Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Unaccountable, Unjust and Untutored

The current civil action being pursued by singer Sir Cliff Richard against the BBC in the High Court, for the violation of his privacy by broadcasting footage of the infamous police raid on his Berkshire home in 2014, is a stark reminder of the enormous power of the traditional media to damage irreparably the lives of individuals. In that one fell swoop, Sir Cliff's name and reputation were trashed throughout the globe, while the BBC was congratulating itself on a massive scoop.

Sir Cliff Richard
To hell with the man who had spent his adult life viewed as one of our national heroes. Here was a person with all the trappings of great success and yet (and I have met him) so grounded and so kind; some might argue an almost saintly character. Indeed, because he was so famous and was viewed so highly by us all, the BBC thought they had the biggest story ever and they wanted to squeeze every last drop out of it.

But did they for a moment stop to think it was only an allegation which had been laid at his door? Did it not occur to them that the allegation may not be true, in which case they'd be destroying the man's highly respected name there and then, for evermore? Of course not. He'd been accused of sexual abuse, so he - like anyone else in this situation - was fair game.

It isn't just the BBC who are quick to ruin the reputation of someone accused of a sex abuse crime; it's a mindset which permeates the entire media. And not just the traditional media: nowadays anyone accused of a crime has to contend with the baying, untutored mob, those social justice warriors who trawl the net to find targets for their unfettered bile. No proof is required to start a storm, just an accusation.

Social media platforms, particularly Twitter and Facebook, are awash with vile smears and oft-repeated fantasies. I know this because it happened to me as soon as I was arrested and interviewed in 2012 as a result of some filthy lies which emanated from the mouth of some greedy, opportunistic lowlife. Did the mob pause to allow justice to take its course? Of course not.

One pleasant individual stated a few days after my arrest in December 2012, that if I killed myself, 'It'd be the best Christmas prezzie ever.' How charming. After the jury in my eventual trial, 672 days later, returned immediately with a 'not guilty' verdict, another delightful man, who knew nothing of the case, apart from titbits of ill-informed internet gossip (and someone who had never met me), stated: 'Fuck that verdict, he's fucking guilty.'

Although it can be argued that the vast reach of social media can be empowering, as well as invaluable as a campaigning and marketing tool, it is also evident that terrible harm can be caused by the misuse of current communications technology. None more so than the spreading of malicious falsehoods served up as proven facts by the agenda driven, often ignorant, mob.

Only the super-rich truly have the means to go into battle to protect their reputations in the civil courts, where costs can spiral into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds. Pretty much everyone else who becomes the victim of vile allegations online seems to have to ignore the character assassination as best they can. Sadly, some targets of the internet bullies and conspiracy theorists find the pressure – and its devastating consequences in daily life – simply unendurable and take their own lives.

While it is true that local communities have always been prone to the malignant mischief caused by neighbourhood gossips and fantasy peddlers, the internet has provided these poisonous, malicious types with a means of disseminating their bile and smears to a global audience, (sometimes with the bonus of maintaining their own anonymity). A blatant lie or untrue rumour which is posted online in, say, Sheffield can be relayed and rebroadcast from Stuttgart to Shanghai, via San Francisco and Seattle, within a matter of minutes.

Moreover, the Web also enables ‘birds of a feather to flock together’: conspiracy theorists and other lunatic fringe obsessives are now able to find each other with ease and to reinforce both falsehoods and shared delusions. Bizarre fantasies involving such old favourites as Satanism, evil secret societies or vast rings of wealthy paedophiles involved in the state-sponsored sexual abuse of children, can be quickly and effectively propagated on a worldwide stage, as can targeted attacks aimed at specific individuals, usually celebrities whose names offer instant household recognition.

In this age of unbridled egos, in which every cruel fantasy can be peddled or attributed falsely to celebrities online, who is safe from the smears and poisonous lies of the malicious and unprincipled, who demand the absolute ‘right’ wilfully to destroy the lives and well-being of others (the vast majority of whom they have never even met), under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’?

In common with many unhinged obsessives, most conspiracy theorists are evangelical in their aim of converting others to their warped views, especially the weak-minded, the young and the vulnerable. In this, some online clusters share similar characteristics with terrorist groups: brainwashing potential adherents, enforcing conformity of belief, presenting distorted opinions and fantasies as fact, and attacking anyone who dares to challenge their toxic narratives. It is not an exaggeration to liken the risk to society posed by some of these circles to that posed by the most dangerous of cults.

