THE POLICE are working with tech companies to try and speed up downloading data from rape victim’s phones, the county’s police commissioner said.

It came as government ministers apologised for ‘failing’ rape victims and set out plans to turn around years of falling conviction rates.

Among the ambitions announced by the government was a pledge that no victim is left without a phone for more than 24 hours and people are not asked for information unless it is ‘necessary and proportionate’. Currently, victims can be without their phones for weeks as data that could prove vital in a court case is downloaded from the device.

Matthew Barber, police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley, told the Oxford Mail he hoped his force would be able to fulfil the ambition earlier.

He said: “We’re working with some technology providers to look at systems that would allow the download of mobile phone data. So, rather than send a mobile phone away for away for what can be a matter of weeks while it sits in the queue for digital forensics, potentially that could be done in 20 or 30 minutes.

“I think it will allow the police to get more appropriate data from digital devices. But, really importantly, it’s about confidence in reporting for victims. Having your mobile phone taken away, having your life sifted through is not a comfortable part of the process. The more we can speed that up the better.”

Mr Barber said the government report recognised ‘absolutely shocking failings in the system’, but added that the revelations could not come as any surprise.

“It’s been clear for some time there are big issues in the way that rape and serious sexual assault cases are handled through the system and confidence victims have in criminal justice,” he said.

CPS figures for England and Wales showed that 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser sexual offences last year. It was the lowest number since figures began, despite reports of rape almost doubling since 2015/16.

Home Office figures showed that of 1,492 rape offences logged by Thames Valley Police between April and December 2020, just 1.14 per cent had resulted in a suspect being charged or summonsed to court. That was down from 2.9 per cent in the year to March 2020.

In the government’s report, which was published on Friday, Thames Valley Police will test a new entitlement for rape victims to be able to challenge requests by detectives for information. No detail was given over when that pilot would begin.

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