Other Serious Crimes

So far I have generally focused on murder, as it is the crime most commonly used by crime writers as a focus for the plot. Now I would like to look at four other crimes which are powerful enough to be a focus for the main plot or are often ancillary to it and which, if serious enough, get the same police response as murder – the appointment of an SIO, the setting up of an incident room etc.


Serial killers often start out as serial rapists and rape is the sort of ‘serial’ offence in which m.o., signature, profiling and forensic evidence figure heavily.  Before the Sexual Offences Act 2003 the law on rape and other non-consensual sex was a mess for a number of reasons.  First, there were essentially only two sex offences: rape – the penetration of the vagina by a penis without consent; and indecent assault – touching, stroking etc. which was considered indecent or which was carried out in a sexual context.  The old law failed in two important aspects: penetration and consent.


The law has now been amended to catch up with the many and different forms of perverse attacks suffered by victims today so that it now covers penetration of the vagina, mouth or anus by just about anything if it is done for sexual gratification and without consent.


In R. v. Morgan [1976] AC 182, the House of Lords ruled that the prosecution, and thus the victim, had to prove not just that intercourse had taken place without consent but that the defendant was either reckless or did not care whether or not she consented.  An honest belief of consent on his part, even if it was not reasonable, was enough to evade liability.  The Act now makes it clear that the victim only has to prove penetration and lack of consent; the defendant must show that his belief that she consented was ‘reasonable… having regard to all the circumstances’.

Vulnerable persons

The Act also consolidated and improved the degree of protection afforded to vulnerable people such as children and those with learning difficulties. It effectively means that doing anything indecent to them, getting them to do anything indecent or getting them to view anything indecent is an absolute offence – consent is not an issue.


Despite all these changes the conviction rate for rape is still abysmally low – only 6 per cent. This low figure must be seen in the context that only 20 per cent rape is reported at all.  The British crime survey found that only 8 per cent of rapes were committed by strangers, and that the greatest danger comes from a partner or ex-partner.  This group commit 45 per cent of rapes.  It is in this light that the poor conviction rate must be seen.  Since intercourse is usually admitted, the critical issue for the jury is whether or not the woman consented.  Crucial to this is her credibility versus his.

It must be remembered that jury knows nothing of the circumstances of the crime or the characters of the victim and the alleged rapist, other than what they learn from the trial process. If the victim appears cold and in control, or hysterical, or evasive, or uncertain of the facts then this is the only picture that they have of her.  This presents difficulties for a rape victim for a number of reasons:

  • rape is a traumatic event and the victim may still be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which may affect her behaviour, especially under hostile cross-examination
  • she may not have a clear memory of the event or may be too embarrassed to mention vital details either to the investigator or in the public arena of the courtroom
  • the rapist may have used a date rape drug such as Rohypnol or GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid). Her difficulties are compounded in this case by the fact that there is usually a delay in reporting this type of rape and it is difficult to detect both of these drugs after any period of time (twenty-four hours in the case of GHB and seventy-two with Rohypnol). I hate the expression ‘date rape’ as it somehow diminishes the victim, but like ‘joy-riding’ it is now part of the language
  • in date rape the victims may exaggerate the degree of force used or threatened, or lie about the amount of alcohol / drugs they had taken in order to maximize their chances of being taken seriously by the police
  • in stranger rape victims often exaggerate the rapist’s size and describe him as better looking than he is in real life (although they always seem, in my experience, to get the eyes right).

All these factors make the rape victim an easy target in cross-examination and since the key issue is her credibility they are the factors the defence will focus on.

The final difficulty that the victim faces in court is that she will often only be able to deal with the experience by detaching herself from it. This may make her appear unaffected by the rape to the jury and may affect their interpretation of the event.  The difficulty is compounded by the stupid legal convention that the prosecuting barrister will only see her for the first time in court and will have used the written statement in assessing her potential as a witness.  He or she will not be aware of any difficulties that the investigator faced in getting the women to describe the event and the rapist.  This convention is now, finally, under review.

