18 May 2011

Calls for Ken Clarke resignation over rape comments

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke tells Channel 4 News “all rape is serious” following earlier comments about rape sentencing which triggered widespread criticism. Ed Miliband says he should be sacked.

Ken Clarke appeared to say there are different types of rape during an interview with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5 Live.

The Justice Secretary was being asked about plans to halve sentences for rapists who plead guilty at the first opportunity.

Mr Clarke defined “serious rape” as “violence and an unwilling woman” and suggested there were lesser forms of the crime.

A rape victim, taking part in the debate, broke down in tears as she confronted him. The woman, who said she was put through almost two years of trauma before her attacker pleaded guilty, branded Mr Clarke’s plans “a disaster”.

FactCheck: England & Wales’ record on rape

Mr Clarke later appeared on the BBC news channel to clarify his position.

He said: “I was responding to average sentence figures.

“If an 18-year-old man has sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend… that is rape. But obviously that rape does not usually get the same sort of sentence as a violent attack.

“There is worse rape… when someone leaps out of a darkened wood and grabs somebody on a path.”

And Mr Clarke told Channel 4 News Political Correspondent Cathy Newman: “The policy I am pursuing is to reduce reoffending.

“What I’m doing is readdressing the existing cut you get for a guilty plea.

“All rape is serious, it gets eight years on average. I wouldn’t dream of altering the tariff on rape.”

Labour’s Bridget Phillipson ran a women’s refuge before becoming MP for Houghton and Sunderland South.

There’s still a long way to go until women feel confident reporting rape. Bridget Phillipson

She told Channel 4 News: “The issue is that for the Justice Secretary to seek to make a distinction between different kinds of rape is very unhelpful.

“There’s still a long way to go until women feel confident reporting rape and until we see the prosecutions that we need to see so that those women get justice.

“So for the Justice Secretary to put himself not on the side of the victims but apparently on the side of serious sex offenders really is not the direction we want to see the country going in.”

On the planned policy itself, she added: “Whilst going to trial can be very traumatic, many women actually want their day in court.

“They want their chance to have their say and to make it very clear the effect that the crime has had on them.

“He would do well to listen to those women, listen to victim’s groups, before he makes unhelpful comments that undermine all the work that has gone on for decades to make sure rape is taken seriously as a crime in this country.”

Calls for resignation

Ed Miliband led calls for Ken Clarke to be axed from the Government, saying “the Justice Secretary should not be in his post at the end of today”.

The Labour leader asked: “Would the Prime Minister like to distance himself from the Justice Secretary’s comments?”

David Cameron said he had not heard the interview, but said: “There is an offence called rape and anyone who commits it should be prosecuted, convicted and punished very severely.”

But the PM appeared to contradict some of Mr Clarke’s comments.

More from Channel 4 News: Absent Clarke the talk of PMQs

He said: “It should be a matter for the courts to decide the seriousness of an offence.

“I sat on the sexual offences bill under the last Government where we looked at all of the issues on whether you should differentiate between categories of rape.

“We decided as a House of Commons not to make that distinction.”