The mother of the Yorkshire Ripper’s last victim discovered the police cannot be sued for negligence.

28 years later, the situation is the same. This is a scandal – not least for rape victims, who are often not believed.


In 1984, Doreen Hill, mother of the 13th and final victim of Peter Sutcliffe, the so-called Yorkshire Ripper, attempted to sue the then Chief Constable of West Yorkshire. She claimed that her daughter Jacqueline would be alive but for police negligence.

Doreen Hill failed when the High Court ruled that police officers who failed to stop murderers and rapists from going about their grisly business could not be held responsible for all unaccompanied women who just might become victims.


And shockingly, even today - 28 years later - the police service remains the only public body exempt from being sued in the civil court for negligence.

The issue of inadequate police investigation of sex crimes against women is again in the news. Former Lib Dem mayoral candidate and Metropolitan Police officer, Brian Paddick, told the Leveson Inquiry how he had been asked to "water-down" a damning report of the way the Met deals, or doesn't deal, with claims of sexual assault. His remarks prompted questions from some rape victims as to what can be done to call the police to account when they fail to adequately serve victims of serious crime.


Attempts by Human Rights lawyers to win the right to sue police for negligence have failed more than once since the Doreen Hill case. The only option currently available is to bring a claim under the Human Rights Act for infringement of Article 3, which requires the state to effectively provide protection against serious crimes, such as rape.

But even should disciplinary proceedings finally be instigated against police as a result of the mishandling of a rape case, the heaviest sanction seems to be "words of advice", or the docking of a week's pay.


Nothing will significantly change - and women will not even feel that their stories of sexual harassment, which often precede something nastier happening to them, will be taken seriously, until the commissioner or chief constable is no longer afforded blanket and often unjustifiable protection from the courts.


Is there a way forward? Well, if the police budget were to become vulnerable to compensation claims, it just might result in systems being put in place which root out incompetence and prejudice towards abused women...




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