Operation Soteria is the Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) programme aimed at improving and increasing the investigation and prosecution of rape cases in England and Wales by June 2023. As part of this initiative, a close inspection of five police forces was conducted in 2021/2022, which identified several key areas for improvement, including protecting victim’s rights in relation to the seizure and examination of their mobile phones and ensuring requests for Third Party Material (TPM) are legitimate. To gain a better understanding of these issues, the Home Office collaborated with senior police officers and academic staff to design a data collection exercise.
The data collection exercise involved extracting detailed data from the Record Management System (RMS) of eight police forces in England and Wales by gaining responses to a minimum of 65 separate questions. The questions included specific, non-sensitive, and anonymous details regarding the crime, the investigation, CPS & defence dialogue, digital forensic strategies, mobile phone examinations, TPM, victim support, and the context and rationale for each decision made in each investigation. The goal was to examine 15-20 cases per week, with an estimated review time of 2-3 hours per case.
The visits to the eight police forces commenced in January 2023 and concluded recently, resulting in the examination of 149 cases at an average of 18.6 cases per force. The data was populated into Excel spreadsheets, and the Home Office received weekly written summaries of the findings in each force. The summary highlighted what each force does well and areas for improvement relevant to Operation Soteria. Additionally, the authors of the data collection exercise supported the Home Office in writing a summary of the overall exercise, including their own conclusions and opportunities for remedial action across the wider police service. The exercise was not an inspection, but many forces requested feedback to aid immediate learning. The feedback was provided to the Home Office, and they intend to use the data and summaries to ensure feedback is provided and opportunities for improvement are not lost.
The data collection exercise conducted as part of Operation Soteria has provided valuable insights into how police forces investigate rape cases and highlighted areas for improvement. The exercise was successful in examining 149 cases and providing weekly summaries to the Home Office. The exercise authors hope that their findings will be used to improve investigations and outcomes for victims. Overall, the data collection exercise was an enjoyable, fascinating, and insightful experience for the retired police officers who supervised and performance-managed Safeguarding Departments and Rape Investigation Teams.
Michael Barton & Paul Young