In a landmark development, Operation Bluestone Soteria is set to revolutionise rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) investigations and prosecutions across England and Wales, putting victims' rights and needs at the forefront of the criminal justice system. Launched on 10th July 2023, this transformative initiative builds upon successful pilot programmes in 19 police forces and 9 Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Areas, signalling a nationwide commitment to combatting RASSO.
A Collaborative Approach
Operation Bluestone Soteria is the culmination of collaborative efforts between law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and leading academics. By harnessing evidence and insights, this initiative aims to fundamentally change the way rape and sexual offences are addressed, ensuring a more victim-centred approach throughout the investigative and prosecutorial process.
National Operating Models
Central to Operation Bluestone Soteria are the newly developed National Operating Models for the investigation and prosecution of RASSO. These models provide comprehensive guidance and standardised procedures for police forces and CPS Areas, offering a framework for conducting thorough investigations and ensuring robust prosecutions.
Initial results from pilot forces participating in Operation Bluestone Soteria demonstrate promising improvements in key metrics. For example, all five pathfinder forces have reported an increase in cases referred to the CPS, with notable spikes in prosecution rates. Avon and Somerset, for instance, have witnessed a significant tripling in the number of cases prosecuted, signalling tangible progress in holding perpetrators to account.
Enhanced Training and Support
Recognising the complex nature of RASSO investigations, Operation Bluestone Soteria includes provisions for specialised training for police investigators. Over 2,000 additional investigators will undergo comprehensive training in handling RASSO by April 2024. Moreover, new recruits will be required to undergo mandatory training in this area, ensuring a consistent and informed response from frontline responders.
Tools for Decision-Making
To support frontline investigators and prosecutors, Operation Bluestone Soteria provides access to enhanced decision-making tools. These include step-by-step guides for conducting suspect-focused investigations and toolkits to ensure victims' needs and rights remain central throughout the process. By equipping law enforcement with better resources, the initiative aims to streamline procedures and improve outcomes for survivors.
Ongoing Support and Oversight
Operation Bluestone Soteria is bolstered by dedicated funding from the Home Office, amounting to over £8 million, aimed at supporting police forces in enhancing their response to RASSO. Additionally, a Joint Home Office and National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) Unit will oversee the implementation of the National Operating Models, ensuring accountability and continuity in the programme's rollout.
As Operation Bluestone Soteria gains momentum, the Home Secretary has commissioned a thematic inspection by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to assess forces' implementation of the model. This inspection will provide valuable insights and recommendations for further refinement, underscoring the commitment to continuous improvement in addressing RASSO.
Operation Bluestone Soteria represents a significant stride towards transforming the response to rape and serious sexual offences within the criminal justice system. By prioritising victims' rights, enhancing training, and providing comprehensive guidance, this initiative heralds a new era in the fight against RASSO, reaffirming the commitment to delivering justice and support for survivors across England and Wales.