IMPROVING the level of care given to rape victims and increasing conviction rates were the focus of a conference at the weekend.

Representatives from Lancashire and Cumbria Constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service, Social Services, Probation Service, Police Authority, Women’s Refuge, NHS and various charities and other partner agencies from across the country attended a two-day conference at the Old England Hotel, Bowness-on-Windermere, to raise awareness and promote best practice when dealing with rape cases.

Sex attack victims in South Cumbria and Lancashire are currently referred to the Preston Safe Centre – a specialist rape centre, which is one of only 22 around the country offering counselling and support services for men, women and children who are victims of sexual assault.

Also known as SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre), the centre is based at Royal Preston Hospital.

The conference, entitled Responding to Rape - Provision of Excellence Regardless of Age or Postcode, promoted Preston’s Safe Centre as best practice and discussed the benefits and services a similar facility could bring to police forces in Cumbria.

A government initiative is looking to increase the number of these centres to 36.

Cumbria’s chief constable, Craig Mackey said: “We are taking the opportunity for Cumbria and Lancashire to share experiences. We are looking at what we’re good at, what bits we need to work on and what we are going to change. It’s a really positive thing.”

He added: “Improving our service to victims of rape is a clear priority in Cumbria. We are working with the other agencies in the county to make that a reality.”