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In full: Ken Clarke interview on rape sentencing

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Here is the full transcript of Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's interview on BBC 5 live, which sparked a row about rape sentencing policy and led to Labour calls for his resignation:

Victoria Derbyshire: Let's talk about this idea of halving jail sentences for people who plead guilty early, including rapists. Many people believe you should make an exception for rapists, why aren't you?

Ken Clarke: Well firstly it's already a third, most people…

Derbyshire: Yes, yeah

Clarke: Well, yes you obviously know, I'm sure, I expected you would. Most people don't realise you get a discount for pleading guilty. And until you think about it you wonder "Why do you do that?" when he's actually done it. Now rape is actually the strongest example in my opinion of why you do it. Somebody who stops messing about, stops accusing the people accusing him of being liars, stops a great long trial, relieves the victim and the witness of going through the whole ordeal again and being called a liar - that's why we give a discount. That's why we have always given a discount. We still have far too many people who don't plead guilty in the first place. And it, you know, wastes police time, and costs money and all the other things. But the thing that's most compelling for me is, just, we will give you credit if you put your hands up, stop messing about and don't make things worse for the victim. And in the case of rape, I can't think of a better example. If you…

Derbyshire: Have you met women who've been raped?

Clarke: I've taken part in rape trials. I was a lawyer, sort of, yes I've met women who've been raped.

Derbyshire: And have you put this idea to women who've been raped?

Clarke: No I haven't put this idea to women who've been raped because I haven't met one recently. My experience of rape trials….

Derbyshire: Wouldn't it have been…it was a long time ago….

Clarke: ...is that the trial…Contested rape…

Derbyshire: ...which was a long time ago…

Clarke: ...case makes this worse for the… yes but I don't think rape's changed all that much. What I think happens is that the woman finds that another ordeal is now being imposed upon her. The woman's already distressed and traumatised enough by the rape finds she's now in a witness box, in front of a jury, the lawyer accusing her of lying, going over the whole thing again.

Derbyshire: Under your plans that woman could find… that woman could find the rapist back on her street in a year and a bit. It's an insult to her isn't it?

Clarke: The rapist is going to be….very light sentence for a…a year and a bit?

Derbyshire: Yes. A rapist gets five years.

Clarke: Rapists don't get… rapists get more than that.

Derbyshire: Hang on a minute. Five years on average, yes they do Mr Clarke, yes they do.

Clarke: That includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15-year-olds.

Derbyshire: So if they plead guilty early that is taken down to two-and-a-half. They're released. They're released after half their sentence, that's the norm, that's pretty much automatic so that takes it down to just over a year.

Clarke: No

Derbyshire: Yes

Clarke: Serious rape, I don't think many judges give five years for a forcible rape, the tariff is longer than that. And a serious rape where, you know, violence and an unwilling woman, the tariff's much longer than that. Secondly, half way through they are released but they are released on licence so they're still supervised. They can be recalled if they do anything wrong on licence - all this 'they're let out after half the time' which is… really right I didn't introduce that but that's where we are, but it is subject to licence and subject to recall. So they are the idea is at that stage you're trying to stop them doing it again and eventually they will finish the sentence and they're let out.

Derbyshire: But how, how will it, I'm sorry, excuse me…

Clarke: …what you need is an appropriate sentence. The reason for giving a discount for pleading guilty when the judge is imposing the original sentence is because the woman is going to be put through the whole ordeal again. If…

Derbyshire: If I had been raped why would I be encouraged to go to the police when I know full well that the rapist could get just over a year in jail. Why would I put myself through the trauma, the examinations, the hell of it, when he might be out in 15 months?

Clarke: Well, I must stop you repeating this total nonsense…assuming you and I are talking about rape in the ordinary conversational sense. Some man has forcefully, with a bit of violence.

Derbyshire: Rape is rape, with respect.

Clarke: No it's not, and if an 18-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she's perfectly willing, that is rape. That's 'cause she's underage, can't consent. Anybody has sex with a 15-year-old, it's rape. So what you and I are talking about, we're talking about a man forcibly having sex with a woman and she doesn't want to. That is rape. Serious crime, of course it's a serious crime. And I'm very glad that people do now got to the police and report it. There used to be a taboo against it, in a crazy way.

Derbyshire: Won't this measure be counter-productive and put women off going…

Clarke: It certainly will if campaigners give the impression that the rapist will only get 12 months anyway. That's just nonsense, tabloid newspaper nonsense. He will get many years and…but…in order to encourage him to stop raisoning it out and putting her through the ordeal again instead of the present discount you would get under previous tough governments and all that of a third, you….we…in a case where a judge thinks it's right, where he really has shown contrition and is not making things worse can get a half off, and this is being parodied.

Derbyshire: Let me bring in Gabrielle…

Clarke: …by people who don't know how long rapists get…and are claiming…

Derbyshire: The five years, the five-year stats come from the Council of Circuit Judges.

Clarke: And they include the 18-year-olds having sex with 15-year-olds.

Derbyshire: The five years come from the Council of Circuit Judges.