At a time of ‘fake news’, the most outrageous falsehoods can suddenly be circulated as truth. For many disseminators of lies, the ultimate goal is to win the prize of a ‘retweet’ or a ‘like’ from a social media celebrity or politician, who can then be cited as a ‘believer’ in whichever fantasy or untruth is being peddled. And all of this can be achieved without the involvement of the traditional media, although it often appears that where the wilder reaches of the internet leads, the rest of the news agenda tends to follow.

We are increasingly witnessing the corrosive impact of unfettered, unregulated social media upon our justice system:  as just one example, in recent days it has been revealed that a high profile rape trial in Belfast came close to collapse owing to injudicious comments made online by a politician, prior to the unanimous acquittal of all the defendants by the jury. This case is far from unique as posters and tweeters, who have little or no knowledge of our legal system, regularly circulate highly defamatory material, much of which is probably contempt of court under the sub judice rules which exist (in theory at least), to ensure the right of us all to a fair trial.

As I have noted in previous blog posts, even those defendants who are acquitted by a jury now seem to be considered ‘fair game’ for a campaign of social media vilification, which can even spill over onto the streets. Some of these protests seem to have a lot in common with the mob raging at the foot of the guillotine during the worst excesses of the French Revolution. Justice no longer seems to matter as long as the enraged crowd outside the court gets the verdict it demands. And where the baying mob goes, the politicians tend to follow. After all, popularity for them is the chief driving force.

And long after the trials are over and the judges and jurors have gone home, the fate of the acquitted is still being decided via the internet and the media: online posts and media coverage now seem to have a permanence that ensures spite, bile and lies will be accessible to all who care to type onto their keyboard a person’s name. This means that no matter how innocent a wrongly accused person has been proven to be in court, they are, in effect, permanently on trial online. The lies of perjurers and fantasists are linked to their names in perpetuity. I am indelibly tied to the vile lies of the chancer who made an allegation against me.

Often a decision not to prosecute or an acquittal by a jury is just a seemingly unimportant precursor to being hounded by the arrogance of some injustice collectors behaving like medieval despots. This is one of the reasons why the recent privacy case involving Google and the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ is so significant: surely a person who has never even been charged with a criminal offence, or who has been acquitted by a jury in a court of law, should not have to face a ‘kangaroo court’ of online social justice warriors, along with negative media coverage?

Would it surprise you to learn that although when I was charged with the lies laid at my door in 2013, a certain national newspaper covered nearly a half a page informing its readers of my plight, yet, when I was acquitted a year subsequently, there was no mention at all of the verdict. (How many pages in that newspaper would have been filled had I been found guilty?)

We need urgent legislation to restore anonymity to people who have not been charged with any offence. In addition, there is a very legitimate argument to be made for extending anonymity to those alleged to have committed certain crimes, particularly involving highly emotive sex abuse cases, until the point of conviction. Once an accused has been convicted, then the public will be made fully aware of the proven facts.

There used to be a saying among journalists: 'Today's news is tomorrow's fish and chip wrapping paper.' This is no longer the case as the internet now provides everyone with a permanent reminder of anyone who is even accused of a crime, even if never charged. Two hundred years ago criminals were branded on their foreheads; nowadays the search engines do the same job, only you just need to be accused to be marked for life. Ask Sir Cliff!

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

When Police Just Can't Be Bothered

While watching a programme this week called 'Unsolved', on BBC 1, about Omar Benguit, who is in prison for ostensibly a murder he didn't commit, I learned that the person who, it is claimed, framed him had accused someone else, previously, of paedophilia. In the documentary a retired murder detective, Brian Murphy, who during his career covered hundreds of investigations, made the following comment: 'A paedophilia allegation is one of the worst allegations you can make.'

Omar Benguit: wrongly convicted?
Can it be explained, therefore, why the two friends, A and B, who made totally false statements to the police, and subsequently on oath in a court of law, that I had inappropriately touched them both when they were 11 years of age, have not been called to account? Why has the Suffolk police, so eager to have me prosecuted, allowed them to carry on with their lives with impunity?

I repeat what the experienced, respected detective, Mr. Murphy, stated: 'A paedophilia allegation is one of the worst allegations you can make.'

Police: too busy for certain crimes?
But, hey, not to worry; don't anyone be put off lying through your teeth to get your greedy hands on compensation money from the taxpayer, because the police and the CPS couldn't care a fig if you do lie.  It seems, if you're rumbled, you'll walk away scot-free. All to gain and nothing to lose. Telling malicious lies which could potentially wreck someone else's life isn't a crime the State recognises particularly. Perhaps because it doesn't curry much public favour.

