United Kingdom police requests crime victims' phones to resume prosecutions

Liam Allan

Liam Allan

Victims are being told they must hand over their mobiles to police or risk prosecutions against their attackers not going ahead.

Complainants will be asked to sign consent forms allowing detectives to download, examine and disclose any relevant material from their smartphones and social media accounts, as long as it is deemed a "reasonable line of inquiry".

The move comes after a number of high-profile cases collapsed a year ago, because the defence was not given key informative revealing accusations were false.

But campaigners say this is not the way to go and could stop rape victims from coming forward. If they refuse, they are being warned that the investigation may be dropped.

Speaking exclusively to Pretty52, Sue Casey, Senior Independent Sexual Violence Advisor at Victim Support, said: "In handing over their phones, victims are being asked to give access to all of their most personal information including contacts, pictures and private messages".

Use of the forms follows police and Crown Prosecution Service mishandling of hundreds of cases in which critical social media information showing the innocence of the accused was only disclosed late in prosecution or court proceedings.

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Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill said digital devices would only be looked at when it forms a "reasonable line of enquiry" and only "relevant" material would go before a court if it meets "hard and fast" rules.

However, Harriet Wistrich, of the founder of Centre for Women's Justice (CWJ), pointed out: "This move comes at a time when the number of rape prosecutions has fallen - and when only about 2 per cent of reported rapes result in a criminal conviction".

In sexual assault and rape cases, it is illegal for the name of the complainant or a photograph of them to be published anywhere. A claim is expected to be brought by at least two women who have been told their cases could collapse if they do not cooperate with requests for personal data.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch has dubbed the measures "digital strip searches" and said "treating rape victims like suspects" could deter people from reporting crimes.

The group said in a statement that the new policy is "clearly having a deterrent effect on the reporting of rape allegations". "Given the amount of personal and often very intimate data stored on such devices, particularly by young women, it is not surprising that many victims who are reporting a deeply violating offence do not wish to be further exposed".

"My phone documents numerous most personal moments in my life and the thought of strangers combing through it, to try to use it against me, makes me feel like I'm being violated once again". The Metropolitan Police has apologised for a series of errors handling the case.

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