wakefield.

Claire is one of thousands of women across Yorkshire and the rest of the country who report being raped but do not see anyone charged over their attack.

She told The Yorkshire Post she now wants to see more sensitivity from police officers who deal with rape cases, and for detectives to investigate the cases more thoroughly to reinstill victims' faith in the justice system.

Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird has called for an inquiry into the drop in prosecutions for rape in England and Wales

Victims' Commissioner Dame Vera Baird wrote to the Attorney General on Thursday to order an inquiry into the waning number of people charged for rape.

Figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service earlier this month showed rape prosecutions fell from 684 to 505 (26 per cent) in the last year, while the number of convictions in court also dropped from 445 to 350 (21 per cent).

Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales and West Yorkshire-based Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds (SARSVL), said that there "were more victims than ever before" coming forward to report rape, but that "more victims than ever before are being let down".

Ms Russell welcomed the news of pressures for a detailed inquiry into the drop in prosecutions.

Rape victim Claire Ashwell

She said: "The CPS now take a more Risk Averse Approach in deciding whether to charge, which means issues such as a victim's reliability and social circumstances are becoming more and more of a factor in deciding whether to charge someone.

"We are also seeing more cases of police feeling unable to refer cases onto the CPS without vast quantities of digital evidence, such as downloaded mobile data [from victims].

"There are some cases where this is no justification for this data being relevant, such as if a person is raped by a stranger and he is caught by DNA, or even historic cases which happened before people even had phones.

"The conclusion victims are drawing is that their accounts are undermined by these irrelevant factors."

Rape victim Claire Ashwell

Claire added that rising pressures for an in-depth review of rape prosecutions were "very positive", but said changes were also needed from detectives as well as the CPS.

"I felt very indignified in the way it was treated", she said.

"I gave police two witnesses. One of them, police messaged on Facebook.

"Anyone could go onto Facebook and pretend to be a detective investigating a crime. It was all very impersonal."

West Yorkshire Police said at the time that Claire's report was "thoroughly and appropriately investigated but could not be progressed to a prosecution stage due to evidential difficulties".

In the letter to the Attorney General the Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC on Thursday, Dame Vera wrote that rape victims had a "crisis of confidence" in the justice system.

She wrote: "This crisis will no doubt be further exacerbated following the CPS publication earlier today of its latest prosecution data, which, whilst lacking clarity, shows a continuing decline in the already low level of rape prosecutions."

A spokesman from the Attorney General's Office said: "The Attorney General takes this issue very seriously and will be meeting with victims' groups to discuss their concerns.

"The government has been clear that more has to be done to support victims and bring perpetrators of violent and sexual crimes to justice."