In my case, A and B lied and lied again and anyone with an IQ above the day's temperature, who listened to the repugnant lies they spouted in court, was left in no doubt they were lying.
Yet nothing has been done to punish them.

But Mr. Murphy claims those who falsely allege child abuse have committed a serious crime.
Over to you, Suffolk police. I repeat:  'A and B were lying throughout'. Shouldn't they be called to account or aren't you bothered?

Monday, 9 April 2018

Two Cheers as Alison Saunders Steps Down

This is the full text of my reaction to the news that Alison Saunders is to step down as DPP in October. Excerpts have appeared in The Express - link).

The news that Alison Saunders is to stand down as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), at the end of her five-year contract, might bring an end to the grotesque ‘target driven justice’, which is synonymous with her time at the top. By common consent, Ms Saunders has not exactly covered herself – or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) she leads – with glory. Too many things have gone disastrously wrong, too many times, and public confidence in our justice system is now at an all time low. Such is the damage, it will take much more than Ms Saunders’ departure to repair what has been broken.

DPP Alison Saunders
Although some will argue that swingeing cuts, amounting to around a quarter of its budget and a reduction in a third of its staff since 2010, have impacted on the CPS’ ability to provide a high quality service, it is difficult not to conclude that the malaise goes far deeper than insufficient personnel. To my mind, the real provenance of the problem has been the blatant politicisation of the organisation, a process which started before Ms Saunders took the top job in 2013 - a job, incidentally, which pays around £205,000 per annum (plus generous benefits and a £1.8 million pension pot).

The new ‘approach’ to delivering so-called justice was instituted by her predecessor as DPP, Keir Starmer (now Sir Keir Starmer MP, a Labour front bencher), who was appointed in 2008. He oversaw the transformation of the CPS from a taxpayer-funded body, tasked with making decisions about prosecutions based on evidence, to an increasingly politicised machine which sought to champion trendy causes which very vocal campaigners believed should be driving our justice system. Thus began an unhealthy obsession with DPP sound-bites, ‘initiatives’ and grandstanding for the media. Keir Starmer compromised the integrity of the CPS and Alison Saunders proceeded to exacerbate matters.

Sir Keir Starmer QC MP
Perhaps Sir Keir’s most regrettable legacy within the CPS was the importation of the ludicrous mantra, informing anyone making allegations of a sexual nature that “you will be believed”, no matter how bizarre, unlikely or outlandish the claims being made. This approach came as a direct result of political pressure amidst the ‘Savile effect’, that collective insanity which gripped this nation after the death of the platinum haired DJ in 2011.

Once this ideological dogma had taken root within the CPS  - the 2014 report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary said: “The presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised”, - traditional approaches, such as defendants being innocent until proven guilty, the police at least making an effort to pursue open minded investigations, were promptly ditched. When Ms Saunders took up her role as DPP in 2013, she was an enthusiastic adopter and advocate and a bad situation became inevitably worse.

Back in 2014, Ms Saunders, who had spent her entire professional life working at the CPS, told one interviewer that “Nobody knew who we [the CPS] were, what we did – so I think it’s good that we have a profile.” Unfortunately, years of back office work in the CPS bureaucracy had ill prepared her for the DPP role and many of her key interviews became highly defensive, as public criticism of controversial CPS failures mounted.

Too often it seemed that specific prosecutions – whether of investigative journalists, or of those accused of female genital mutilation or of media personalities accused of historical sexual offences – were more about getting a politically-correct result, rather than achieving justice. When these high profile cases started collapsing, the consequent damage to the CPS’ reputation was inevitable; Ms Saunders’ standing was similarly affected.

One of the most serious areas of concern during Ms Saunders tenure has been ‘target-driven’ practices, where CPS staff members are under constant pressure to achieve ‘results’ – that is, convictions in court. Common sense dictates that any legal system which operates on the basis of hitting specific, pre-set targets for the number of convictions in court, is at risk of multiplying miscarriages of justice, as well as encouraging prosecutors to charge potential defendants in cases where there is little or no actual evidence. This seems to have become the norm in sexual allegation cases, both modern and historical. No one can regard this as a proper, fair, sensible approach to administering justice in a country which gave the world the Magna Carta.

