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A point that has to be made again and again about high profile sexual abuse cases

For every type of crime there are false victims as well true ones, suggestible and forgetful witnesses as well as witnesses whose recall is accurate, scam artists digging for gold as well as honest people bravely speaking out to bring monsters to justice. The existence of cynical liars, fantasists, and well-meaning but tragically mistaken people is part of the human condition and always will be. That is why any half-way civilised society has trials and rules of evidence instead of just declaring people guilty or innocent by category.

Coronation Street star Bill Roache found not guilty of rape and assault, reports the Telegraph.

and in a separate article,

Bill Roache not guilty: high-stakes gamble backfires for CPS

Accusations that the Crown Prosecution Service has indulged in a “celebrity witch-hunt” gather strength as Coronation Street actor found not guilty of all charges

27 comments to A point that has to be made again and again about high profile sexual abuse cases

  • I would go further and say that it justifies a statute of limitations on such charges where the only evidence is hearsay (he-says-she-says arguments) or circumstantial.

    We’re talking about events that happened nearly 50-years ago for Christ’s sake. How can anyone defend themselves against such allegations?

    Bill Roache is very lucky that the jury was not prepared to swallow the line of bullshit being pushed by the prosecution.

    Another win for “Trial by Jury” and any bets that next weeks political football will be the removal of juries in rape cases?

    “Autres temps, autres mœurs” as they say.

  • Stuck-Record

    What’s the betting no one will face trial for this malicious prosecution, and the CPS and Police will isue statements that contain the phrases, “lessons have been learnt”, “obligation to investigate” etc…

  • @Stuck-Record:

    You forgot “can’t discuss individual cases”…

  • Laird

    John Galt beat me to it, but I would go farther and say that there should be a statute of limitations on all crimes (with the possible exception of murder). Memories fade (or become corrupted over time), and witnesses die which can make mounting a defense impossible.

  • Tee Hee – You snooze, you loose Laird! :-)

    But in answer to your point, yes I agree. A reasonably defined set of term limits on each category of crime would probably stop the worst cases of prosecutorial abuse and political interference.

    The chances of that happening in the current climate with the Common Purpose infiltrated CPS and the current collection of political pygmies in Parliament? Square root of fuck all!

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    John Galt,

    any bets that next weeks political football will be the removal of juries in rape cases?

    Unwise to take that bet when last week’s (3rd February) political football was the removal of the adversarial system in rape cases. From Kier Starmer, a former DPP:

    Britain’s criminal justice system fails the vulnerable. We need a Victims’ Law

  • Unwise to take that bet when last week’s (3rd February) political football was the removal of the adversarial system in rape cases. From Kier Starmer, a former DPP:

    FFS Natalie! This country is not only beyond sarcasm, it is beyond farce.

    I’d be saying “Get me the hell out of here” if I hadn’t already left.

  • Joseph W.

    I would go further and say that it justifies a statute of limitations on such charges where the only evidence is hearsay (he-says-she-says arguments) or circumstantial.

    It would be justified to ban prosecution of all pure he-said-she-said cases (i.e., cases without corroboration). These rely on the ability of the jury to detect lies. And humans beings are really bad at that.

  • It would be justified to ban prosecution of all pure he-said-she-said cases (i.e., cases without corroboration)

    Interesting suggestion. At a stroke you’ve just eliminated all forms of acquaintance rape and probably any form of rape where there is no DNA evidence (rapists using condoms?)

    I’d personally be reluctant to go that far, but it’s a fair point.

  • Joseph W.

    Or even cases with DNA evidence…if the accused is claiming “consensual sex.” Consensual sex leaves DNA just the same as rape, so DNA corroborates nothing. Unfortunately prosecutors will still introduce it for what they call the “CSI Effect” — so that the jury will say, “Wow, science!” and convict, ignoring the fact that the science tells them nothing material.

  • Mr Ed

    DNA evidence does not prove guilt, all it does is demonstrate with a high degree of probability associations between alleged DNA source and sample. It may indicate an overwhelming case that the alleged rapist was present or committed an act which led to his bodily fluid being present at a scene examined by forensics later. DNA evidence showing that I have lived in my house is hardly going to make much difference to any case, as that matter is unlikely to be in dispute.

