Violent and sexual offence cases wrongfully dropped, BBC findson October 11, 2022 at 12:45 am

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Violent and sexual crimes were among 60 cases wrongfully dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Jade McCrossen-Nethercott

Violent and sexual crimes are among 60 cases wrongfully dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the past year, the BBC has found.

It comes after the CPS apologised to a woman whose rape case was closed because of claims she had an episode of sexsomnia, a rare sleep condition.

The Labour Party has called for an urgent review of the appeal system for victims when cases are dropped.

The CPS said decisions to halt cases were never taken lightly.

Across England and Wales in the year to September 2022, there were 60 cases where a victim won an appeal against a CPS decision to terminate proceedings before they reached court.

But each case could not be reopened because the defendants had already been cleared.

The cases had been closed by the CPS “offering no evidence”, which results in the accused being found officially not guilty, despite not appearing in front of a jury.

The figures include four sexual offences and 31 “offences against the person”, which cover a range of violent offences from harassment to murder, a BBC Freedom of Information request found.

Fraud, burglary and robbery cases were also among the terminated cases which, after victims appealed, the CPS later admitted should have been prosecuted.

The law of “double jeopardy” means that after someone has been cleared of a crime, they cannot be tried for the same offence again. The only exception is where there is new and compelling evidence in the most serious of crimes.

Details of the 60 closed cases come after the BBC reported the case of Jade McCrossen-Nethercott, who is suing the CPS after her rape trial was dropped days before court – over defence claims she had had an episode of sexsomnia.

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Two sleep experts – one for the defence and one for the prosecution – concluded that it was possible she had had an isolated attack of the sleep disorder, which causes people to engage in sexual activity in their sleep.

After Ms McCrossen-Nethercott appealed the CPS decision, a review by an independent chief crown prosecutor found the case should have been taken to trial.

He said the jury would have been “more likely than not” to convict the defendant, which is one of the tests for bringing a prosecution.

However, the case could not be reopened because the CPS had offered no evidence, meaning the defendant was formally acquitted.

The chief prosecutor wrote to Ms McCrossen-Nethercott personally to “apologise unreservedly” on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service – although he accepted it was likely to be of “little consolation” to her.

In a public statement, the CPS said it was sorry “for the mistakes we made and the stress and trauma she has endured”.

Labour have now called for an independent inquiry into the “victim’s right to review”, the appeal system for challenging CPS decisions.

Writing to Attorney General Michael Ellis, shadow minister for domestic abuse and safeguarding Jess Phillips said the current system was “failing” and urged the government to act quickly.

Labour MP Jess Phillips sitting behind a microphone

Image source, Getty Images

“I think that the average person in the country would be quite surprised to hear that a letter of sorrow is all an alleged rape victim can expect in cases where such errors are made,” she said.

“They would be further horrified to understand that it means that potentially dangerous offenders face no consequences.”

When asked for comment, the Attorney General’s office said: “We have received the letter and will consider it and respond in due course.”

The CPS said it had “huge sympathy” for victims whose cases could not be reopened because no evidence had been offered.

“We strive for justice in every possible case and decisions to halt them are never taken lightly,” a spokesperson said.

In 2018, the High Court found that it was not unlawful for the CPS to close a case by offering no evidence before a victim was able to challenge the decision.

In his judgment, Lord Justice Holroyde concluded that allowing a victim’s review before the prosecution was terminated would cause serious and unjustifiable delay in proceedings.

He added that the admission of error – and an apology – was an important outcome of a victim’s right to review, even if the case could not be reopened.

The victim’s right to review scheme gives complainants three months to seek a review of a CPS decision.

The CPS received 1,961 review requests in the year to March 2021. In 270 cases, the original decision was overturned.

The CPS said in many cases the prosecution could be reopened, however it was legally prevented from doing so if no evidence had been offered.

BBC iPlayer

When unexpected sleepwalking claims turn a rape case on its head, Jade fights back. Filmed over three years, this is the remarkable story of one woman’s battle for justice. Will she win?

BBC iPlayer
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