Another key concern was the apparent collusion between some CPS staff and police investigators over the vexed issue of disclosure of evidence – again, especially in sexual offence cases – to the defence. As evidence mounted that critical material, such as text messages and social media exchanges, were not being disclosed to defendants’ legal teams, trials started to collapse. It is of no surprise that judges have become much more critical of police and CPS failures and omissions.

Of course, we should not be concerned only about innocent people who have been dragged through the courts, their reputations indelibly tarnished, and about the victims of wrongful convictions, who are suffering as a result of the current chaos within the CPS; genuine victims of serious crimes are also being let down by a system which seems to be on the brink of collapse. Will jurors be prepared to convict a defendant they feel is guilty beyond reasonable doubt if confidence in British justice is continually being eroded by failed prosecutions and repeated scandals over a lack of disclosure of evidence? Jury members will inevitably worry, perhaps, that they've not heard all the evidence and acquit.

In recent months, Ms Saunders has not helped her cause by publicly declaring that she does not believe that there are any innocent people in prison as a consequence of failures to disclose relevant evidence to the defence. What a preposterous, immature, arrogant stance to take. Just last week, a devastating report by the HMCPS Inspectorate revealed that there had been a ‘steady stream of miscarriages of justice’ due to poor disclosure practices. Who knows how many innocent, but wrongly convicted, men and women are currently rotting in our dangerous, over crowded, dysfunctional prisons? Does the evidence point to Ms. Saunders being naive or supremely deluded?

I don’t think it is an understatement to say that there is mounting concern that the CPS and our wider justice system have come under the influence of ideologically-driven, political decision making. Collapsing trials and the unedifying prospect of innocent victims of false allegations languishing for months, or even years, on police bail, their homes ransacked, their lived trashed, have all damaged public confidence in a system which is now so underfunded that day to day life in our magistrates' courts are akin to ‘judicial A & E departments’; in short, the administering of justice on the cheap.

While Ms Saunders’ personally very lucrative departure from her post is to be welcomed by all concerned about the route our justice m.o. has taken over the last decade, it will not be enough to restore faith in a system which was once the envy of the world. Fundamental reform will surely require the ditching by prosecutors of the current wholly inappropriate target-driven approach, as well as a move away from ideological fashions and fads, which have done so much damage.

Is it too much to hope that the new DPP makes every effort to restore some faith in our justice system’s ability to protect the innocent and, by searching for and uncovering the truth, safely to convict the guilty? Time will tell.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Perjurers and the Pug

It often seems that we live in an increasingly topsy-turvy world in which crimes – real or imagined – are treated in very different ways. Liars, compensation fraudsters and fantasists who make false allegations against innocent people routinely escape any form of censure or prosecution, while others who are accused of far less harmful offences will be dragged through the courts by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

I was reminded once  again of this sad state of affairs by the recent tale of the online ‘comedian’ who taught his girlfriend’s pet pug to raise its paw in imitation of a Nazi salute. Not a very laudable or tasteful thing to waste his time on, but hardly a criminal act worthy of police attention. Yet the man responsible has been prosecuted and convicted. He now awaits sentence. Perhaps actor John Cleese – in his celebrated role as hapless hotelier Basil Fawlty – will be the CPS’ next victim, prosecuted for goose-stepping around a table of German guests with his arm raised. If so, it would be a slam-dunk for a ‘historical offence’ conviction. Tens of millions will have seen the video evidence: ‘Mr. Cleese, you are guilty.’

What emerges is a pattern of highly selective prosecutions that appear to be politically-motivated. I use the term ‘political’ in its widest meaning, because all recent British governments have been guilty of creating a wide range of criminal offences that never hitherto existed in English (or Scottish) law. Some of these so-called offences are more about assuaging public outcries by tiny groups of campaigners or soothing those who are easily offended (which busybodies, for example, complained about the performing pug, I wonder).

We have also seen a pair of failed prosecutions for alleged female genital mutilation (FGM). Since this law was enacted by a Conservative government in 1985 (and beefed-up by the last Labour government in 2003), there have been precisely two prosecutions brought in England and Wales (with a third case pending). The first defendant – an NHS gynaecologist – was acquitted by a jury in less than 30 minutes back in 2015.

The second defendant (a solicitor) saw the prosecution against him collapse earlier this month when the judge agreed with defence counsel that there was no case to answer. So why were these very obviously weak prosecutions brought in the first place?

