The former acting head of the Metropolitan Police has been referred to the police watchdog over allegations that he said “the bulk” of rape complaints are “regretful sex”.

Sir Stephen House, who stood in as Met Commissioner from April to September 2022 following the resignation of Dame Cressida Dick, emphatically denied making the comments to Professor Betsy Stanko, an adviser appointed by the Home Office to carry out a review of the number of rape cases making it to court.

Professor Stanko made the claim in an interview with Channel 4 News, saying: “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’.

She 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, the victim is mistaken. That that fault line of forcible sex, which is rape, was not crossed because it must have been confusion.”

Sarah Crew, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, who oversaw the review, said she had “no reason to disbelieve” Professor Stanko, but added: “I was not in the meeting where they are alleged to have been made.”

Sir Stephen was only appointed as acting Met chief after a series of scandals, including a number relating to women’s safety, forced the resignation of Dame Cressida. Prior to this, he served as Dame Cressida’s Deputy Commissioner, and also previously headed the Police Service of Scotland.

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.

“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.”

The Metropolitan Police’s current Deputy Commissioner, Dame Lynne Owens said: “Rape is a horrific offence that has a devastating and lasting impact.

She said it was “deeply regrettable” that allegations “risk further undermining the confidence of victims to come forward”, adding: “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.”

The Home Office said it had been agreed by the Home Secretary that Sir Stephen House will step back from the review into the productivity of policing after the complaint.

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.”

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