Clarke admits 'getting bogged down' in rape row

Unimpressed: Clarke is striving to weather the media storm prompted by his comments. Photo:
Unimpressed: Clarke is striving to weather the media storm prompted by his comments. Photo:

By Ian Dunt

Ken Clarke has apologised for upsetting anyone during his now-infamous radio interview on rape, in an exchange on tonight's Question Time.

The justice secretary prompted outrage when he spoke of "serious" and "proper" rape yesterday while defending policies that would halve rape sentences if the suspect confessed before trial.

In a piece of timing that appalled Tory press strategists, he was scheduled to then appear on Question Time in Wormwood Scrubs prison, with convicted criminals in the audience.

"I obviously upset a lot of people by what I said and I'm sorry if I did, by the way I put it," he said.

"All rape is serious. It's one of the gravest crimes. My choice of words was wrong. It's because I got bogged down in a silly exchange.

"As a politician I made a mistake by allowing myself to get drawn into a great long argument about exactly what the gradations of rape were.

"I phrased it very, very badly because I upset a lot of people who want to give more priority to rape."

Plans for a reduction in sentencing for suspects who admit to rape before trial are currently under consultation. They were expected to go through but the extent of the outcry has thrown their survival into doubt.

Mr Clarke argued that the plans would stop victims having to relive the experience at trial, improve conviction rates and cut court costs, but women's groups and victims' organisations have been up in arms about the proposal.

"I was trying to point out that rapists get much longer than she was saying," he added.

"The average is eight years. My reform proposals don't affect the sentencing framework for rape or any other crime."

Former home secretary Jack Straw, who also appeared on the programme, said: "If this had happened to me, the fury, not least from the Conservative benches, would have been such that I would have been moved on to a different job.

"If you get into that situation you need to deal with that very quickly. I would have apologised. If you're in politics at the high level, there are going to be days when the words don't come out properly."

Mr Clarke did offer an apology earlier in the day, but only in a letter to the rape victim who challenged him on his policy on BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I have always believed that all rape is extremely serious, and must be treated as such. I am sorry if my comments gave you any other impression or upset you," an excerpt from the letter released by his office said.

The woman, Gabrielle Browne, said Mr Clarke had invited her to meet him next week.

"What concerns me particularly yesterday was his comment that actually not all rape is really rape," she told LBC Radio.

"I've maintained for many years that the violation of the human body is the violation of the human body. Obviously, the circumstances of each and every case are always going to be different, but ultimately a violation is a violation. You can't say, 'Well, that violation isn't actually really a full violation'."

Ms Browne said she would not comment on whether he should resign until she had talked with him in person.


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