Police investigating sex crimes are being swamped by a huge rise in cases as online grooming and reports of historic child abuse pile the pressure on Scotland’s overstretched detectives.
Recorded cases rose by 13 per cent between April and September compared with the same period last year but the proportion of offences solved fell by 6 per cent.
Crimes linked to sharing indecent images rose by more than 40 per cent and sexual assaults rose by 20 per cent. These included children under 13 who were coerced into watching or performing sexual acts, and adults lured into exposing themselves by international extortionists and then blackmailed for cash.
Johnny Gwynne, Police Scotland’s deputy chief constable in charge of public protection, told a board meeting of the Scottish Police Authority yesterday he was confident much of the rise was down to victims feeling more confident coming forward. However, he said he would “be a fool” to try to explain how much of it was down to an actual increase in the number of sex crimes.
The Scottish child abuse inquiry, led by Lady Smith, has uncovered more unreported sex crimes and allegations of oppressive conduct towards children even though it has barely scratched the surface, Mr Gwynne said.
Detectives are also scouring the internet for online crime, which is turning up new suspects and pushing Police Scotland to breaking point, he told the meeting in Rutherglen.
“We’re looking at the strength of our divisional CID, because frankly our public protection units are running at full tilt to keep up with the demand,” he said. “You can pick that the detection rate [for sex crimes] has gone down 6 per cent but actually the productivity of those men and women is up by 100 crimes.
“Because the quantity is going up, the detection rate looks like it’s dropping, but the volume of detections has sustained and slightly increased . . . Our teams are doing an incredible job in the face of incredible demand.”
The Scottish government said there was no evidence of an increase in the prevalence of sexual assault in the adult population in recent years, citing recent data in the Scottish crime and justice survey. About one in four sex crimes recorded in 2017-18 happened at least one year before they were reported, including 40 per cent of rape and attempted rapes, the government said.
The increase in crimes involving indecent images is thought to be directly related to the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act, which came into force last year. An expert group on preventing sexual offending involving young people was also established late last year, led by Catherine Dyer, former head of the Crown Office. The Scottish government has invested £1.1 million to improve how sexual offence cases are handled.
A Scottish government spokesman said: “Multiple factors lie behind the increase in recorded sexual crime, including a greater willingness of victims to come forward, more historical reporting and the impact of new legislation.
“We all want victims to have the confidence to report sexual crimes, including those that may have happened some time ago. The Scottish government will continue to prioritise support for victims of sexual crime, as well as work to identify ways to prevent such offending in the first place, including a total investment in tackling all violence against women and girls of at least £25 million over the next three years.”
• Staff could face a renewed threat of redundancy and officers would be forced to log crimes with a notepad and pen if its budget is cut any further, Police Scotland has warned.
The force is seeking £300 million for a new computer system, while a quarter of its contracts are tied up in red tape, a senior official has told the Scottish Police Authority.
David Page, Police Scotland’s deputy chief officer, said that he has alerted to a “substantial reduction in capital and reform funding to Police Scotland” in the budget next month. “ We will be channelling the funding we do get purely to keep the lights on,” he said. A Scottish government spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting Police Scotland.”