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‘They decided the jury wouldn’t believe me’: CPS accused of secret change to rape policy

Julie Bindel
·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Over the course of four days in 2017, Kat Araniello was raped three times, once at knifepoint, by a man she had briefly dated.

“Ben* was attentive, charming and attractive,” said Araniello, a 44-year-old HR professional. “He showed me his Metropolitan police warrant card when we first met. Because he was a police officer I immediately felt safe with him.”

But after a few weeks, Ben began to display signs of jealously and possessiveness. During an evening at Araniello’s flat he “flipped”.

“He smashed my phone, punched me hard on my head, pulled out my hair and tried to break my hand,” said Araniello. “And then he raped me.”

She was too scared to ask Ben to leave in case it provoked even worse violence. “On the Sunday night, he appeared out of nowhere with a massive knife and started slicing at my clothes. Then he tied me up and raped me again.”

Araniello managed to get out of the flat and call a friend who contacted the police. Two officers attended. “One of them talked to him while the other took me to one side,” says Kat. “But I was really scared because he could hear what I was saying through the officer’s body camera. They left him there after falling for his bullshit.”

Araniello was able to leave the flat after the weekend to go to work, and once there she reported the crimes to the police. Ben was later charged with three counts of rape, impersonating a police officer, assault by beating, false imprisonment and criminal damage. He pleaded not guilty at a pre-trial hearing.

Subsequently, Araniello was informed by letter from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that “there is not enough [evidence] to have a realistic prospect of conviction”.

Her case is one of 20 rape complaints the CPS failed to charge which will be used this week in a landmark case in the high court against the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

The case, brought by End Violence Against Women (EVAW), a coalition of women’s organisations, will decide whether the CPS has changed its policy and practice on charging rape cases, leading to a significant fall in the number of cases going to court.

EVAW claims that the collapse in cases being proceeded is a result of a covert policy change, and that between 2016 and 2017 prosecutors were encouraged not to charge so called “weaker cases”, with the aim of improving their conviction rate.

The claimants will present evidence of a “damaging and secretive change in CPS policy and practice on charging decisions in rape cases before the court”. The legal challenge has attracted enormous public interest, with many campaigners and commentators arguing that the CPS shift has resulted in the effective “decriminalisation of rape”.

CPS figures from July 2020 show that complainants face a 1 in 70 chance of their case being charged. The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), the lawyers representing EVAW, will present compelling evidence including statistical analysis and a dossier of 20 women’s rape complaints which the CPS decided not to charge.

Evidence from a whistleblower within the CPS will also be submitted.According to CWJ, it shows how senior managers in the CPS directed prosecutors away from the merits-based approach which had been introduced to ensure that decisions to prosecute are made on the objective evidence rather than second-guessing a jury.

Instead, the campaigners argue, the CPS has been reluctant to put forward a case in which, for example, the complainant had previously had consensual sex with the defendant, had been drinking, or where her account of the incident contained inconsistencies.

After her case was dropped, Araniello was informed that her credibility was undermined by the fact that she had not reported the rapes to the police who visited her flat.

The prosecutor also pointed to WhatsApp messages with the perpetrator, which might be interpreted as “encouraging sex”.

Other evidence was disregarded, such as Ben’s police interview; photographic evidence of bruising to Araniello’s thighs and hands; exhibits of her slashed clothing and of the knife; WhatsApp messages from Ben apologising for “what he had done” and expressing disbelief and remorse.

For Araniello, being told there was little prospect of a conviction because she was “an unreliable witness” was almost as traumatic as the rape itself. “They had decided the jury wouldn’t believe me,” she says. “It would seem that these prosecutors were influenced by every rape myth on the planet.”

A CPS spokesperson said: “There has been no change of approach in how the CPS prosecutes rape. Our skilled prosecutors are experienced and highly trained to make sure criminals can be brought to justice. No matter how challenging the case, whenever our legal test is met, we always seek to charge.

“Independent inspectors have found no evidence of a risk-averse approach and have reported a clear improvement in the quality of our legal decision-making in rape cases. The principles of the merits-based approach are enshrined in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, which guides every charging decision.

“Along with the police, we remain committed to making real, lasting improvements to how these horrific offences are handled, so every victim will feel able to come forward with confidence that their complaint will be fully investigated and, where the evidence supports, charged and prosecuted.”

Case studies

Theresa’s story
In 1986, Theresa told a schoolteacher that she was being sexually abused by a male relative. The subsequent police investigation was inadequate and no charges were brought. In 1991, aged 18, Theresa attempted to reopen the case by contacting the police officer originally in charge of the investigation.

Claiming to want to talk to her about the case, he took her out in his car. “I was young, vulnerable, and naive,” says Theresa. “I had no idea this was so odd at the time.”

The police officer sexually assaulted her three times on two occasions, but she was too traumatised to report the crimes.

In 2014, Theresa reported the 1991 assaults by the police officer. Charges were brought and the trial was scheduled for September 2017. In February 2018, the CPS wrote to tell Theresa it would discontinue the prosecution because her “recollection of events has changed, quite significantly, over the course of proceedings”.

The inconsistencies were the words used by Theresa to describe her genitalia and exactly where the perpetrator touched her.

Following Theresa’s right to review, she was informed that the decision to offer no evidence had been upheld by a senior prosecutor. Theresa requested a further review as well as lodging a formal complaint against the CPS.

Again, the CPS upheld its decision on the basis of “conflicting accounts”, saying that “the jury would’ve questioned why, following the first assault, she was with the defendant for a second time”.

“This was a police officer who not only failed to investigate the child abuse allegations but later saw his opportunity to assault a young, vulnerable witness, asking for help,” says Theresa. “How the CPS could drop this case is beyond comprehension.”

Charlotte’s story
Charlotte met Tom* through a dating app in 2017, shortly after which he forced her to have unprotected oral and vaginal sex.

On the day she made a complaint to the police, Charlotte underwent a medical examination. Officers took both Charlotte’s and Tom’s mobile phones for investigation.

In July 2017, the CPS wrote to inform Charlotte that no further action would be taken because the defendant “has a defence if he has a reasonable belief that you consented to what you both agree happened”.

The CPS relied on WhatsApp messages between the two to reach this conclusion.

Charlotte requested a review but was told that “the decision would stand”. In the same letter, it was admitted that the original prosecutor had failed to consider medical evidence of injuries to Charlotte’s mouth which were consistent with an allegation of oral rape.

“I am doing my best to fight for justice because I know it happens all the time to women,” says Charlotte. “Many people find it hard to believe women when they report rape. The CPS is adding to that problem.”

Charlotte is worried that her attacker has learned lessons about how to twist the system to his advantage to help him repeat his crimes and continue getting away with it.

“This is about men being able to get away with it because the CPS is allowing them to.”

*Some names have been changed