DPP Alison Saunders: under pressure
The answer is put eloquently in an article which appeared in The Guardian newspaper in February 2015, following the acquittal of Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena:

“The case against Dharmasena was announced in March 2014, in a high-profile statement by the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, following political and media pressure on the police and Crown Prosecution Service at the failure to prosecute anyone for the offence since FGM was outlawed in the UK in 1985.”

And there we have it in a nutshell: the police and CPS bowing to pressure from politicians, the media (and no doubt a few vocal activists) to launch a prosecution and obtain a conviction at almost any cost. The CPS succumbed to the ‘something must be done’ philosophy and blundered ahead. Even The Telegraph described the 2015 case as ‘a show trial’. And, to their credit, jurors saw right through this ridiculous charade and acquitted Dr Dharmasena.

In making these comments, it is necessary to make it clear that I do not endorse the vile practice of genitally mutilating girls, which is palpably an abhorrent act. But this is not a valid reason for launching ‘show trial’ prosecutions in cases where there is little or no evidence that it has even happened. Evidently jurors in one case and a judge in the other agreed.

Yet we are told that 144,000 girls in the UK are ‘at risk’ from FGM (according to an academic report published in July 2015 by London’s City University). If this statistic is accurate, it seems very strange that not one successful prosecution has been brought to date.

Turning now to another area where the police and CPS are clearly in dereliction of duty: the prosecution of those who knowingly make false and malicious allegations against innocent people. It is difficult to assess the appalling human cost of such wicked, selfish acts.

As I have stated in previous blog posts, targets of this vile crime often lose their jobs, homes, savings, pensions – and even their families and friends; some poor souls are driven by misery and despair to end their own lives. I know of a number of such cases. Yet prosecutions of the liars and perjurers responsible are extraordinarily unusual.

In one very recent case – noteworthy precisely because these prosecutions are so rare – a 23-year old student named Lottie Harris (now known as Lucien) admitted six counts of perverting the course of justice between 2016 and 2017. The victim was a gay man for whom Harris had a misplaced attraction – a work colleague. Frustrated, Harris accused him of a total of 23 totally false allegations, including rape and threats made with a knife. The entire story was a series of barefaced lies, made up by a repugnant attention-seeker.

Guilty liar: Lottie (Lucien) Harris
As the victim of these false allegations observed in his statement to the court: “I feel scarred for life. I was arrested in full view of customers and colleagues… It has proved to be very embarrassing and shameful. I have lost the respect of people I work with as they saw me arrested… I don’t think I will ever get back to how it was before or recover from what Harris has done to me.”

And the sentence for all the shame, harm and terror this false accuser inflicted on the victim? A two-year suspended prison sentence, 300 hours of unpaid work and compensation of a measly £2,500 for the man whose life has possibly been ruined. In contrast, had the victim of these false allegations been convicted because of these vile lies, he would have received a sentence of over 10 years’ imprisonment, perhaps much longer, and a lifetime on the Sex Offenders’ Register.

It needs to be stressed that this has been one of the very few cases involving false allegations of rape or sexual assault that the police has bothered to investigate and the CPS has then deigned to prosecute. It often appears that convictions in these cases are only obtained when, on the very rare occasion, the false accuser confesses and pleads guilty, as in this instance.

There seems to be no appetite among either police detectives or CPS caseworkers to investigate or bring charges against the vast majority of liars, fraudsters and fantasists who inflict endless misery and ruin on their innocent victims, regardless of whether the motive is revenge, compensation, attention-seeking or a bogus claim to victimhood. There are even cases I know about where criminals have managed to extricate themselves from their own pending prosecution by spinning a vivid imaginary tale of an historical experience of having themselves been sexually abused.

Perjury in a court of law should be a serious criminal offence (the maximum penalty is supposedly seven years’ imprisonment), as should be any attempt to pervert the course of justice by making false allegations. These are crimes which undermine confidence in the justice system, as well as leading to wholly innocent victims being sent to prison for years or even decades, utterly ruining them and devastating their families.

In practice, how are these offences treated by our agents of the state?  I know from first-hand experience, other than in exceptional cases, as outlined above, the authorities completely ignore them. The two liars who dragged me through the courts in 2013-14 for their own selfish, insidious ends, have not been called to account. Yet, their crime is substantially more serious than the one they accused me of, even if they had been telling the truth. I had my life turned upside down, while these two liars and perjurers have carried on with their own lives as if nothing had happened. I was told just to get on with things and stop complaining. Can someone tell me how all this can possibly be right? I despair, as every right-minded person should.

