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Police forced to run background checks on sex abuse suspects or face sack under proposed ‘Gaia’s Law’

The new rules have been put forward in memory of Gaia Pope (Supplied)
The new rules have been put forward in memory of Gaia Pope (Supplied)

Police officers who fail to run background checks on sex offence suspects will face being fired under new measures proposed to parliament to crackdown on sexual predators.

The new measures would force officers investigating cases of rape and serious sexual offences to investigate any prior allegations against the suspect to ensure repeat offenders are identified.

Labour MP Jess Phillips said the proposal would make sure “police serve to the highest standard and are held to account if they fall short”.

She told The Independent: “It’s crucial that our police force moves every muscle to ensure dangerous men are held to account for their crimes, taken off our streets and out of our homes.”

The new rules have been put forward in memory of Gaia Pope, whose body was discovered 11 days after the 19-year-old went missing from her aunt’s home in Swanage, Dorset in 2017.

Gaia’s family say her death was linked to Dorset Police failing to properly investigate a report of rape against a suspect who had multiple previous allegations against him.

The College of Policing’s National Operating Model already states officers should be doing running checks as a matter of course, but under the new measures, failure to conduct thorough investigations would constitute workplace misconduct.

Police did not proceed with criminal charges after Gaia’s accusations of rape, but her alleged rapist was handed a two-year sentence later that same year for an unrelated case involving a teenage girl.

The guidance is words on paper. There is no meaningful accountability for failures to follow it. Given the crisis of public confidence in policing, it is an insult to all of the people who have been unnecessarily victimised, denied justice, or left in danger because of these failings.

Marienna Pope-Weidemann

Gaia went missing around the time he was due for release from prison with her family saying she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following her alleged assault.

Speaking to The Independent in an exclusive interview, Gaia’s cousin Marienna Pope-Weidemann said there must be consequences if police officers are not following the College of Policing guidance.

She said: “Just like in any other job. If the pattern persists, it should be a misconduct issue. You should not be allowed to keep your job if you can't get this right because it puts people's lives in danger.

“The guidance is words on paper. There is no meaningful accountability for failures to follow it. Given the crisis of public confidence in policing, it is an insult to all of the people who have been unnecessarily victimised, denied justice, or left in danger because of these failings.”

Ms Pope-Weidemann said she believes the police didn’t present Gaia’s alleged rapist's previous sex offending accusations to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) because they were unaware of them or the decision may have stemmed from “institutional misogyny”.

The Gaia Principle makes sure officers join the dots, and known perpetrators are not able to act with impunity.

Jess Phillips

She added: “Either it is a staggering level of incompetence which is putting public safety at risk. Or equally disturbing, it is because a set of assumptions were made about Gaia based on her mental health difficulties that meant she was so not taken seriously as a victim that they just immediately dismissed her claim.

“This screams institutional misogyny to me. This is a systemic widespread issue within policing.”

Ms Pope-Weidemann, of The Gemini Project, a charity campaigning to end sexual violence, warned the major problem with the current guidance is the fact it is optional.

“If there is no oversight and accountability how can we trust an institution which is already established to have a misogyny, racism and homophobia problem to properly implement guidelines,” she added.

“If we enact this principle, it would seriously improve the effectiveness of investigating serious and repeat offenders and it would prevent so many people becoming victimised in the first place”.

Labour MP Ms Phillips, former Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, said she had encountered many sexual violence victims who said it was not the abuse that “broke them but the failed state response”.

The MP for Birmingham Yardley added: “It’s crucial that our police force moves every muscle to ensure dangerous men are held to account for their crimes, taken off our streets and out of our homes.

“This must include ensuring officers diligently search for previous intelligence on suspects – crucially looking at previous reports, charges or convictions against the perpetrator. This must be a basic, fundamental part of a police officer’s service. The Gaia Principle makes sure officers join the dots, and known perpetrators are not able to act with impunity.”

Verity Nevitt, co-founder of The Gemini Project, said: “Too many survivors have been denied justice because police cannot follow basic processes and do their jobs properly.”

Ciara Bergman, chief executive of Rape Crisis England And Wales, said the organisation is backing the Gaia Principle amendment as she called for serious sexual offences to be properly investigated.

The National Police Chiefs Council declined to comment, while a spokesperson for Dorset Police and the Home Office has been contacted for comment.

“Our family will never recover,” Ms Pope-Weidemann said. “The grief is so amplified by the fear I live with every day that more people like her are being put at risk in all the same ways because of a persistent institutional refusal to really step up and actually take action.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said their “sympathies are with Gaia Pope’s family and friends”.

The representative added: “The College of Policing published their Code of Ethics which states that officers are expected to gather, verify and assess all appropriate and available information including in rape and sexual assault cases, and failure to act diligently in their duties and responsibilities could lead to dismissal.”