Sarah Everard (Photograph via Wikipedia)
Last week, the UK news was full of the shocking case of Sarah Everard’s killing. A serving Metropolitan Police officer has been arrested and charged with her abduction and murder. The abduction is thought to have happened on Clapham Common in London.
Below is a piece written by Sally Homer about a separate case and posted on her Facebook page.
This week, a police officer will be sentenced for an ‘assault by beating’.
The assault happened in July 2020 as my niece (let’s call her Gemma) walked home in the dark at 1am. The officer (let’s call him PC Danfell) pleaded guilty at Leamington Magistrates Court in January 2021 and his sentencing hearing will take place in Leicester Magistrates’ Court this week.
So that is the news.
Except it probably won’t be the news because – for PC Danfell’s convenience – the hearing will take place in the East Midlands, outside local media scrutiny of where he lives and was charged (Warwickshire) and where he works (West Midlands).
Since the assault – an unprovoked, verbal, and brutal physical attack by a stranger (who turned out to be an off duty-policeman) – Gemma has experienced many instances where the criminal justice system is stacked in favour of the police rather than the victim.
The details of the assault and the subsequent effect on her life are not mine to share. That is Gemma’s story. But I can share the circumstances that have taught me this: if you are a woman who has been assaulted by a serving police officer, then be prepared to battle extremely hard to get justice.
I am a theatre/comedy publicist, so I have had plenty of time due to the pandemic to navigate complicated complaint procedures, to liaise with two police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service. I spent hours researching divergent police procedures when a suspect is a serving police officer. I have been a passionate advocate for Gemma. By focusing on the admin, I was able to better handle the sense of shock at the injustice of it all.
I used a brilliant service provided by the Rights of Women organisation whereby I was able to talk to a criminal barrister for free for an hour.
Such an odd situation: the victim requiring sophisticated legal advice.
But, without their guidance, I don’t believe we would have secured a conviction.
The attack happened at 1am and Gemma reported it 7 hours later, at 8am.
Without ever explicitly referring to this as her ‘mistake’ the investigating police force have implied that their poor response was in part because Gemma did not report the attack immediately.
Under covid restrictions, minimal face-to-face contact was the narrative from the police… Still, it took over 30 hours for an officer to take Gemma’s statement over the phone; it took a week until she was given a name of an officer who would be in charge of the investigation; and it took nine days for an officer to come and see her to sign her statement – despite several attempts by Gemma, myself, and her brother to get a proportionate response to the report of a serious crime.
Gemma supplied the police with two witnesses and, within a week of the assault, with the name, address and photograph of her assailant.
The police had been independently sent 90 seconds of CCTV from a witness who reported the assault without any knowledge that the victim and the assailant were her near neighbours.
Police reassured Gemma that, because the suspect was a serving police officer employed by another force, the investigation would be carried out with extra care and vigilance.
In practice, the opposite was true.
They failed to secure crucial evidence and, even though the assault happened 10 metres from her front door and her assailant lives less than 30 metres away, it took a further 8 weeks for officers to conduct thorough house-to-house enquiries and interview PC Danfell.
When interviewed and allowed to watch the CCTV evidence, PC Danfell (6ft 2in) did not dispute the incident took place but created a back-story about how he was defending himself, as Gemma (5ft 2in and 8 stone) had, he said, assaulted him just before the CCTV caught the incident.
A sergeant came to see us and explained that, since it was Gemma’s word against his, then PC Danfell would be ‘served with a caution’.
We were incredulous. There was no scrutiny of his story and anyway, the CCTV clearly showed excessive force.
Emboldened by reading the Centre for Women’s Justice ‘super complaint’ about how police officers are allowed to abuse women with impunity, we insisted that they take the case to the Crown Prosecution Service and offered-up Gemma’s medical records as evidence. Gemma had sustained no cuts or broken bones but the effect on her mental well-being was severe.
The CPS’s response was not to charge due to lack of evidence. We got savvier. And appealed.
The CPS were finally committed to do some investigative work.
Danfell’s narrative fell apart and he was finally charged at the end of last year, JUST within the 6-month statue for this offence.
We have faced barriers that are common to thousands of cases throughout the UK, most commonly associated with domestic abuse by police officers against their partners.
Namely: difficulties in initial reporting, failures in investigation, improper responses to complaints/concerns, manipulation of police processes, accused using their police knowledge, status and powers and improper decisions on criminal charges.
If you are a victim, you are fighting on two fronts – the actual IN YA FACE violent misogyny of the assault itself and the systemic, drudging, hidden misogyny of the police and the criminal justice system.
I began writing this blog before Sarah Everard’s murder. I was going to wind it up with a neat quip about looking forward to the new series of the BBC TV series Line of Duty.
But last night I watched the news hoping it wasn’t real, that Kate Fleming from Line of Duty would walk into shot on Clapham Common and we’d know justice would be done.
Sadly, it isn’t like it is on television …
THERE IS A FOLLOW-UP BLOG HERE.
AND A CHANNEL 4 TELEVISION REPORT HERE.
Sally Homer adds: I am not connected with the Rights of Women organisation professionally or privately at all – But they provided a great service, so give them money if you have any to spare!