Far from being a so-called ‘victimless’ crime, makers of false accusations know exactly what harm their lies and vile fantasies will almost certainly unleash: it is ‘pushing the nuclear button’ on another person’s life. Such premeditated offences – with ‘malice aforethought’ as the old legal phrase put it – demand appropriate application of the law by the police and the CPS. Anything less is an utter betrayal of the victims. And we victims of malicious allegations continue to be betrayed.

Our criminal justice system is currently in a sorry state (as laid out painfully bare in the excellent book written by the blogger and author known only as The Secret Barrister, Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken, which I’m in the midst of reading). We need an urgent return to the rule of law and proper policing, not the ridiculous political mob-pleasing gestures for which the police and the CPS have now become infamous. There needs to be a clear focus on real criminals, with professional prosecutions based on genuine evidence, rather than squandering resources on dragging trainers of ‘Nazi pugs’ into the dock, to the deserved derision of the nation.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Some are just 'the Wrong Sort of Victims'

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the whole issue of ‘victimhood’ and one thing is clear - there are different types of victims. While there are some who attract widespread popular support, both from agents of the state and from the public at large - particularly those adults who claim to have been abused in childhood - there are others who are deemed merely worthy of being swatted away, like irritating flies or gnats. It seems to me that victims of false allegations are usually slotted into this latter category. Indeed, while our modern culture here in the UK pays much attention to someone claiming to have been sexually abused, little or no attention is given to an innocent person whose life might have been totally wrecked by a malicious, compensation-hungry liar.

Since writing a book about my own experiences – Presumed Guilty – I must admit I have been heartened by the widespread support I’ve received from ordinary folk, particularly from people who have gone through the misery of a similar situation, either directly or indirectly. This stated, I have also been disappointed by the glib manner in which some vocal ‘campaigners’ and ‘activists’ dismiss experiences like mine as being unwelcome or inconvenient.

Some people can’t understand how being the target of a dangerous, insidious liar is worth even dwelling upon. The attitude seems to be  ‘Oh, get over it and move on....’ Can you imagine the same dismissive approach being taken towards someone who has been a victim of a convicted paedophile?  ‘Oh, stop complaining, just get on with things...’ There’d be uproar, and quite rightly so.

In the modern hierarchy of victimhood, I, and others in my situation, are regarded as being the ‘wrong’ kind of victim of crime. Indeed, agents of the state don’t seem to recognise fabricating stories of having been sexually abused by an innocent party as a crime.

Police: no support here...
When I asked the investigating officer in my case whether I was going to receive an apology, after a court trial which PROVED the two friends who had accused me had lied, including repeatedly perjuring themselves in a court of law, she responded: ‘That’s not going to happen.’ It seems that having been a victim of a failed conspiracy by greedy compensation-hunting perjurers, one should simply shut up and crawl away, lest news of the ordeal becomes embarrassing for the professionals in charge of ‘the investigation’ or undermines the ordeals of genuine victims of sexual abuse.

On the one hand, those who make allegations of sexual abuse - regardless of whether or not they are telling the truth - are afforded a significant level of support and encouragement by the police, vocal campaigners, numerous charities and other organisations. If the person complaining is a genuine victim, then this is totally laudable in any caring society. (If he or she is lying, of course, then it undermines the entire process). Some complainants are also offered psychological counselling and therapy, as a person telling telling the truth should. And a significant number receive substantial sums of compensation, even if the alleged perpetrator has already died or the claims being made have never even been tested in a court of law. (Unfortunately, because of the sizeable amounts of money on offer, these handouts, unsurprisingly, attract the fraudsters, the fantasists and the inadequates).

But only for some victims?
In stark contrast, proven victims of false allegations are completely ignored by official bodies. There are those who have been accused of heinous offences and their names indelibly stained, but who have not even been arrested. There are others who have been arrested and kept on police bail for months, or even years, but never charged. And then there are those of us who were dragged through the criminal justice system, including a very public trial, and been acquitted by juries almost immediately, or whose cases have collapsed when police misconduct came to light. Perhaps the most unfortunate of all are those who have been wrongly convicted and find themselves in the hellish nightmare of our violent, dysfunctional prison system.

Regardless of the category in which innocent victims fall, none will find any official institutional support, counselling, recompense or compensation.