Paedophile Crime

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 also comprehensively expanded the law in relation to sexual offences with children to ensure that any sexual act involving or in the presence of view of a child is an offence. It also created the offences of grooming and inciting a child to engage in any sexual activity.

The Offender

Sexual attacks by strangers on children are still relatively rare events. It is a difficult and dangerous crime to carry out if the attacker allows the child to live they know that there will be both a witness and forensic evidence to help convict them.  Paedophiles prefer to groom both the child and family, getting themselves into a position of trust by convincing the parents that they can be relied on to look after the child, then ensuring the child’s silence through threats or promises of rewards.  They are without doubt the most difficult people to deal with in policing terms as they are devious, persistent and, until discovery, have usually persuaded both the family and the local community that they are well-intentioned and trustworthy.

The Victim

In law a child is anyone up to the age of eighteen. I could write a whole chapter dedicated to the ages selected by statute in determining whether a child can or cannot do something and the degree of protection that they do or do not deserve which could provide its own social commentary reflecting the attitudes of the time the law was enacted.  As far as being a victim of crime is concerned the key ages are thirteen and sixteen.  Anyone having sex with a child under the age of thirteen commits rape, as it is impossible for him or her to give her consent.  Sixteen is the age of consent for sex for both boys and girls but if a male under the age of twenty-four has sex with a girl under sixteen he may not be prosecuted if he can show that he reasonably believed that she was sixteen or over.

Apart from consent, age is a key issue in terms of the victim’s credibility and usefulness as a witness. After the age of twelve children are probably as good a witness as they will ever be as adults, whereas children under the age of six rarely make good witnesses for a number of reasons:

  • they don’t have the language to explain what happened, especially grooming and threats or promises
  • they are not robust enough to withstand even gentle examination never mind cross-examination
  • their memory or ability to recall incidents in any logical order is often poor.

The key factor is the child’s intelligence and emotional development.

Much has been done to protect child witnesses from the effects of the defendant’s presence in court. Evidence can now be given behind a screen or via a CCTV link; the judge may decide that everyone should take off their wigs and gowns to make the atmosphere less formal and intimidating and, best of all, the judge can rule that the defendant cannot cross-examine the child personally but only through a lawyer (this can also be done with rape victims).

Forces now have specific departments to deal with ‘family’ crime, such as domestic violence and child abuse in all its forms. The child victim will always be interviewed by a specialist officer who has had extensive training and he or she will be supported by a specialist social worker.  The parents will not be allowed to be present as their emotional reactions cannot be relied on and it is essential that the investigator gets the child’s version of what happened as best the child can remember and articulate that memory.  Anatomically correct dolls help greatly in this with younger children.  There are proposals that TV footage of interviews become the sole evidence of children, but this subverts the ability of defendants to test the evidence against them – a main pillar of our confrontational legal system.

When a child is being abused the non-abusive partner either:

  • knows that it is going on but ignores it in order to keep the abusing partner happy
  • knows it is going on but is in denial, as to acknowledge it would require a confrontation with the abusing partner
  • genuinely has not noticed what is going on.

In any case the exposure of the abuse causes the family and its network of friends and acquaintances to implode, with the blame being placed squarely on the non-abusing partner, regardless of culpability, by both herself and the community. This is one of the many difficulties that the Family Liaison Officer (see Chapter 1) has to deal with in getting the family out of denial and into a useful supporting role for the child and the prosecution of the offender.

The Violent and Sex Offenders Register (VISOR)

Paedophiles are devious and persistent offenders. They are difficult to keep track of and are very good at blending into the background.  Those with previous convictions are more straightforward to handle as a check against the Police National Computer (PNC), especially if supported by fingerprints, will identify them.  The creation of the Violent and Sex Offenders Register was a logical step from the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check that is the first step in vetting applicants for jobs and positions working with children and vulnerable adults.  The register is in fact a subset of the PNC.  Under the Act offenders can be ordered by the court to register their addresses and any change of name with the police – failure to do so is an offence for which they can be imprisoned for up to five years.