Clarke: And they include date rapes which, eh, date rapes can sometimes be very confusing. A straightforward…

Derbyshire: So is date rape not as serious?

Clarke: Date rape can be as serious as the worst rapes. But date rapes, as you are quite right to say very old experience, of being in trials, they do vary extraordinarily one from another and in the end the judge has to decide on the circumstances. But I've never met a judge who, confronted with a rapist, as you and I would use the term in conversation, would give him 12 months. That would be a crazy sentence.

Derbyshire: I'm not saying they would get 12 months, I'm saying after your plans are brought in that's what we'd end up with. Gabrielle in London, hello.

Gabrielle: Good morning. Good morning Mr Clarke.

Clarke: Good morning.

Gabrielle: I would very much at some other opportunity welcome the chance to actually go through my case in full. My case, I was a victim of an attempted rape, I was out training for the London Marathon, and, the person who tried to rape me six months previously had been convicted of six sexual assaults in the same park. Throughout the 688 days from arrest to trial he pleaded not guilty at every single court appearance. First day of trial at the Old Bailey he pleaded guilty. He got a third discount off his sentence. He was sentenced to four years. In effect he served just over a year and a half he was released on licence and there is much I would like to talk to you about probation's supervision of offenders in the community. He further reoffended, and he further reoffended and I'm sorry to say he further reoffended [starts to sob].

Clarke: Back in prison, I hope.

Gabrielle: He's back in prison now. But only, and I say this from the absolute bottom of my heart, because I have had to fight tooth and nail to actually write to the parole board to put the case of why he's breached my human rights and the human rights of every other poor person that he's attacked. If he had not received a community sentence he would not have been out on the day when he attacked me. If there wasn't leniency in the criminal justice system and if he'd remained in prison and if there was honesty in sentencing and sentences were served in full which your colleague Michael Howard personally promised me he would have introduced if he'd have been successful in the 2005 election my life would have been so different. And really honestly what you need to understand is a victim of crime is not just a victim of that crime. It has knock-on effect on family, on employment on the economy

Derbyshire: Gabrielle, can I ask you what you think of Ken Clarke's plan to halve a rapist's sentence if he pleads guilty early?

Gabrielle: It happened to me. It's a disaster because especially with sex offenders it is a known fact that the absolute vast majority in excess of 90% of sex offenders re-offend. So to let them out early is just saying that any other female who's minding their own business going about their normal business can be a victim and that's justified. And in my personal view that cannot be justified. I wouldn't wish what I went through fighting the criminal justice system for 688 days on my worst enemy.

Derbyshire: Would you have preferred that he continued to plead not guilty and you have to go through the trial and give your evidence?

Gabrielle: To be perfectly honest, by the time I had to hand over all my files with all my correspondence with the director of public prosecutions and various other high-profile people to the defence I was seriously asked to hand over all my correspondence on my case to the defence to help his case I would have happily taken that stand. I'd gone through the trauma of it. I'd gone through it for 688 days and on the 688th day he pleaded guilty and then hey he gets let out early to go and attack somebody else.

Derbyshire: Mr Clarke.

Clarke: Well firstly obviously this is the time when we were supposedly being tough on crime. But the first serious thing is I do realise, having said all the way through rape is a serious crime it has a traumatic effect on the victim and we have to act on that basis. And I'm sorry you and many other women have had to go through this experience. That's why we take it so seriously. I take it seriously. I'm not halving the sentences for rape. That's a nonsense headline.

Derbyshire: That's exactly...

Gabrielle: Mr Clarke, he was sentenced for four years and he served less than two.

Clarke: You think he would have got six if you had gone through the trail. If the judge gave a third discount. I'm always cautious commenting on cases, cause I don't doubt your accuracy but I would just like to see what the judge, everything the judge had before him. Bit on your account if he'd had the trial and been convicted he'd have got six years, not four. That means he would have been let out on licence or could have been let out on licence after three, they get longer than that sometimes. I don't know the circumstances of the rape, I won't take you through that. Because the reason the discount has always been given in criminal cases, it was given all those years ago when I practised, although nobody put figures on it in those days. We all knew that. That it stopped people like you, and I doubt whether you would have found giving evidence and being accused of lying a helpful experience, stops you being dragged through that and it was bad enough the 600 days you've always had. Now the other thing I've said about the 50% is that's for early guilty pleas. The people who save you the 600 days of going to the police station preparing to give you evidence. Of people having to ask you about what he said and his version of events. It's early pleas of guilty where we are saying 50% saves trauma saves greater distress, saves wasting the time of the witnesses saves more importantly police time and all the resources that have to be devoted to preparing for a trial because you know the guy is persisting in denying it vehemently and calling everybody else a liar. And that adds a bit, adds significantly, I think, to the injury he's already done you. Now to reduce all that to always halving the sentence for rapists is crazy. Particularly as I think the figures being given for sentence for rapists are completely misunderstood. It's not your type of rape that is producing these figures which supposed tough-on-crime campaigners keep using.

