Written evidence submitted by Dr Kari Davies, University of Birmingham, Dr Miranda Horvath, Middlesex University, Dr Katrin Hohl, City University London, Joanna Lovett, London Metropolitan University, Professor Betsy Stanko OBE   UCL, City University London, Sheffield Hallam University and Royal Holloway and Dr Emma Williams, Open University (INV0002)


The Committee invites evidence on the following points: 


The role of the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts in reporting, prosecuting and convicting in cases of rape and sexual assault, including the advice and guidance that is used to train, educate and support those involved in the disclosure, charging and prosecution of rape. 




This report is submitted in evidence by Professor Betsy Stanko OBE on behalf of the team of researchers involved in the innovative Pathfinder initiative, Project Bluestone.  The approach, the findings from the discovery phase of the work, as well as next steps in the implementation of an approach to improvement addresses key aspects of the question listed above.






  1. Project Bluestone, funded through the Home Office STAR programme, focuses on bringing together academic experts and operational policing to explore ways of improving, indeed transforming, the police response to rape and sexual assault.  This report outlines the approach, the initial findings, next steps and the aspirations for a wholescale uplift in the way police respond to rape and sexual assault reports.
  2. The findings of the 2019 London Rape Review[1] call for a radical rethink of the policing approach to rape and sexual assault (RASSO) allegations.  This review demonstrated that, in nine reports completed over a decade and a half in the Metropolitan Police Service exploring the policing justice outcomes for rape allegations reported in London, persistent obstacles are faced by many victims in seeking a justice outcome.  This project has arisen as a response to the declining numbers of suspects being charged and prosecuted for rape and sexual assault. 
  3. DCC Sarah Crew, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for RASSO, is committed to bringing research to the heart of whatever change and transformation is needed to improve the prosecution of RASSO offences, to promote the trust and confidence of victims in Avon and Somerset police, and to create a sustainable workforce that is reflective, continuously learning and conscious of the well-being of its staff.  DCC Crew agreed to work with a small team from MOPAC[2] (London) on a proposal they suggest would realise a national transformation of the policing of rape and sexual assault. 
  4. Avon and Somerset Police have identified transformation of the policing of rape and sexual assault offences as the top priority in their Uplift strategy.  STAR funding, provided by the Home Office, was awarded to Avon and Somerset in January 2021. 
  5. The STAR funded Project Bluestone stress tests the MOPAC transformational approach to improving the policing of RASSO allegations. STAR funding brought academic subject experts into the heart of Avon and Somerset Police to lay the ground for improvement. 
  6. The demand for a police response to rape and sexual assault (nearly four-fold from 2012/3 to 2019/2020) has increased substantially, led by victims (and third parties) who are bringing their experiences to police attention (see Appendix). This increase in reporting (even if it is influenced by better police recording practices) has an exponential impact on police resources due in part to the complexities of investigating rape.  There is a strong overlap for a significant proportion of victims in experiences of domestic abuse and sexual abuse, for example.
  7. Policing resources are stretched. Policing, as key to the public sector response to victims’ access to justice, has undergone years of costs savings with reductions in officer experience and staff as a consequence. 
  8. It is important to recognise this wider context of austerity and its impact on the growing demand for policing in rape and sexual assault in England and Wales over the past few years when reading the findings of the discovery phase of Project Bluestone.  The uplift to policing resources may address some of these issues.
  9. Avon and Somerset Police have been brave in opening their doors to academic researchers, who met officers and staff who were open, reflective and have a desire to improve their response to rape and sexual assault.  What we find here is not we strongly believe unique to one police service. 


Project Bluestone – The problem being addressed


  1. Project Bluestone focuses on transforming the policing response to rape, where the 86% of attrition in the criminal justice process is accounted for by police and victim actions (MOPAC, 2019)[3] .
  2. Drawing on the evidence and insight of four decades of academic study of rape and sexual assault, Dr Katrin Hohl and Professor Betsy Stanko proposed an analytic framework that, based on a critical analysis of the academic evidence, could create sustained and sustainable change in the policing of sexual offences, an arena that is woefully unable to improve. 
  1. Focusing on the required analytics and evidence base to drive change, five pillars for improving justice outcomes for victims in rape offences have been proposed as the conceptual strategy for this transformational project. This conceptual strategy is underpinned by embracing the global evidence on procedural justice and applying it in practice to victim experience.
  2. The five pillars driving a better, procedurally just outcome for victims are:


