A DOCUMENTARY exploring the way Avon and Somerset Police detectives investigate rape and serious sexual offences will be broadcast this evening (Monday, November 8).

The force has teamed up with Hardcash Productions for a Rape – Who’s On Trial? which will be shown on Channel 4 at 9pm.

The programme shows how officers handle reports of rape and serious sexual offences, from the moment a victim makes an allegation, right through the investigation, to potential court proceedings and conviction.

Led by producer/directors Rachel Lobb-Levyt and Imogen Wynell-Mayow, the all-female team followed the investigations team over 18 months to provide insight into how they investigate cases along with the many, complex, reasons conviction rates are so low.

Four cases investigated by Avon and Somerset Police will be featured in the documentary:

  • The conviction of a man who raped a 16-year-old girl in Easton last year after following her once she got off a bus.
  • A woman who reported being raped by her mother’s boyfriend in Bath.
  • A trial in which a man was accused of raping two women at a hotel in Bristol.
  • And a woman who reported to police she was sexually assaulted by a male she had met in a bar in Bath.

The documentary will feature interviews with Temporary Chief Constable Sarah Crew, who is also the NPCC’s national lead for rape and serious sexual offences, officers involved in the investigations plus victims whose cases we’ve investigated.

It will be followed by a televised debate bringing together politicians, police, prosecutors, campaigners and survivors to discuss the crisis in the investigation and prosecution of rape and serious sexual crime.

Force lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Assault, Detective Superintendent Lisa Simpson said: “Our over-riding message to any victims of rape or serious sexual assault is you will be listened to, respected and supported. It doesn’t matter if it happened today, last month or even 30 years ago. We will investigate your case thoroughly and compassionately, and we will ensure you get access to any support services you may need.”

Since filming concluded on the documentary, Avon and Somerset Police launched Operation Bluestone in June 2021, designed to improve how they investigate these cases and to ensure we achieve the best outcome for victims.

Operation Bluestone is pioneering an evidence-based approach to tackling rape and serious sexual offences which has been developed with leading academics and in consultation with partners across the criminal justice system and local victim services.

Improvements include:

  • A specialist team of trained officers dedicated to rape and serious sexual assault investigations;
  • An uplift of officers to support the specialist teams;
  • A ‘Gold Standard’ framework focusing on investigating the suspect and improving victim engagement;
  • An emphasis on early and collaborative work, including joint training, with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to focus on the relevant parts of the investigation to minimise any additional trauma to victims and expedite decisions and charges;
  • Improved use of data, building stronger and more effective relationships with victim support services.

Detective Superintendent Lisa Simpson said: “Quite simply, conviction rates for these types of offences are too low.

"We as a police service wouldn’t be doing our duty if we didn’t acknowledge that, and act on it by working with other agencies and the legal system to understand why and make necessary changes.

“Opening our doors to work with academics and set up Operation Bluestone has made us examine everything we do, from the moment we receive an allegation through to getting a case to court.

"The learning from this, and the way in which we shape our understanding and our processes will be in instrumental in improving victim care and outcomes not just in our Constabulary, but nationally.

“Our focus during investigation has to be on the perpetrator, and on perpetrator behaviours.

"In the past there has been instances where our investigation focus has been too much on victims. But rape is never the victim’s fault.

“A new approach is needed and we believe Operation Bluestone will help us increase the chances to achieve justice for victims who have gone through the most horrendous experiences.

"Victims have to be exceptionally brave in reporting to us – we would be failing them if we didn’t make changes to our processes to help them, and we are resolute in our ambition to be so much better to serve the victims as they truly deserve."

How people can access support services Avon and Somerset Police works closely with victim support services including Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) who are highly skilled professionals able to provide the emotional and practical support to victims of rape and/or serious sexual assault.

Detective Superintendent Lisa Simpson commented: “We understand that sometimes victims might feel reluctant to contact the police for a number of reasons.

"There are a wealth of support services available to victims of rape and serious sexual assault who are not the police and who will listen to you, support you and help you through your recovery.

"The most important step is for victims to get help – if you think you’ve been a victim of rape and/or serious sexual assault but you don’t want to talk to the police, we urge you to get in touch with your local support service. You can find a list of local service on www.thisisnotanexcuse.org.

“If you choose to report to the police – you should know that you will be listened and believed. You will be assigned a dedicated officer who will be with you every step of the way –from the moment you report, all the way through to prosecution”.

Mark Shelford, Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, said: “This documentary is an eye-opening account of the challenges of investigating rape and serious sexual assault.

"It’s challenging to digest the fact that, in the past, many victims of these types of incidents have been failed by the wider criminal justice system. It’s obvious something has to change.

“I am confident that Avon and Somerset Police’s new approach – Operation Bluestone – will change the way the police deal with RASSO cases for the better.

"Thanks to this new ‘pioneering approach’ the police service will boast a team of specialist officers who will be equipped to deal with reports of rape and sexual assault.

"Since the introduction of Bluestone we have also seen victim support services, the police and CPS strengthen their relationships and work more closely together in the hope of obtaining justice for victims of these awful crimes.

“I believe we’re on the edge of change and I look forward to supporting the work of the RASSO investigation teams to provide a better and more efficient service for victims, to disrupt offender behaviour and ultimately free our streets of these types of criminals”.