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Avon and Somerset’s Project Bluestone: a case study

With Operation Soteria due to expand into 14 more forces this autumn, Police Oracle spoke with the force that first tried the innovative approach to managing RASSO cases.

In early 2021, Project Bluestone was launched and Avon and Somerset opened their doors to leading UK academics to undertake a comprehensive review of their RASSO investigations. 

Five pillars were looked at: suspect-focused investigation, disrupting repeat offenders, victim engagement, learning and development for police officers and use of data. 

Since then, four further forces have had a ‘deep dive assessment’, and in the coming months, an additional 14 will also join what is now called Op Soteria. 

Detective Superintendent Lisa Simpson, who has the ‘Crimes against adults’ portfolio lead and is responsible for two out of four of Avon and Somerset’s serious and major crime teams, spoke with Police Oracle on what it has meant to implement some of the improvements worked out with academics. 

“We talk about how to improve figures from the point where we were saying 99 out of 100 victims won't get any outcome and certainly not a positive one,” she said. 

“The biggest challenge of all is that we've tried to celebrate the success of making any improvement, versus being really cognisant of the public and the victim's perspective - that great improvement still means that 90 out of 100 people aren't getting a positive or a productive outcome. However, it's not all about detection rates nor all about charging someone it's much more than that.” 

One of the officers in the team is DC Diane Wood who moved from the Met into Bluestone four months ago. 

“The whole mindset is about looking at the suspect, finding evidence on the suspect and dealing with that rather than worrying what about the victim might undermine the case,” she explained. 

Academics worked with Avon and Somerset to develop a 'gold standard' investigation map which involves reviewing intelligence on previous sexual and non-sexual offending of any named suspects, identifying rape myths and stereotypes and use of disruption tactics like civil orders.

Bluestone investigations also now include an Engagement officer with the specific responsibility of supporting the victim and the force are running professional development days among other initiatives. 

DS Simpson told Police Oracle that working with academics has been a “highlight” of the project and that they came with a collaborative approach to giving criticism. 

“There was a little bit of ‘hold on a minute, it can't all be wrong.’ And there is a lot of best practice that the academics have given us that is unachievable - it's unachievable in our resourcing context now, but even in a better resourcing context, it will still be unachievable. 

“[The academics] are saying well, okay you can't do it this way - how do we iterate it to make sure what you've got can get the same outcomes. So, there’s not been resistance [from officers] as such - challenge, professional embarrassment, yes, but not resistance.” 

One of the key areas that has changed over the course of the project is the force’s relationship with the CPS. Prior to starting, the HMIC had described the relationship as “toxic”.

Now the CPS completes RASSO training with officers, they meet early on in cases (five to six weeks into the investigation) and the force has quadrupled early advice for the CPS. 

DC Wood added: “As an officer, you know some of the RASSO CPS - rather than them being in an office far away and with the occasional email, here there’s a lot of interaction.

“I think [Bluestone] got the right formula, there’s a long way to go but they’re heading in the right direction.”

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