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Rape victims must consent to let defence lawyers see phone data

RAPE victims are being warned they must hand in their phones to be trawled by police or risk letting their attackers go unpunished, under measures that have angered campaigners.

New consent forms have been brought in by the Crown Prosecution Service after a series of trials collapsed when evidence such as text messages between the complainant and the alleged abuser emerged.

Victims are warned that if they refuse to agree to let their mobile phones and other devices be checked, police investigations may be halted.

Griff Ferris, legal and policy officer at lobby group Big Brother Watch, claimed: ‘The CPS is insisting on digital strip searches of victims that are unnecessary and violate their rights.

‘Treating rape victims like suspects in this way delays investigations and trials, prolongs distress for both victims and suspects, deters victims from reporting and obstructs justice.’

The consent forms, issued to all police forces in England and Wales, require complainants to allow material that could help alleged attackers to be handed over to defence lawyers.

A report last year found 47 sexual assault cases had been stopped amid concerns about failures to hand over information in this way.

Liam Allan, then 22, from south-east London, had his trial scrapped in 2017 after it emerged his alleged rape victim had pestered him for casual sex by text.

Prosecutors blamed incompetence by police for the disclosure failure.

Director of public prosecutions Max Hill defended the new forms, saying phones would be scoured for ‘relevant’ material.

He added: ‘If there’s material which forms a reasonable line of inquiry but doesn’t undermine the prosecution case and doesn’t support any known defence case, then it won’t be disclosed.’

The National Police Chiefs’ Council backed the ‘clear and consistent information’ given on the forms about how devices would be scrutinised.

But former solicitor-general Dame Vera Baird, Northumbria’s police and crime commissioner, said alleged rape victims should not be required ‘to disclose their life history’.

Scotland Yard assistant commissioner Nicholas Ephgrave said he recognised the ‘awkward’ nature of handing devices to police and admitted: ‘I wouldn’t relish that myself.’