In my new Patrick Shea novel, An Incident in Longmere, a series of drug-facilitated rapes goes unreported as a result of deliberate efforts by a Sapphire Unit to suppress evidence. In London’s Metropolitan Police Service, Sapphire is a specialized unit created in 2000 for the purpose of investigating rape and other serious sexual offences. At the time of its creation, it was lauded as a template for investigating cases of sexual offending. In 2009, there were Sapphire units in twenty-seven of London’s thirty-two boroughs with a goal of having a Sapphire unit in every borough. The units mentioned in my story, the East London and West London Sapphire Units, are fictional, but they were based on the very real and scandal-ridden Southwark Sapphire Unit.
According to the 2012 Metropolitan Police Service Staff Information Packet, “Sapphire is the largest sex crime investigation unit in Europe [with] a 24-hour pan London command engaged in the investigation of rape and serious sexual violence… Command objectives include increasing the number of charges for all rapes, increasing the percentage of stranger rapes that are charged and reducing the attrition rate after charge to ensure that more cases are heard at court and more offenders are convicted.”
Despite the best of intentions, the reality is quite different as scandal has plagued Sapphire from its inception. Unrealistic detection targets resulted in numerous cases being dismissed as “no-crimes” if the chances of their being solved were poor. The “no crimes” designation resulted in a skewing of rates of serious crimes committed within the Met’s jurisdiction in favor of better detection rates.
On its face, the statistics were too good to be true. Channel 4 Home Affairs Correspondent Simon Israel wrote: “[The Southwark Sapphire Unit] went from being one of the worst-performing Sapphire units to one the Met’s best. No one in the Met queried this very obvious, very sudden, and very unexpected leap. Bizarrely, they were doing it to falsify their statistics; but the falsified statistics themselves should have shown up, to even a fairly casual inspection, the wrong that they were doing. Only nobody gave the statistics even that casual look.”
Independent Investigation Learning Report – Southwark Sapphire Unit’s local practices for the reporting and investigation of sexual offences – July 2008 – September 2009
This report found that the “Southwark Sapphire unit was under-performing and over-stretched and officers of all ranks, often unfamiliar with sexual offence work, felt under pressure to improve performance and meet targets. Its sanction-detection rate (the proportion of recorded crimes that proceed to prosecution) was poor, and management focused on hitting this target as a measure of success…
“We found that Southwark Sapphire implemented its own standard operating procedure over this period to meet these targets. Essentially, this took the form of encouraging officers and victims to retract allegations (so that no crime was recorded) in cases where it was thought that they might later withdraw or not reach the standard for prosecution (which would have been recorded as an unsolved crime). This resulted in the close questioning of victims before they even met an officer trained in dealing with sex crimes and the widespread use of retraction…
“The approach of failing to believe victims in the first instance was wholly inappropriate and went against the first principle of the MPS standard operating procedure: to believe the victim until evidence demonstrated otherwise…”
The Southwark investigation resulted in “misconduct outcomes for eight individual officers, including four officers facing gross misconduct proceedings and one dismissal. In relation to Sapphire cases elsewhere in the MPS, two officers have been investigated for criminal offences, one of whom was convicted and imprisoned for 13 counts of misconduct in a public office in October 2012.
“Recommendations: The MPS now measures the total number of detections and avoids any pressure to classify an offence as a “no crime”. Victim satisfaction is…the subject of a performance review by senior officers. All Sapphire units have a SOIT (Sexual Offence Investigation Technique) coordinator and deputy coordinator… New SOITs are shadowed by experienced officers for their first victim encounters, providing clear guidance on the circumstances and content for both retraction and withdrawal statements. Where a victim wishes to retract or withdraw an allegation, a SOIT officer will investigate, document the rationale and communicate it to a supervisor. All withdrawal and retraction statements are assessed by a Detective Inspector before the case is closed…and all cases are reviewed by a senior detective before they are closed.”
One response from the Metropolitan Police Service was to hire 200 specialist officers trained to help catch sexual offenders and rapists. However, in March 2015, the Met announced that only forty-seven officers had been hired despite a sixty-percent increase in reports of sexual crimes and rape.
Not everyone was impressed with the Met’s efforts. Members of Parliament expressed skepticism that the cases of victims of sexual violence would be properly investigated because “we’ve heard it all before.”
 “Southwark Sapphire Unit – The worst rape statistics ever?” – Significance – American Statistical Association
An Incident in Longmere is available from Amazon in Kindle and in paperback.