Yet many victims of false allegations have lost everything: careers, homes, professional reputations, life savings, pensions, even their pets. Some have lost close friends, relationships with family members and – in the worst cases – have felt unable to carry on with life and have killed themselves (one such case happened this very week). Others are saddled with vast legal bills which they may never be able to pay. Yet none of this seems to count.

No votes to be had here
How many of our politicians care a monkey’s, to use the vernacular?  Why would they? After all, to concern yourself with someone who has been accused of child abuse, even though he or she has been proven to be innocent, is hardly a vote winner.  At the end of our ordeals we are cast adrift and are just expected to slink away and keep quiet.

Meanwhile, those fakers and fraudsters who have told the most blatant lies – to police officers, to social workers, to psychologists, to barristers, to judges and to juries –  unless they actually admit they have made up a pack of lies - face no sanctions nor consequences. Police officers who have ‘believed’, supported and encouraged these liars for months, or even years, are most unlikely to recommend that any of them are charged with fraud, perjury or perverting the course of justice. This would be far too embarrassing because questions might then be asked about the shoddy, partial, virtually non-existent ‘investigations’, which too often pass as modern detective work in cases involving sexual allegations, past and present. It’s far easier for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service simply to kick the failed prosecution into the long grass and hope no-one asks any awkward questions.

True, there are a few small charities and support groups – such as the outstanding Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers (FACT - link here) – which do offer support and advice to victims of false allegations, but, without exception, these organisations are privately funded and staffed by unpaid volunteers. There is no public money provided to aid or support people whose lives have been ruined by greedy liars, fantasists and the plainly delusional. Police, prosecutors and the whole institutional structure of the criminal law simply turn away. After all, there will be no rise in public popularity for those seeking justice for the falsely accused. And public popularity is so important to those who run the system.

Until we, as a society, stop rewarding these liars, fantasists, fraudsters and compensation-grubbers, I fear that the phenomenon of false allegations – and the ever-expanding industry which supports it (including personal injury solicitors who profit from the misery of others) – will never be tackled. In order to restore popular faith in our beleaguered criminal justice system, we urgently need to see evidence that perjury and lying to the police will no longer be tolerated and that compensation payouts made to proven fraudsters will be reclaimed with interest. Criminal actions must have consequences and we need to stop treating innocent people whose lives have been wrecked by false allegations as the ‘wrong’ sort of victims, just because it is the easiest route to take.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Objective Professional v Emotional Presumptuous Policing

The ongoing police investigation into the suspected attempted murder this week of a former Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter, by means of a toxic nerve agent in the city of Salisbury, has highlighted the power of painstaking, traditional British detective work. A sizeable contingent of experienced police officers – supported by specialists and even army personnel – is investigating every possible lead. It is the sort of thorough investigative work that once earned British police forces the respect of the world.

Supt Sean Memory, Salisbury 2015
Police representatives and national politicians have been cautioning the media and the public from jumping to premature conclusions until hard evidence of who is to blame has been obtained. This is just as one would expect a professional investigative team to operate.

It is interesting that this unfortunate incident took place in Salisbury, the beautiful Wiltshire city where the late Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath had lived. It was outside his former house, in 2015, that Superintendent Sean Memory of Operation Conifer appealed via the media for anyone who had ‘been a victim of any crime from Sir Ted Heath’ to come forward. Clear echoes of the infamous ‘credible and true’ assertion made in 2014 by Superintendent Kenny McDonald of the Operation Midland fiasco.

In this week’s attempted murder case, we have not witnessed any police officers standing at the scene of the attack on Mr. Skripal and his daughter informing us that Mr. Putin’s dastardly regime was to blame and that anyone else who has been targeted by Russian agents should come forward and ‘you will be believed.’ Why? Because no one is yet sure of the actual facts. Evidence is still being gathered.

What a contrast this week’s approach is to the unprofessional, myopic way in which sexual accusations (often historical) are ‘investigated’ by our ideologically-obsessed police forces. So what are the reasons for this starkly different modus operandi? Why are police detectives able to conduct perfectly professional investigations in some cases and yet seem averse to doing so in others?

Having lived through my own lengthy nightmare of false sexual allegations in 2013-14, made by a couple of compensation-chasing perjurers – their lies dismissed unanimously in a matter of minutes by a Crown Court jury, yet since totally ignored by the state authorities – I have met with dozens of other victims who have had their lives trashed by liars, fraudsters and fantasists, not to mention the associated misery and trauma it has caused their family members. I have discovered that there is a marked similarity in respect of almost all of these cases – a seemingly determined approach by the police officers concerned to ignore completely any evidence which might hinder them in getting ‘a result’ – i.e. a criminal conviction in court.