The difficult people to manage are those suspected of predatory sexual behaviour but against whom there is not enough evidence to convict or against whom the school or institution concerned will not (for a variety of reasons) support a prosecution. Information against these people is currently held in a variety of systems and lists:

  • police local intelligence systems (see Chapter 9)
  • List 99, run by the Department for Children, Schools and Families
  • The POCA – the Protection of Children List – and the SOVA – the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults List both of which are run by the Department of Health.

The problem with the current arrangements, as the Soham murders tragically proved, is that it is full of holes created by different standards regarding:

  • the proof needed to be included on the list or system
  • the time an individual should be kept on the list or system
  • the degree of diligence in maintaining the list, updating it both with the entries and the particulars of those already on it.

These arrangements have been reviewed by Sir Michael Birchard and his recommendations have been implemented in the main by the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. In essence this will mean that all of the existing registers and lists will be amalgamated into one List of Barred Persons.  The new list will be managed by the Independent Barring Board which will report to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.  The implementation of this programme is now underway and is planned to be completed by 2010, by which time it hopes to integrate with the Impact system (local police intelligence).  This will mean that police forces can check on an individual on all of the local intelligence systems in England and Wales.  We have yet to see how successful this will be but the track record in amalgamating systems where the information comes from different organizations is not good and the Impact programme is already behind schedule.

Megan’s Law

This is a law which was passed in New Jersey initially and now applies to most of the USA and has federal government backing. It created a responsibility for the local law enforcement bodies to inform local communities that a sex offender lives in the neighbourhood.  In common with most other senior police officers and criminal justice professionals I do not advocate it be introduced in the UK as it does not improve the safety of children for the following reasons:

  • determined offenders will not register so the only people the police and the community will know about will be those least likely to re-offend
  • even if they register, persistent offenders will ensure that they stalk in areas where they are not known; there is no provision to inform the community under this approach and in any case it would be practically impossible
  • it would diminish rather than improve the ability of the police and probation service to monitor those individuals who present the highest risk to children.

In my view the only safe way to deal with repeat paedophile offenders is to give them a life sentence so that they are only out of prison and in the community on licence and can be sent back to prison for any breach of that licence.

A final reason for opposing any such law is a combination of civil libertarianism and practicality. A provision like this provides ammunition and an agenda for any vigilantes in the community.  There have already been at least two murders in the USA which can be attributed to this.  Apart from the fact that not every sex offender deserves a potential death sentence one must also take into account the stupidity and gullibility of some members of the general public.  It is highly possible that individuals will be mistakenly identified as paedophiles and will come under threat; anyone doubting the reality of this should remember the case a few years ago of the paediatrician whose home was attacked by a mob who believed he was a paedophile.


This is a crime that seems to lend itself better to film than books. Most of the opportunities to obtain serious money from robbery have disappeared with the use of credit and debit cards, wages and pensions being paid directly into banks and the closure of post offices, especially at the edges of towns, which made the getaway so much easier.  Those opportunities that exist are now much more difficult to attack and carry a higher element of risk because of:

  • CCTV
  • better security systems
  • more professional security firms
  • police helicopters (makes pursuit much easier and safer and avoids the problem of the cut-out – see below)
  • automatic number plate recognition systems (see Chapter 9).

Most robberies involve at least one and sometimes two car changes, usually at a point where any pursuing police car is blocked off such as a pedestrian bridge or an underpass at a railway line. Any big robbery, such as the one at Brinks Mat, almost always requires both inside information and inside participation in order to get around the security systems.  Detection of these robberies usually comes about through identifying the internal source and breaking them so that they put everyone in the frame in return for a lighter sentence (as happened with Brinks Mat) or through informants.  Money-laundering countermeasures also help; again in the Brinks Mat case the Treasury noticed larger than usual amounts of cash moving through Bristol bank and alerted the police.

A final point on robbery is the extensive misuse of the term. Robbery is stealing using force or the threat of force, so it is only possible to rob a person.  Houses cannot be robbed, nor technically can a bank – the robbery is from the staff in the bank.  If you break into the bank when there is no one there and steal the money, you have burgled the bank not robbed it (and you have certainly not burglarized unless you are in the USA).


