A Channel 4 News investigation has discovered that the conviction rate for rape investigations in the military justice system is less than half that of the civilian system.
For years the Armed Forces has investigated rapes committed by soldiers outside the UK. Following a change in the law the military also now has the right to investigate rape in Britain.
But is the court martial system fit for purpose?
“It would have been better not to have said anything about it.” Alleged rape victim
One woman who spoke to Channel 4 News says she was failed by military justice after she claims she was raped on a British army base in Germany.
“It would have been better not to have said anything about it,” the woman, Anna – not her real name – told Channel 4 News.
“I could have saved myself all the trouble of questioning and would not have had to relive everything again.”
During this investigation Channel 4 News tried repeatedly to elicit from the Ministry of Defence basic but critical information about its track record on investigating rape. The answers Channel 4 News eventually received raise serious questions about the military’s ability to effectively deal with allegations of rape.
Channel 4 News asked the MoD how many allegations of rape had been made to the military police.
After a two month delay – which the MoD said was due to a re-organisation of how offences were recorded – Channel 4 News was told that between 2007 and 2009, 76 allegations of rape were investigated by the Armed Forces.
But just two cases ended in conviction. A rate of 2.6 per cent. By comparison, the conviction rate when civilian police investigate is around 6 per cent.
“We have worked quite hard to get the civilian rate up to six and a half almost seven per cent,” Vera Baird, former Solicitor General and ex-Labour MP, told Channel 4 News.
“People still worry that’s very low and rightly so. But when we started that was never as low as 2.6 per cent. This is a very worryingly low rate.”
The army base of Paderborn in central Germany is home to a 10,000 strong British military community. Two years ago the young woman Anna was approached by a group of off-duty soldiers while out on an evening with friends.
Later, she took a taxi back to the barracks of one of the men.
“We went to his room and he closed and locked the door,” she said.
“He kissed me and got intrusive very quickly. I told him a couple of times that I didn’t want that and that he should stop that but that didn’t bother him.
“He pushed my upper body down and took my trousers off. I tried to push him away, but he was very heavy on top of me.”
Then, she says, he raped her.
In the gatehouse soon afterwards she says she asked for the German police. They would get involved but, as this was a British base, the UK’s Royal Military Police would ultimately lead the investigation.
The case was dropped several months later, due – Anna was informed in a letter – to a lack of evidence.
Her lawyer, Anja Brauckmann, says she has had two other similar cases in Paderborn in recent years where the Royal Military Police has dropped investigations citing lack of evidence.
“It was a very parallel situation – it was always like this,” Brauckmann told Channel 4 News.
“The women went to town…they were in a club or pub and one of the soldiers went out with the girl first to the barracks and the others said, ‘We will come afterwards, we will get something to eat, then we will also come up to the barracks’. This situation also ended that the soldier closed up his room and raped the woman.”
“If the Armed Forces are not adopting and applying the minimum standards that we ask our 43 forces to subscribe to then the potential for that is they are failing victims.” Former police adviser David Gee
A former Home Office and police adviser on rape investigations, David Gee, has revealed to Channel 4 News that he has barely had any contact with the Armed Forces over the last two years, despite repeated offers to help them with specialist training.
Gee, who advised the Association of Chief Police Officers, told Channel 4 News he did not know who ran the training programmes for military personnel dealing with rape investigations and that, if standards were not sufficient, they could be failing victims.
“If the Armed Forces are not adopting and applying the minimum standards that we ask our 43 forces to subscribe to then the potential for that is they are failing victims,” he said.
In Germany two years ago, Anna’s view of the British military police officers who handled her allegation of rape was that they were personable but patently inexperienced.
“I think they were just regular officers from the criminal investigations department that were not specialised in sex offences,” she said.
“They asked only detailed questions. They apologised and said they had to do it. But it didn’t come across like they had done it before.”
Anna’s case never made it to court but if it had it would almost certainly have entered the military’s court martial system whose prosecuting lawyers, Channel 4 News has discovered, do not have the conviction rates of civilian prosecutors.
In the civilian system only a small percentage of rape allegations ever make it to court but of those cases that are finally heard in court 58 per cent end in conviction.
“It is a very disappointingly low conviction rate and we do need to be extremely concerned about that.” Former Solicitor General Vera Baird
In the courts martial system, however, Channel 4 News has learned that there have been 12 cases of alleged rape prosecuted over the last three years resulting in two convictions. That is a 16 per cent conviction rate at court.
“It is a very disappointingly low conviction rate and we do need to be extremely concerned about that,” Vera Baird told Channel 4 News.
“It takes a lot of fortitude for a complainant to get as far as court and if the outcomes are so poor, fewer and fewer and fewer people are going to even try, so justice is going to be completely undermined.”
“All allegations of sexual offences in the Armed Forces are robustly investigated.” Ministry of Defence
In a statement the MoD said: “All allegations of sexual offences in the Armed Forces are robustly investigated.
“In the UK, civilian police lead the majority of investigations and overseas, the Service Police will lead the investigation. Subsequent proceedings will be prosecuted by the independent Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA), whose prosecutors receive expert in-house training and also attend specialist courses run by the Crown Prosecution Service.
“Each Service Police force includes a Special Investigation Branch (SIB), which receives extensive training to handle cases involving sexual offences, which mirrors that received by civilian police…(which) comprises nearly 15 per cent of the SIB course.”