Creating a fairer Britain
In 2005, Catherine (not her real name) was raped by a stranger who she had invited into her home. She has bi-polar disorder, and on the day she was raped, she was experiencing a psychotic episode. 'I thought it was the last judgement day and everyone had to look after each other. I made him a hot chocolate. He was asking me to kiss him and I said no. And then he moved me forcibly into the bedroom and I knew I was going to be raped,' she says.
Catherine believes her mental illness played a part in the police's failure to investigate.
The day after the rape, Catherine was detained by the police when she was found stopping traffic, and sectioned under the Mental Health Act. It was from the hospital two months later, in December 2005, that she first reported the rape to police in her home town of Cambridge. In February 2006, she contacted the police to find out how the investigation was progressing. She discovered that nothing at all had been done, and that her allegation had not been recorded as a crime. Catherine believes her mental illness played a part in the police's failure to investigate.
'The officers thought that they could act with impunity, and considered the mentally ill as a lower class of citizen,' she says. 'The investigating officer herself treated me with contempt. She wanted an easy job, and was willing to lie about the evidence, rather than perform a proper investigation.'
Potential leads were not pursued in time. Catherine had described how after the rape, her attacker had walked her to a bank and forced her to withdraw money. But, by the time detectives contacted the bank, the CCTV footage from that day had been wiped. The man who raped Catherine has never been caught.
Catherine said an officer had told her the cameras at the bank were 'dummy' and did not have film in them. When she discovered the footage had been lost, she decided to launch a formal complaint against the Cambridgeshire force. An internal investigation began. The sergeant who let paperwork lie on his desk denied that he had ignored the case because the woman making the complaint had mental health problems. He was given a superintendent’s written warning. The female officer who had initially dealt with Catherine received words of advice.
Catherine was still not satisfied with the police response. She said: 'The superintending officer failed in two regards. Not only did he fail to allocate a crime number and put an investigating officer on the case, but he left the paperwork on his desk, untouched. I would describe his professional behaviour as characterised by neglect.'
Catherine found a solicitor who argued that there had been a breach of human rights law. Under Article 3, the state has a duty to investigate all cases where an individual has been subject to inhuman or degrading treatment. After legal action began, Cambridgeshire Police settled out of court and paid Catherine £3,500 in compensation. The force admitted no liability but issued a letter of apology.
'This victory is important, since it can begin to address this attitude that the police have towards the vulnerable.'
'This victory is important, since it can begin to address this attitude that the police have towards the vulnerable,' Catherine says. 'The Human Rights Act holds the police to account. I see my legal victory not as an end, but as a beginning, and I want it to be a message to both women and men who are disadvantaged, whether it is in terms of ethnicity, poverty, illness, or disability, that they have legal rights, and the state has obligations to fulfil these rights.'