AN independent investigation has found Essex Police made “serious failings” and was guilty of “very poor policing and totally inadequate supervision” when dealing with the sexual assault of a vulnerable woman.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said police officers did not believe the woman’s story because of her mental health history.

At an internal disciplinary hearing earlier this year, a detective constable, a sergeant and a police constable were fined between five and 13 days’ pay. Neither Essex Police nor the commission revealed the names of the staff.

The woman, 56, who cannot be named, made two separate allegations to police in 2007.

In the first, in January, she said her village home had been broken into and she had been the victim of a serious sexual assault.

But the officers reported no offence had taken place and the allegation was not taken further.

The police were again called in August, but again decided an assault had not occurred.

When the woman’s family and GP intervened, an investigation began and in September, James Abrahams, of Birch Gardens, Tillingham, was arrested and pleaded guilty to sexual assault on the woman in August and was sentenced to six years in prison, in March 2008.

A civil matter against the police is still ongoing.

Complaints commissioner Len Jackson said: “Our investigation found serious failings on the part of the officers both individually and collectively in their response to allegations made by a highly vulnerable woman.”

Following the report, Essex’s Deputy Chief Constable Andy Bliss said: “I have personally apologised to the victim of these appalling and extremely distressing crimes.

“The way we dealt with her allegations of rape was totally unacceptable. I would like to repeat publicly that sincere apology to her and her family on behalf of the force.”

“This case was a wake-up call to us about the way we deal with people with mental ill-health and as a direct result we are introducing specific training for frontline officers in this important area.”