Project Bluestone:  A method for collaborative transformation of policing practice for RASSO cases


  1. Over the past few months (January – April 2021), the project set out to demonstrate the need for the smart use of administrative policing data, informed by the insight from the academic literature on victims’ lived experiences, policing practice and trauma informed investigation approaches, currently lacking inside the police service as a routine way of assessing outcome and informing performance and learning and development products.  In short, any recommendation to improve policing through the common recommendation - training of officers - will fail without a whole systems approach informed by the lens of procedural justice for victims at its heart.
  2. Led by Professor Stanko, the project recruited five research teams in January 2021 to lead the collection of evidence to inform each of the five core pillars for transforming the ‘as is’ state for policing RASSO.
  3. Each academic pillar lead[4] twinned with police leads inside Avon and Somerset Police.  These five collaborative leads have cooperated on the substance of the products being produced by the five academic leads.  These products are not intended to be stand-alone ‘how to guides’, although there will be some products like this.  They are intended to be the substance for the business case which steers the necessary, transformative change to deliver the outcomes for each of the pillars, which together will drive better victim engagement and investigative outcomes.
  4. The project findings flow from
    1. focus groups with ISVAs and the lead ISVA team to understand better the needs for improving the procedural justice approach to victim engagement,
    2. focus groups with officers across the force,
    3. bespoke interviews with key police leads,
    4. deep dives into police administrative data and strategic police products, bespoke analysis of recorded allegations of RASSO over three years,
    5. 38 case reviews conducted by two levels of police supervisors and senior leads,
    6. deep dive analysis of learning and development materials, which includes those used in Avon and Somerset as well as the standards set by the College of Policing,
    7. an understanding of the force approach to the support for the well-being of officers and staff investigating and responding to RASSO allegations,
    8. a national collection of good practice for RASSO investigation and offender management, victim engagement and learning and development, and good, foundational analytic support to understanding case progress and investigative outcomes.
    9. and one to one academic discussions and stakeholder engagements throughout.
  5. Pillar leads and their teams have had continuous contact with the force, adeptly facilitated by the Force Lead Superintendent and Project Bluestone Project manager.  The project has clearly benefited from committed, subject expert academic leads working closely with the overall academic lead and two critical police force roles for the creation of the insight, the independence of the findings, and the roadmap for the implementation of the findings to design the integration of best practice as the new way of working. 


Some indicative findings


  1. The project teams – academic leads as well as those in Avon and Somerset – are confident that the five pillars identified in the research proposal are the right ones to lead and to frame transformational change in the investigation of RASSO alongside an improvement in victim procedural justice and investigative strategies welded to kinds of corporate support that enables sustainable learning, monitoring and continuous improvement for RASSO victims in Avon and Somerset. 
  2. During the month of April 2021, feedback sessions provided internal and external stakeholders the opportunities to hear the evidence informed findings and tweak the products which are intended to be used as steers to improvement in the investigation of rape and sexual assault in Avon and Somerset.  The intent is to share these products nationally. 
  3. Products alone will not drive sustainable change.  Organisational transformation, linking corporate enablers such as learning and development, data quality, and smart use of police administrative data to provide in time and professional performance and monitoring of justice outcomes and decision making in the case progression of rape and sexual assault.
  4. The overwhelming consensus of the police participants and the academic teams is that the core vision outlined in the STAR Project Bluestone for transforming the investigation of RASSO, is the right framework.
  5. The five pillars’ findings will drive a better procedurally just outcome for victims through:
  1. The project leads inside the force, as well as the academic pillar leads, agree that the above pillars are critical to transformational improvement.
  2. There is a disjuncture between the necessary corporate enablers for transformation – innovative materials for learning and development, well-being support for officers, capacity for good analytical products, monitoring of investigative strategies and case progression – which must be addressed alongside workforce development in improved investigative strategies and approaches to victim engagement.
  3. Final drafts of the products produced are specifically meant to be iterative documents steering transformation and will be updated regularly.
  4. Project Bluestone found obstacles in the investigation of, and corporate support for, best investigation strategies victims deserve.  These included:
    1. A suspicion of victims and a lack of suspect focus;
    2. Large delays in investigations, both in terms of speaking to suspects and in the collection of time-sensitive evidence;
    3. Little used of intelligence to establish whether suspects had been named in previous offences;
    4. A lack of a holistic approach to disrupting repeat offending, that went beyond the immediate case being investigated (e.g., little use of long-term ways to disrupt repeat offending such as referrals to offender management units);
    5. Poor risk assessment and management that left victims at risk;
    6. Poor coordination with the CPS that led to further delays, as well as limited joint working with other police units;
    7. Poor use of NICHE (the crime reporting data system), including a lack of effective data recording of key demographics in order to explore fair treatment across different categories of victims;
    8. No mechanisms for identifying good and poor practice because of limited case review and opportunities for reflective practice;
    9. Limited opportunities to apply and embed learning from RASSO training into practice and completion of the portfolio following the training is inconsistent due to a lack of mentors;
    10. Lack of an iterative learning process, Continuous Professional Development and integration of insight from academic research and bespoke evidence derived from local data analysis;
    11. Poor and inconsistent supervision both in relation to the case progress, officer wellbeing checks and caseload;
    12. A lack of a ‘critical analysis’ approach and prioritisation of actions to investigations which resulted in a process-action approach, i.e., actions being worked through with little consideration of their necessity or urgency;
    13. Lack of tactical intelligence and criminal intelligence analysts to support investigation;
    14. Significant missing data and quality issues around key variables to understand as broadly as possible the ‘problem’ of rape as reported by victims;
    15. Lack of strategic/performance analysts to understand case progression through the experiences of victims and the broad range of contexts within which rape and sexual offences occur, in a manner that sparks the police service to require on-going review of police investigation practices;
    16. Limited and irregular production of problem profiles, providing strategic oversight of reported rape and sexual offences to support the better understanding of the nature and progression of RASSO offences in the force area.
  5. The above observations have been fed back to the force, and work is underway to address the above through a whole systems, force-wide  implementation plan.  There is enthusiasm and support to change within the force across different corporate areas.  Force leads for key specialisms are all engaging with the implementation.  The enthusiasm of the force has been matched by the ISVA service and other key local stakeholders.