    I once heard from a barrister friend a Bar ‘legend’ about a barrister cross-examining an alleged rapist, and he stood up to start and asked the question “How do you explain the presence of your semen in X’s vagina?‘ Response: “I can’t.” The barrister then sat down and ended his questions, leaving the rest for comment, and the Defendant was reportedly convicted.

    In regard to the cases of R. v Roache, the Defendant was acquitted on the instructions of the Judge on one count, as reported below:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-25918373

    Judge Mr Justice Holroyde told the jury: “In relation to that episode, the witness was not giving evidence that it did happen, she was giving evidence that she was thinking it did happen and that is not a sufficient evidential basis for the conviction of an offence.

    “Mr Roache is entitled to a not guilty verdict on that charge.

    Anne Whyte QC, prosecuting, told the jury: “We do not invite you to convict on any allegation where the witness has no recollection.

    Quite how that particular charge was laid in particular is a matter that should be aired in subsequent proceedings against the prosecutor involved, unless the witness suddenly and inexplicably changed her evidence in the box, as does happen, in which case the witness might properly have a case to answer. I do wonder why the authorising Crown Prosecutor was not held in contempt for not dropping that case sooner if the Crown’s evidence for that allegation was consistent throughout, and/or how it got to trial in the first place.

  • Not much DNA to be found when I’ve added the Tabasco sauce to the contents of the used condom and flushed it down the toilet though.

    After all, accusations of rape are one thing, but “Oops! You’re a Daddy” is quite another.

  • Joseph W.

    Anne Whyte QC, prosecuting, told the jury: “We do not invite you to convict on any allegation where the witness has no recollection.”

    I’ve seen an American court-martial prosecutor invite the panel to do exactly that! (Happily, they did not. “He said – she didn’t say” is a little much even for the indoctrinated).

  • RAB

    Your comment is awaiting moderation…

    It is? I thought all that spam-bot smiting was in the past. ;-)

  • I do wonder why the authorising Crown Prosecutor was not held in contempt for not dropping that case sooner if the Crown’s evidence for that allegation was consistent throughout, and/or how it got to trial in the first place.

    Political interference in the Crown Prosecution Service might not be overt, but it does exist.

    Equally, the CPS has been paralysed by it’s own desire to be politically correct before now as we saw with the Rochdale child abuse prosecutions were shelved until an Asian chief prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, was appointed reviewed the case and reinstituted it.

    The very fact of his Indian heritage protected him from the accusations of racism that had made his white, middle-class colleagues reluctant to prosecute.

    Nazir Afzal: how the CPS plans to bring more child abusers to justice

  • Patrick Crozier

    I couldn’t help noticing that (to the best of my knowledge) Roche is the only non-BBC celebrity to have been tried.

    It’s as if it’s a problem exclusive to nationalised industries.

  • RAB

    Roache is the third Coronation Street star to be found not guilty patrick.

  • I think that depends upon how far back you go.

    Remember – Thumbs Up Len?

    That was a fit-up if I recall correctly.

  • RAB

    Yes it was a fit up, and it ruined him despite being found not guilty.

    In a strange corollary to this case, Roache’s accuser claimed that the Mike Baldwin character in Corrie had warned against having anything to do with “Cock” Roache. Well his testimony will be revealing I thought. Only for the accuser to belatedly realise that Johnny Briggs was still alive and could refute her evidence and swiftly changed it to the Len Fairclough character, who is definately dead. As is Jimmy Savile. Who was undoubtedly deeply weird, but if the accusations are to be believed, spent his every waking moment sexually assaulting young persons of both sexes, their mothers, aunts and grannies as well. He had scarcely time to light a cigar or buy a bit of bling jewellery, the odd Roller or five, and keep a job down belching “Now then, now then, as it ‘appens” at credulous teens across the Nation for 50 years, let alone all the charity work. My disbelief got unsuspended many moons ago in this story.

    I worked in the Crown Court for 12 years. I have sat through many rape trials. I know how hard it is to substantiate when the evidence is only a few months old let alone 40 years. And I fully expect Dave Lee Travis to be aquitted next.

  • Fraser Orr

    I think part of the problem is that the result is bifurcated. In Scotland they have three verdicts: guilty, non proven and not guilty. I think a fourth verdict would be excellent, called something like prima facie not guilty. In cases when that verdict was found — where clearly the CPS didn’t have anything like enough of a case, then sanctions should be applied to the prosecutor.

