Home Office under pressure for transparency as data shows 1,600 suspected rapists charged with non-rape crimes
"Serious questions" have been raised about the rape data published by the Home Office following a NationalWorld investigation.
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The Home Office is resisting demands for greater transparency on rape charge rates after NationalWorld revealed it has been sitting on data showing 1,600 suspected rapists purportedly charged by police had in fact faced non-rape charges.
We revealed on Thursday (27 April) how data provided in response to a freedom of information request showed one in 10 of the suspected rapists charged in England and Wales between April 2017 and September 2022 had actually been charged with offences other than the rape recorded.
The Home Office has been collecting the data on ‘charged for an alternative offence’ outcomes for all crimes recorded by police on a mandatory basis since April 2017, but has never published them, despite guidance suggesting at some point official figures would distinguish between suspects charged for the crime recorded or for a different offence.
Instead, this outcome is grouped into a master ‘charged’ category, so they are included when measuring what proportion of crimes result in a suspect being charged. The Royal Statistical Society (RSS), End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), and the Labour Party have all called for the Home Office to begin publishing the figures to provide more clarity and transparency on what actually happens to those accused of rape.
The Home Office has refused to explain why the figures are not published, or to say if it will make them available in future, despite being asked repeatedly. It simply said that for police to claim they have charged for an alternative offence “the facts and evidence must be extremely similar and must relate to the victim and circumstances”.
EVAW said NationalWorld’s investigation had raised “serious questions about the Home Office’s transparency regarding its data collection”, describing it as “exhausting and frankly unacceptable” to be learning of further issues with criminal justice system data.
“One of the most long-standing barriers faced in improving criminal justice outcomes has been the excuse of ‘poor and inconsistent data collection’ within the police, CPS and broader criminal justice system,” said the charity’s public affairs manager, Janaya Walker.
“Worryingly [...] this data suggests that the current record on charging may be even lower than the official data indicates – with a gap between what’s recorded by Home Office data, and which offence actually gets charged. Why is the data on crimes ending in ‘charged for alternative offence’ not in the public domain? We would urgently seek clarity about what is behind these disparities in recording.”
The data provided to NationalWorld does not reveal what different crimes the suspected rapists had actually been charged with. We learned from one police force with a particularly high rate of ‘charged with alternative offence’ outcomes that some of them involved historic offenders, charged with crimes that pre-date current rape laws, while in other cases the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had decided to pursue charges for different sexual offences. NationalWorld is continuing to investigate what charges suspected rapists actually face. But with the number of people charged with or prosecuted for rape plummeting in recent years, the revelation has prompted concerns that even fewer rapists are facing justice than initially thought.
Experts from the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) said it seemed there was a need for greater transparency from the Home Office. “Transparency is critical when examining data,” they said. “The data should be published in full, so we have a clear picture of what proportion of suspects are charged for that specific crime. Given charge rates for rape cases are already low, it is concerning that the actual figures may be even lower.”
Labour’s Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry, agreed, saying: “We urgently need to see both full transparency from the government about the reality on rape charge rates, and then a serious plan to reverse the collapse in those rates.”
NationalWorld asked for the Home Office data having previously raised concerns that figures published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may distort the picture about how many rape prosecutions it carries out. The Home Office figures on crime outcomes recorded by police are official statistics, approved by the UK statistics watchdog. But the CPS also publishes its own unofficial figures every three months showing how many times it authorised charges in rape cases referred to it by police, how many prosecutions it carried out, and how many convictions it secured.
These statistics do not count actual rape charges, instead measuring ‘rape-flagged’ cases. When police refer a case to them that contains an allegation of rape – perhaps alongside other crimes the perpetrator is alleged to have committed – the CPS applies a ‘rape flag’ against it in its admin system. This flag remains in place throughout the criminal justice process, and the case is counted as a positive outcome for rape offences if a charge, prosecution or conviction comes about – even if a rape charge is never pursued, the charges are later downgraded, or the defendant is acquitted of rape but convicted of a different charge.
We submitted a freedom of information request to the CPS, asking it to instead provide data on the number of charges it brought for rape specifically, but were told it was incapable of doing so.
When asked about whether its system was masking rape cases referred to it by police but in which the CPS actually pursued lesser charges, a spokesperson stressed that its figures are not official, but are used to understand and address performance issues, and that it is open about their constraints.
“We regularly publish management information to aid transparency and accountability, making clear any limitations,” they said. “The way we measure our rape data allows us to track and monitor trends, including decisions to take no further action, to properly scrutinise how we’re approaching rape and sexual offences cases and highlight areas for improvement. Official statistics are maintained by the Ministry of Justice."
The Ministry of Justice data the statement refers to concerns prosecutions and convictions in court. When approached for comment on the alternative charge data, the Home Office said: “Sexual offences can have a devastating impact on victims. We are committed to ensuring that the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes are brought to justice.”
If you have reported a rape to the police and somebody has been charged with a different offence, please contact [email protected].