Ex-acting Met Commissioner faces probe over 'regretful sex' comments
Ex-acting Met Commissioner Sir Stephen House faces investigation over claim he said ‘bulk’ of rape complaints are cases of ‘regretful sex’
- Sir Stephen House is alleged to have used the phrase to a Home Office advisor
- He strongly denies the allegations and welcomes the IOPC investigation
- Prof Betsy Stanko was researching how to bring more rape cases to court
One the Met Police’s former top officers is facing investigations over claims he described the ‘bulk’ of rape complaints as ‘regretful sex’, according to a Channel 4 News investigation.
Sir Stephen House, who was Acting Met Commissioner following the sacking of Dame Cressida Dick is alleged to have made the comments to a Home Office adviser during a meeting at Scotland Yard in January 2022.
Sir Stephen strongly denies the allegations and said he welcomes the investigation by the Independent Office of Police Conduct. He described the term ‘regretful sex’ as ‘abhorrent’.
The former top officer is alleged to have made the comments to Professor Betsy Stanko, who was appointed by the Home Office to conduct a review into increasing the number of rape cases making it to court.
Professor Stanko began her review, Operation Soteria Bluestone’ in 2021 and met with Sir Stephen at Scotland Yard in January 2022.
Sir Stephen House, who was Acting Met Commissioner following the sacking of Dame Cressida Dick is alleged to have made the comments to a Home Office adviser during a meeting at Scotland Yard in January 2022
The former top officer is alleged to have made the comments to Professor Betsy Stanko, who was appointed by the Home Office to conduct a review into increasing the number of rape cases making it to court
In a report published in December, the review found ‘widespread failings’ in police Rape and Sexual Offence units. The researchers found there was a culture of ‘disbelieving victims’ and that officers had ‘ingrained prejudice’.
In an interview with Channel 4 News Investigations Editor Cathy Newman Professor Stanko alleges Sir Stephen made the remarks at a meeting with top officers at Scotland Yard to discuss her project’s findings.
Prof Stanko said: ‘It felt as if he [Sir Stephen] was trying to minimise what the problem was, not taking it seriously. He used terms to describe – or a term to describe – what he thought the bulk of the rape complaints were, which was the term “regretful sex”.’
Addressing the issue of ‘regretful sex’, Prof Stanko added: ‘The only way I understand the term regretful sex – and it was said by officers elsewhere, in the other forces that we visited and researched – it is something about the victim. Again, the victim is mistaken. That that faultline of forcible sex, which is rape, was not crossed because it must have been confusion. The problem was about confusion, not about the facts or the evidence that could have been collected if one was trying to investigate a rape.’
Prof Stanko was making her first public comments since her research was published.
In response to the claims, the Metropolitan Police has asked the IOPC to investigate the allegation.
It is alleged Sir Stephen made the comments during a meeting at Scotland Yard, pictured
Deputy Commissioner Lynne Owens said: ‘Having been made aware of an allegation that the comments were made by a senior Metropolitan Police officer, we are referring the matter to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.’
In a statement to Channel 4 News, Sir Stephen said:
‘I have dedicated over four decades of public service to protecting the public from predatory offenders.
‘I categorically deny using the phrase “regretful sex”. These are not words I have ever used in relation to rape or sexual assault and the reason I am so certain that I did not say this is because I simply do not believe it; I find the phrase abhorrent.
‘I find this characterisation of me to be deeply upsetting, and colleagues who know me know how untrue it is.’
Channel 4 News said it spoke with two people who they believe were in the room at the time the alleged comments were made. One said they ‘did not recall’ the comments, while the other supported Prof Stanko’s account.
Avon and Somerset Chief Constable Sara Crew, who oversaw Operation Soteria Bluestone said she has ‘no reason to disbelieve’ Prof Stanko’s account.
Prof Stanko passed the allegation to the chief constable who was the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on adult sexual offences.
She said: ‘The reference to “regretful sex” was one of several comments gathered by academics which point to outdated cultures and beliefs in The Metropolitan Police Service and in other forces.
She added: ‘I cannot comment on whether the then Deputy Commissioner made those comments as I was not in the meeting where they are alleged to have been made.’
On her view of whether House’s alleged comments are reflective of a wider pattern in policing, Crew adds:
“It doesn’t surprise me, because we found it across five police forces.”
The investigation includes Chief Constable Crew’s reflections on the successes of ‘Operation Soteria Bluestone’, after putting her own force under the microscope as part of the review and her hopes that credibility in policing can be restored. Crew comments:
“Our legitimacy depends on us tackling these things that exist within our organisations in our institution, in our culture, and it will take a systematic approach to doing it and there’s a role for each of us in it.”
Cathy Newman also asked Professor Stanko whether she had confidence that the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley will fix the current problems of rape and violence against women, Stanko comments:
“I’m not sure I’d say confidence, I’d say I have hope that he will. I think the job is a tall one. I think that it requires far more organisational change than I think is understood at the moment.”
In a statement to Channel 4 News, Deputy Commissioner, Dame Lynne Owens said:
‘Rape is a horrific offence that has a devastating and lasting impact.
‘The comments included in the Operation Soteria Bluestone report are wholly unacceptable.
‘We recognise that they risk further undermining the confidence of victims to come forward and that is deeply regrettable.
‘Having been made aware of an allegation that the comments were made by a senior Metropolitan Police officer, we are referring the matter to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.’
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Rape and sexual offences are among the most traumatic of crimes, and it is vital that victims know they will be taken seriously and their allegations investigated thoroughly.
‘Now it has been referred to the IOPC, the Home Secretary has agreed with National Police Chiefs’ Council chair Martin Hewitt that Sir Stephen House steps back from the review into the productivity of policing.’
Sir Stephen House’s full statement to Channel 4 News following tonight’s allegations
Sir Stephen House, pictured, strongly denies the allegation and says he looks forward to the IOPC investigation into his conduct
Dear Ms Newman
I have dedicated over four decades of public service to protecting the public from predatory offenders.
I categorically deny using the phrase ‘regretful sex’. These are not words I have ever used in relation to rape or sexual assault and the reason I am so certain that I did not say this is because I simply do not believe it; I find the phrase abhorrent.
Rape is a truly horrific crime and I, and many other colleagues, have strived to improve the service victims of rape receive; of course there is still much more to do. I and the Met accepted all of the recommendations made by the authors of this work and began to implement them immediately to improve the Met’s response to rape and serious sexual assault.
Throughout my police career and most especially in recent years as Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, Police Scotland and as Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, I have led thousands of officers in working to bring rape offenders to justice, to ensure victims are listened to, supported and safeguarded, and to prioritise rape investigation and detection.
As a public servant and as a father of two daughters I find this characterisation of me to be deeply upsetting, and colleagues who know me know how untrue it is.
I believe the Metropolitan Police will refer this situation to the IOPC to investigate and I wholeheartedly welcome this.
Sir Steve House QPM
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