More than nine in ten sex attacks went unsolved in Brighton and Hove in the year to the end of March, councillors were told.
But although fewer than 80 sexual assaults were solved after being reported to the police – out of more than 950 – this was a better “outturn” than for the previous two years.
An official report said: “There were 549 stalking offences recorded in 2020-21, continuing the steady upward trend in recorded data seen over recent years.
“There were 953 recorded sexual offences in 2020-21, and the solved rate was 7.9 per cent, with an improvement on the outturn for solved cases in the previous two years.
“As with domestic violence offences, the number of sexual offences completed at court was lower than in previous years, with 61 being completed during the year.
“But the conviction rate has been higher at 87 per cent of those completed.”
Conservative councillor Dee Simson asked why Sussex Police solved so few of the cases at a Brighton and Hove City Council meeting at Hove Town Hall last week.
Chief Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw told the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee: “It’s not satisfactory – for ourselves or anyone else.”
He spoke about some of the challenges facing the police in securing justice for the victims of sex offences.
And he said that the force was working on improving its conviction rate but sexual offences were among the “most challenging” of crimes when it came to securing a conviction.
One of the main difficulties tended to be the lack of witnesses, with one person’s word against the other in many cases.
The report to councillors said: “Sussex Police are part of a national pilot area working with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Kent and Surrey police, seeking to create a prosecution team approach from the outset of any investigation.
“It requires ‘acquiring best evidence’, suspect account and a file submitted to the CPS within 42 days. This then triggers a face-to-face meeting with a named lawyer to discuss case progression.
“Sussex Police have submitted the most cases within the pilot area and anticipate an increase in cases charged and a reduction in investigation time.
“The overall aim is to bring more offenders to justice, reduce the length of time of rape investigations and deliver justice for victims.”
Chief Superintendent Burtenshaw said: “When all the evidence is laid in front of a lawyer, they look to see if there is a prospect of a successful prosecution and often they say no.
“It’s not to do with a lack of effort from police or a lack of engagement from the victim.
“We really feel for the victims (and) we would love to put more through the courts.
“The government has been clear with the CPS that where there is a 50-50 balance, they should be looking to charge that person.
“We hope to be seeing the fruits of that labour in the next 12 to 18 months. It’s not satisfactory for ourselves or anyone else.”
The report to councillors last Thursday (16 September) said: “Sussex Police has a team of 30 specially trained officers providing victim-focused support that is separated from the investigations for all victims over 14 years of rape and penetrative offences.
“Support is offered through the whole process (initial response, investigation and court) and aims to build trust and confidence in reporting.
“Additional investment in this work took place in 2021.”
In July, the council’s Policy and Resources Committee called for a survey on how safe women feel in Brighton and Hove.
When Conservative councillor Vanessa Brown asked how far the work had progressed, she was told by the council’s head of safer communities, Jo Player, that the work had not progressed.
She said that the Sussex police and crime commissioner’s office had carried out a survey as part of its bid for Safer Streets funding from the government.
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