It's probably quite well known to those people who watch Crimewatch that in Walthamstow there is a serial rapist and killer on the loose.
The police have quite rightly said they have been trying to catch him for weeks now. Unfortunately, despite some arrests they have not yet succeeded. Residents have been trying to do what they can to live their normal lives, women being vigilant and some men giving dna swabs. We have even been putting up with helicopters keeping us awake on the last nights of the month (the police at one point thought he would strike according to the calendar). Some people held reclaim the night marches (well, one, actually), and in the midst of all this, it appears that there have been a number of other victims come forward (as have reports that there are at least half a dozen anonymous and chivalrous men who have saved local women from serious sexual attacks and who then didn't bother to tell anyone).
The reasons for these people not telling the police are complicated, as everyone knows. One reason may be the police's particularly unimpressive track record locally of responding to reports of crime. They are not known for being out and about and accessible to the neighbourhood generally, or for their responsiveness when people do turn to them for help.
I recently wrote about the time in May when they gave an attempted rapist a 36 hour head start when his activities were reported to them. Frighteningly, that man might even fit one of the descriptions of the man (this has never been consistent) they are after now for the rape and killing of Michelle Samaraweera. I don't know whether to hope for it to have been him or not.
Anyway, questions about the failure to respond to the 36hour incident were put to the police. They have produced the following reply from the Metropolitan Police, received through Caroline Pigeon, a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and member of the Metropolitan Police Authority:
"Mark Benbow, Waltham Forest Borough Commander ordered an immediate review of the response to the call and the investigation.
This revealed that police were not initially informed that the assault was of a sexual nature. However once this was established, police ensured the victim was safe and medical aid was declined by the victim.
Due to a significant demand on Waltham Forest police resources no local police units were available to immediately deal with this incident. Seven surrounding Boroughs were asked to assist but none were in a position to assist.
Police arranged to meet the victim at a time which was suitable for the victim; this added a further 22 hours to the response time.
Learning / Positive Steps
The investigation has been allocated to the Borough’s Specialist Sapphire Team. A trained sexual offences investigative officer has been deployed to obtain a witness statement and provide ongoing support. A witness statement has been taken from the neighbour.
An apology and explanation has been provided to the victim for the delay in initial attendance.
Uniform patrols are conducting high visibility patrols.
Safer Neighbourhood Teams are conducting high visibility patrols.
Intelligence enquiries are continuing to identify the suspect.
The Investigative Officer has been spoken to and has apologised for the delay.
Despite contacting the newspaper which resulted in the misleading headline the relationship between the victim and the police on Waltham Forest Borough remains positive.
Reassurance has been provided to residents of the community."
This is an interesting answer. I have no idea how accurate or adequate it is. I do know it is not an answer to the question I originally put to Ms Pigeon, which was to ask what the Metropolitan Police thought was more important than responding, by even a single officer, to this emergency call?