Derbyshire: Well, I don't want to labour the point but sentencing guidelines which I have here starting points single offence of rape by a single offender the starting points are 10 years' custody if the victim is under 13, eight years' custody if the victim is 13 or over but under 16, and five years' custody if the victim is 16 or over. So that's where I got the five years from.

Clarke: That's right, so if you have an 18-year-old boyfriend and maybe they maybe they think he's used unreasonable influence often they wouldn't prosecute, but if they prosecute an 18-year-old boyfriend the starting point's five years usually, though no judge would give him five years. Errrrr...give him a lot less than that.

Derbyshire: But I don't know how that helps your point Mr Clark.

Clarke: Well if if it doesn't help my point.

Derbyshire: Right.

Clarke: Except the kind of rape we've just heard about, the kind of rape we've just heard about. The rape that's so distressed. I entirely understand. I met people in an equally distressed condition a long time after they've been raped, recounting the experience.

Derbyshire: But you see how I get to the figure of the rapists being given 15 months in jail?

Clarke: Those people get long sentences. A child 10 years - you say I think they can get more than that. That's a starting point. It depends whether there are some compelling mitigating circumstances or aggravating circumstances. You can get longer.

Derbyshire: Sure you can, but if you were given five years, and they pleaded guilty early on they would serve two-and-a-half years. They would be out on licence after half of that so they would be out for rape after 15 months.

Clarke: If if if they got that sentence depending on what the rape was. That's what we do now. I'm not introducing that.

Derbyshire: No no no that's under your plans to halve the sentence.

Clarke: No it's not.

Derbyshire: With an early guilty plea.

Clarke: That's what they do now, what they do now. They're let out on licence half way through, and if they're let out on licence they can be recalled if they start misbehaving or giving cause for alarm.

Break in interview

Derbyshire: Ken Clarke is here. He's the justice secretary. He's with us for the next quarter of an hour or so. After out last conversation about the sentence discount, the 50% sentence discount a number of listeners want me to ask you Mr Clarke if you are only interested in saving money rather than justice for victims?

Clarke: No I actually am more interested in not having a whole lot of time wasted for police and courts, as well as victims, with people uselessly maintaining their innocence. Some of them of course will get away with it 'cos they'll find a jury that believes what they say. I'm more interested if people are guilty that they show a bit of contrition, stop making things worse and admit straight away. And they always have been given a discount. I haven't invented the idea. For those that plead guilty early early I think 50% is justified. You and I have just discussed that the distress suffered by victims of rape, I think, makes rape quite a compelling case where not putting the victims through the trauma of being cross-examined and accused of being a liar and reliving the whole event...is a particularly good point.

Derbyshire: OK. So money is not the driving factor?

Clarke: Money, money is interesting. We increased spending on prisons and probation to an extraordinary extent over the last 10 years. Nobody told us they were doing that. Or they did if you read the Red Book. But there was no point in spending more and more money. The idea at the moment in this credit crunch I just carry on spending tens of millions of pounds more just to stop some of my critics criticising is a total, total waste. What I'm supposed to be doing is minimising crime. Getting crime down below what it used, you know, otherwise would be. Reducing the number of criminals we have in society... That's re offending. Where the present system is useless. Absolutely useless. And we've got to get people to stop committing more crime when they've finished their sentence.

Derbyshire: Leeroy in Walsall. Good morning.

Leeroy: Good morning Victoria. Good morning Mr Clarke.

Clarke: Good morning.

Leeroy: Yeah, morning. I've been a Conservative supporter all my life.

Clarke: Very good.

Leeroy: And listening to you this morning, I'm gonna tell you straight, I will never vote for the Conservatives again because I think your whole idea and your plan is a folly.

Clarke: My, my what is a folly?

Leeroy: Nah, it's a folly.

Derbyshire: Your plan.

Leeroy: Rape is rape. My personal perception of it is you shouldn't even get half of your sentence. Victoria asked you a question about 30 minutes ago. Half of those guys will end up spending a year inside for violating a lady's body.

Derbyshire: Let's not go over old ground...I want you to react Mr Clarke.

Clarke: Now, now, now, no that is not true.

Derbyshire: Mr Clarke, can you react?

Leeroy: Now Mr Clarke I'm going to say to you now I will never vote Conservative again.

Derbyshire: OK.

Leeroy: I think you got it wrong.

Derbyshire: React to that, Mr Clarke.

Clarke: If it were the case I was saying that rapists should be out in a year, I would vote for someone else myself. It it is just is a ludicrous parody. I'm afraid that I tried to explain what I'm actually saying and doing.

Derbyshire: Well, people are hearing what you're saying.

Clarke: No, no, no. They're reading into...

Derbyshire: No, no, don't patronise the listeners. Leeroy has listened to everything you have said in the last half and has come to that conclusion.

Clarke: Well, I just repeat. I am not reducing the sentence for rape. The sentence remains where it is. The discount for pleading guilty early, I think it's justified to reduce it to 50%"

Derbyshire: OK.

Clarke: And it doesn't mean that rapists will get 12 months.

More on this story

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