An alleged rape victim is launching legal action against Humberside Police after officers lost her case information – including her recorded interview – saying the force has added to her suffering rather than providing much needed support.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, says serious questions must now be asked of all officers involved in her case. It comes after the highly sensitive information, which was contained in an envelope and not protected, was left on a police officer’s desk and went missing, never to be found.
The envelope had been due to be posted to Cleveland Police – the force covering the area where the alleged attack happened – but never arrived.
An Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation has since uncovered substandard audit trails at Humberside Police which meant the package was not only lost, but it isn’t even known if it was ever posted as intended.
It included discs on which an interview with the woman had been recorded but not encrypted, meaning information including her name, date of birth and signature, were not protected.
Details of the alleged rape itself, the woman’s mental health and the suspect’s name and address, were also not protected, and therefore could be seen by anyone whose possession they fall into.
Alleged victim ‘devastated and disgusted’ at how investigation has been handled
The woman had agreed to meet her alleged attacker after using a dating website.
She says she returned home to East Yorkshire that night and, after telling her neighbour that she had been attacked, called the police. They took her to a local station to be interviewed.
“On the night itself the police were fantastic. They were really considerate and helpful and really took great care of me and comforted me at a really horrific time. They took my clothes and interviewed me and were very understanding and sympathetic,” said the woman, of East Yorkshire.
“However, since then their approach has been appalling and I haven’t felt like they treated me as a victim. I have been absolutely devastated and disgusted by what has happened and that is why I am taking legal action.
“I can’t for one second begin to understand how it can have been allowed to happen. I had to read an article in the local newspaper that they had been fined over this. It was after this had been printed that they called me to apologise for the absolute mess they have made.
“You can never fully recover from something like this. You know and understand that it is possible that you’ll have to relive it if it goes to court, but you rely on the police to help you through the trauma of seeking justice.
“You certainly don’t expect them to make it worse as they have, leave you open to being identified and then put you in a position having to do the interview again years later.
“Whatever Humberside Police say, they can’t for a second claim to have handled my case with any care and consideration. Details of my ordeal were thrown down on a desk and left like an old newspaper for anyone to come along and see every detail.
“I am now facing the prospect, three years on, of having to sit in an interview room and go through this all again. How can that be acceptable? How can that be holding up the law?
“What message does it send out to others who may be feeling reluctant to come forward having been attacked? It doesn’t say you’ll be cared for. It certainly doesn’t say they’ll commit to getting answers when they can’t even commit to keeping the information safe.
“It has also meant there has been no progress on the case. He is still out there a free man and I know he remained on the dating site and that he has looked at my profile since. It is frightening and I really do fear that other women could be being targeted.”
Lawyer calls for serious questions to be asked of officers and around procedures
The woman’s lawyer, Andrew Petherbridge, of civil liberties specialists Hudgell Solicitors, says there has been clear breach of the data protection act in the case, and that actions will be pursued for breaches of European Convention on Human Rights and Human Rights Act
He added: “Humberside Police may have offered an unreserved apology in this case but we certainly feel a thorough investigation is now needed. Serious questions have to be asked and answered. Lessons must be learned.
“Given the nature of allegations our client had made, and the serious implications of not only losing the case file, but not having taken the required steps to protect the information contained, serious questions must be asked over the protocol and procedures at the force, and what action is taken when officers failed to follow them.
“What has happened here certainly undermines that crucial level of trust people need in police forces when going to them with such serious and sensitive allegations.
“It sadly also suggests a lack of professionalism and care, even when handling the most serious and sensitive of cases, begging obvious questions and raising concerns as to how other cases are handled across the force, and how often such sensitive information relating to victims and alleged crimes is not being properly protected.
“There now needs to be a full internal investigation at the force with regards to the procedures and policies in place for handling such sensitive information. Those responsible for the failings in this case must also be held to account.
“We have an awful situation here where an alleged victim has been badly let down in terms of the duty of care owed to her, particularly with regard to protecting her identity as an alleged sexual offence victim, but also the possibility that potentially dangerous person has not been brought to justice, leaving others at risk.”
The woman says she was first told a few months that the interview disc had gone missing, and that there was a possibility of having to do the interview again.
However, she says she heard nothing from the force until reading in the Hull Daily Mail newspaper that the force had been fined £130,000 by the ICO.
“They’d given an apology to the newspaper but I’d not had one from them, and I think that says it all,” she said.
“They were more bothered about apologizing to the newspaper and to the standards people than me. I was still a secondary thought and they called me in the afternoon of the details being published.
“They have said that I can have somebody who is not a police officer, but is employed to support victims of crimes, to help me and prepare for going through the interview again.
“I’m not sure I can do it and have already put them off once, but I guess I’ll have to go through it again if I am ever to get justice, both for me and maybe others too.”