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Don’t automatically believe sexual abuse claims: Scotland Yard chief

The Scotland Yard chief wants the police force to change its approach to allegations of sexual abuse and to not automatically believe the complainant, while showing empathy towards victims.

world Updated: Feb 12, 2016 01:39 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said it was time to “reformulate” the policy, which is likely to be considered in a review of police procedures in such cases.
Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said it was time to “reformulate” the policy, which is likely to be considered in a review of police procedures in such cases.

The Scotland Yard chief wants the police force to change its approach to allegations of sexual abuse and to not automatically believe the complainant, while showing empathy towards victims.

Speaking at a BBC event on Wednesday evening, commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said it was time to “reformulate” the policy, which is likely to be considered in a review of police procedures in such cases.

The review was announced following criticism of the police’s handling of high-profile investigations into claims of historical sex abuse.

The Inspector of Constabulary had said in 2014 that “the presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised”, but Hogan-Howe said this advice had “confused officers”.

He said: “My point would be of course we’ve got to be empathetic. We want people to believe we’re going to listen to them, we want to be open minded, what they tell us and then what the suspects tell us, and then we’ve got to test all that evidence.

“I think there is a grave danger at the moment with the advice that is around that perhaps there is a tendency to think that we will always believe any complaint that is made and that’s not wise for any good investigator, nor as it would be for any journalist.”

However, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said it was “deeply concerned” with the proposed move away from a position where “a victim should always be believed” to “a more neutral” one where a victim is not automatically given the benefit of the doubt.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: “Victims of sexual abuse have the right to be believed just as much as anyone reporting a burglary or physical assault. Police officers should have an open mind and execute the normal tests and investigations to verify the veracity of what is being alleged.

“Telling those who have been sexually abused they will no longer be automatically believed seems to be a panic measure which could have an adverse effect on a crime the government has classified as a ‘national threat’.”