Next steps


  1. Project Bluestone demonstrates the usefulness of fresh eyes on a persistent, wicked problem.  The academic findings and products have now been mapped against the delivery of the policing approach to improvement as outlined in the Police-CPS Joint Action Plan on Rape.  Many of the findings will steer the national improvement for the policing of RASSO investigations in England and Wales. All findings and products will be shared nationally, and with the CPS.
  2. Realising the full benefits of the insight gained, the spirit of collaboration between academic teams and Avon and Somerset Police as translated into transformation will take time but has begun. There is resolve to make this approach sustainable.
  3. There are immediate benefits that will improve policing across the board, which include reconsideration of the thinking about workforce structure needed for the investigation of rape and sexual assault – specialism vs omnicompetent policing - and immediate developments to accelerate improvement in investigation and investigative strategies to include suspect disruption tactics.
  4. Other immediate benefits include a widely consulted booklet to assist victims in navigating the involvement with justice and to improve victim engagement.
  5. In the medium term, the next steps involve how best to align policing corporate support on learning, development and well-being, to investigation and victim engagement, critical for sustainable change.
  6. And finally, it would be useful for the Home Affairs Select Committee to consider how they might assist in wider support needed for improvement on data quality and the use of police administrative data for monitoring case progression and investigative strategies.  There remain thorny issues in the linking of justice data.  This requires central government action to assist the linking of data across the justice system – from policing, to CPS actions, to court outcomes.


Appendix attached


Submitted by the Project Bluestone research team:


Dr Kari Davies, University of Birmingham

Dr Miranda Horvath, Middlesex University

Dr Katrin Hohl, City University London

Joanna Lovett, London Metropolitan University

Professor Betsy Stanko OBE   UCL, City University London, Sheffield Hallam University and Royal Holloway

Dr Emma Williams, Open University


May 2021



[1] Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime - MOPAC (2019) The London Rape Review. Available online

[2] MOPAC team includes Robin Merrett, MOPAC’s head of operational oversight, Lizzie Peters and Professor Betsy Stanko, Strategic Advisor to the programme of work and co-creator of this approach to transformation. The MOPAC team have a track record of two successful projects to uplift learning and development in police across England and Wales, both funded by the Home Office Police Innovation Fund. 

[3] Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime - MOPAC (2019) The London Rape Review. Available online

[4] Strand one lead, Dr Miranda Horvath, University of Middlesex; Strand two lead, Dr Kari Davies, University of Birmingham; Strand three lead, Dr Katrin Hohl, City University London; Strand four lead, Dr Emma Williams, Open University; Strand 5 lead, Joanna Lovett, London Metropolitan University.