    In the western adversarial system of justice there is an asymmetry. The defense/defence is supposed to put on an aggressive no holds barred )within the rules of the court) defense/defence to get their client acquitted. The prosecution, on the other had, has a special extra obligation to see justice done, and is supposed to dismiss these prima facie not guilty cases. For them not to do so is just simply incompetence of malfeasance on their part.

    It is especially true when you consider that criminal law is the resources of a nation verses the resources of an individual. However, things like duty, feasance, competence are not things that come easily to public officials, so some sort of feedback loop is essential.

    However, the real solution is to get the government out of the process as much as possible and convert criminal law into civil law, with transferable rights to prosecute.

    However, a thousand years of tradition can’t be easily changed. The only real practical solution is to shame and mock these public officials in the press and to contribute to the funds of people who are being persecuted by the CPS. To work within our communities to set a meme that such nonsense will not be allowed. After all, they are all just playing to the crowd.

  • In cases when that verdict was found — where clearly the CPS didn’t have anything like enough of a case, then sanctions should be applied to the prosecutor.

    But this ability does exist and it is at the discretion of the judge to simply quash the indictment, although a judge can’t exactly do this on a whim.

    Dismissed: the case of the Fathers4Justice campaigner and the disfigured ‘Hay Wain’

    “I’m simply quashing the indictment. End of. The matter must take its course elsewhere.” – Judge McCreath

    Equally, albeit on a pathetic traffic offence, the same happened to my mother in that she appeared in court after two deferrals, because the police would not provide the evidence requested. At the trial, the prosecutor did not have the paperwork including the photographic evidence with him.

    The Stipendiary Magistrate dismissed the case as…

    “not in the public interest on the basis that Mrs. Galt is a pensioner who has appeared in court to defend herself of these charges. a hearing that has already been deferred twice for unjustifiable reasons and I see no point in inflicting further hardship on her due to the ill-preparedness of the prosecution”

    …or something like that…It was more than a decade ago.

  • Laird

    Dismissing an unwarranted action is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. The defendant has been put to the trouble, expense, and psychological torment of being indicted and haled into court. Sometimes the defendant’s reputation is irretrievably ruined by the mere bringing of the case, acquittal or dismissal notwithstanding. Almost never is there any penalty for what can only be considered bad faith on the part of the prosecutor. Rare indeed are situations such as the Mike Nifong one, where the prosecutor was ultimately disbarred in the aftermath of the infamous Duke University lacrosse team rape case. But before that happened the college careers of those kids were ruined and their reputations permanently damaged. Frankly, I think disbarment was too light a penalty for Nifong; he should have served jail time.

    The problem is that judges simply won’t discipline their brethren at the bar. This is true in civil as well as criminal cases; I once filed a formal motion for sanctions in a case where I considered the plaintiff’s counsel’s actions egregious, only to have the motion completely ignored. If enough complaints pile up at the state bar’s Ethics Committee something may eventually be done, but that’s generally too little, too late. Judges are the first line of defense against overzealous prosecutors and dishonest counsel, and they possess the power to impose sanctions, but in general they are too cowardly to do anything. I think Fraser Orr’s idea is a splendid one: a finding of “prima facie not guilty” (or something similar) would trigger automatic and mandatory penalties against the prosecutor. It would not have to be invoked too often to have a real effect on prosecutors’ penchant for bringing meritless cases.

  • Paul Marks

    “a civilised society has trials and rules of evidence, rather than just declaring people guilty or innocent by category”.

    True Natalie.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Natalie, I thought that what you wrote in your posting was beautifully put, beautiful to read.

    Extending Paul’s comment a little further, the existence of “trials and rules of evidence” might constitute one of the defining characteristics of a “half-way civilized society.”

    To punish an innocent man is an abomination.

  • bloke in spain

    The process is part of the punishment. Lack of a conviction just means partial success in the process.

  • John K

    DNA evidence showing that I have lived in my house is hardly going to make much difference to any case, as that matter is unlikely to be in dispute.

    That seems to have been the basis on which Foxy Knoxy was found guilty at the third time of asking. Sometimes forensic science can prevent a miscarriage of justice, other times it seems to facilitate it.