Kidnapping is a relatively rare crime in Britain mainly because the police have made it very difficult to get away with. Kidnapping for money (as opposed to partners abducting their own children from each other) is difficult to carry out for a number of reasons:

  • the victim needs to be kept somewhere until the money is paid. This is not difficult for a short period but becomes progressively more so as time goes on
  • most people, even relatively wealthy ones, need time to get the amount of cash together that will make the risk worthwhile – which adds to the problem of keeping the victim
  • two-way communication with the person providing the money (the target) is difficult without giving information to the police as well
  • the pay-off is difficult to organize without the risk that the police will either make an arrest or pick up the collector and follow them either physically or technically (e.g. trackers in the bag)
  • the money can be marked, making its future use difficult

We know that the crime is more prevalent in immigrant communities for a number of reasons:

  • the target will have less faith in the police and will be less likely to involve them
  • the likelihood that the victim will be murdered in the process is higher, so the threat is more real
  • it may be possible to arrange the pay-off in another country, thus further subverting the usefulness of involving the police.

Since we only know of the cases where the police have been involved it is impossible to say how much of it goes on but this crime is an entrenched part of culture in Turkey and Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries, which now have significant communities here, especially in London.

The major difficulty for the police is to have the target contact them in the first place. They then must maintain contact without alerting the kidnappers that they are involved.  This means that all the initial contact with the target must be made covertly.  It would be irresponsible for me to describe how this would be done but the one thing that would never happen is for a marked police car or people who were too obviously police to be sent to the target’s home.  We are fortunate in this country in that the media have agreed to a blackout of all information concerning any ongoing kidnapping and a number have been successfully thwarted because of this.


It would be easy to devote a whole book to terrorism, and if you need detailed information I would advise you to read the work of people like Nigel West and Richard Clutterbuck. Like most police officers who were never in Special Branch I have had little contact with the two security services, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) which deals with any external threat to the UK’s interests, and the Security Service (MI5), responsible for counterintelligence and counterterrorism in the UK.  Until relatively recently there was a clear division between the police and the security services.  The latter developed intelligence here and abroad and the police were involved only if the intelligence exposed a spy or a subversive threat and prosecution was needed.  Where the intelligence failed and there was a successful terrorist attack, the police would investigate it just like any other crime.

The picture began to change in the 1970s when the IRA and the Provisional IRA launched attacks on the mainland. This led some forces to develop an anti-terrorist capability, the Met having the most advanced because of the nature of the threat to the capital and the fact that it had the resources to do it.  The peace process in Northern Ireland led to a decline in investment in the function to the extent that in 1996 the Security Service even made a bid for work by becoming involved in developing intelligence on serious and organized crime.  The attack on the Twin Towers in 2001 changed all that.  After the attack the security services in Europe and the USA realized the inadequacy of their knowledge of the Islamic terrorist threat and everyone moved their game up several gears, MI5 no longer showing any interest in organized crime.

The bombing of the Madrid railway and then the London Underground in 2005 brought the threat home to Europe and to the UK in particular. Any English force with either a sizeable Muslim community or a potential target will now have a significantly enhanced anti-terrorist capability, and be able to support the Security Service’s drive to recruit informants and agents in these communities.  The change is epitomized by the way that the Met has restricted its Special Branch, protection and anti-terrorist departments to create one Counter-terrorist Command (SO15), bringing together all the departments involved in security and counter-terrorism.  Before this the Security Services would have opposed any possible amalgamation of Special Branch with the ordinary police tooth and nail in case it opened up their secret world to outsiders.

That said the two roles are still kept separate as far as possible, with the Security Services always owning the intelligence function and the police always being responsible for the investigation of offences and providing evidence for the prosecution. The difficulties that the separation can cause are:

  • the Security Services always want the big picture and are more willing than the police to allow crime to be committed if this helps (their track record in Northern Ireland is a good indicator of how far they will go in this, even tolerating murder)
  • the ‘need to know’ culture can leave the police investigator short of relevant intelligence at a critical point in the investigation.

The major gain is that the intelligence database is always one step removed from the police and so is less likely to be compromised by the disclosure needs of the prosecution (see Chapter 1).


Queen Victoria


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