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Rape truth tests ‘dangerous’

Tanya Thompson Home Affairs Correspondent

WOMEN’S groups yesterday launched a scathing attack on new tests which will help police to root out false rape allegations.

Forensic experts say they can tell a genuine victim from a liar in almost 75 per cent of cases, by analysing body language and statement details.

Detective Sergeant Chris Few, a child protection officer responsible for the controversial research, said: "We can get an accurate assessment of whether the rape claim is genuine or false. Given more training, we believe officers could get even better. It’s a very good tool for investigators, to be used alongside other evidence."

Police officers in the study relied heavily on body language to decide whether the alleged victim was being honest.

They looked at 15 characteristics that can be used in rape cases, focusing on the tendency for a liar to confine herself to the minimum of detail, to cut down chances of slipping up.

Researchers found that genunine victims are likely to recall events in more detail, such as smells, tastes and noises. A victim may speculate on an attacker’s state of mind and blame herself for the attack.

"Statements that have a lot of detail tend to be genuine," said Det Sgt Few.

"People who fabricate stick to the bare minimum so they don’t trip themselves up.

"Those who are telling the truth admit that they can’t remember everything. They often feel guilty and blame themselves for the rape."

Last night, women’s campaigners condemned the research as "dangerous" and said it would deter victims from reporting attacks.

Cara Gillespie, a spokeswoman for Rape Crisis, said: "We would be concerned that the officers doing the research are not trained psychologists. This research perpetrates dangerous mythology about the crime, which is that women in rape cases tell lies. The fear is that it could prevent women from coming forward."

The technique, which originated in Germany in the 1950s, was first developed to test allegations of child abuse.

Det Sgt t Few, who has a degree in forensic psychology, presented his findings to the British Psychological Society in Birmingham yesterday. He trained 16 police officers and asked them to review witness statements.

He picked cases where the evidence was overwhelming, choosing convictions where the allegations were backed up by eyewitnesses, CCTV, physical evidence and admissions.

The ones deemed false were cases where the "victim" had confessed to making it up.

Officers trained in the method could differentiate between genuine statements and false ones in nearly 75 per cent of occasions. Untrained officers got it right in only half.

"We accept it’s not foolproof," said the detective." The last thing we want is a genuine victim branded a liar."

Figures from Rape Crisis show that only 20 per cent of women report rape to police.

There is no real way of gauging how many rape allegations are fabricated. There were nearly 8,000 reported cases of rape in the year ending March 2000 - fewer than a tenth ended in a successful prosecution.

Matthew Auchincloss, an Edinburgh solicitor, said he was deeply concerned that researchers would rely too heavily on the techniques. The Home Office is studying whether the methods should be more widely available.

He said: "It is not up to the police to decide who is telling the truth. It’s for the fiscal to decide whether there’s a case to answer, and the jury to decide guilt or innocence.

"Women should not be denied the trial process because the police think they are lying."

Last month, the trial of Edward Watt brought the issue of false allegations into sharp focus. The 24-year-old law student at Aberdeen University was acquitted of raping a fellow student in a hall of residence.

He admitted having sex with the woman, but insisted that she had consented, and made the accusation maliciously.

The judge, Lord Abernethy, threw out the case after deciding there was not enough evidenced. He ruled that force or threat of force had to be evident to qualify as rape.

Watt, who waited 18 months for his case to come to court, has joined a long list of falsely accused men calling for rape defendants to remain anonymous, as alleged victims are.