In my own case, after I had been dragged from my bed and arrested at dawn in late 2012, I gave the investigating officers a list of former school colleagues who would be able to assist them with their inquiries. I had nothing to hide, so I was completely open. I answered fully all their questions and was under the impression that this could only help in ultimately determining the truth. But, did they bother taking statements from any of these potential witnesses, many of whom I had worked with for years? No.

And I have since discovered that when they did interview one former colleague of mine, apart from the usual ‘we believe the accused to be guilty etc at the start of the interview, they failed even to ask him the critical question on which their whole case eventually collapsed when it reached court nearly two years later: had I ever taught junior boys PE? The answer was no. I had told them ‘no’ at the outset, but the police officers realised that any confirmation of this fact could wreck the vile fantasy being spun by the two liars, who were both hoping to make a quick buck at my expense. Professional policing? Hardly....

So what is the reason that experienced detectives all too often abandon the pretence of conducting an objective, even-handed and professional investigation when allegations of a sexual nature have been made? And why is evidence which might assist the defendant repeatedly not being disclosed or, worse still, actually being concealed from defence counsel, as well as judges and jurors?  

My conclusion is that some of the present generation of police officers, particularly those investigating alleged child abuse, are allowing themselves to become involved emotionally with those who make the complaints. At the very least, they may indulge the complainant by conveying the message from the outset that they believe the allegations and he or she can rely on the police’s total support. Once this message has been made clear, there is no going back. If the complainant subsequently turns out to be an unalloyed liar, the police, having already compromised themselves, are now unable ‘to change sides’ and investigate the false accuser.

Some officers go further by ‘befriending’ those who make allegations (and often their families) long before cases reach the charging stage, let alone a court of law. Sometimes this familiarity involves exchanging messages via social media, or even sponsoring witnesses who are taking part in charity events. Occasionally, close personal relationships between an individual officer and the complainant (or a member of his or her family) may also go undisclosed and undeclared.

This ‘emotional investment’ in complainants makes it much more difficult for police officers to approach any criminal investigation of sexual offences in a fair, objective and dispassionate way. Some people who make false allegations are notoriously adept at manipulating others, including detectives, and, once hooked, it seems that certain police officers are credulously willing to swallow any tale, no matter how fantastic or improbable.

Some dishonest complainants are old hands at spinning lies: a few have peddled their vile fantasies several times (even using different identities), in order to secure hefty sums of compensation money. These days the news that any famous person or celebrity has been accused of sexual misconduct is very likely to attract a coterie of ‘wannabe victims’, who seek to profit from adding their greedy selves into the story of others. This is an obvious danger given the current police approach of bolstering very weak – or non-existent - evidence of historical sexual abuse by presenting multiple accusers in the witness box in order to sway jurors. It is no surprise that some of these opportunistic liars are later exposed for what they are.

Added to this, some detectives deliberately avoid interviewing anyone who might cast doubt on the complainant’s claims. This can include ignoring the evidence of estranged members of the accuser’s own family, who are fully aware that the person making the allegations is a notorious liar and/or fantasist, based on years of personal experience; or else declining to interview key witnesses whose evidence might well undermine the allegations under ‘investigation.’ Perhaps this is the real reason why even the most outlandish and bizarre claims seem to go completely unchallenged by investigating officers, as was the case in the farcical (and ruinously costly) Operation Midland.

In the aftermath of my own nightmare, I seem to have become a repository for many other people’s ordeals, a number of whom are at the end of their tether because either they themselves have been falsely accused or else they have a family member suffering. Some of these cases should be causing serious concerns, especially when innocent people have been wrongfully convicted and sent to prison, often for years.

In one very worrying case, an adult prosecution witness claims that he was bullied by two female police officers because he steadfastly defended a former teacher under investigation, whom he believed to be completely innocent. When the witness attempted to name a specific individual who, he believed, had orchestrated a series of false allegations against both this teacher and a number of others, the police officers refused to record this in his statement and then forced him into signing it anyway. How can this be possibly justified?

In another case, a former teacher has been jailed for decades partially on the evidence of a prosecution witness who had spun a very detailed tale of historical sexual abuse in a boarding school. The story involved him and another named pupil, with an assertion that both had been sexually abused by the accused teacher at the same time. The man on trial was duly convicted and is currently in prison. However, I have since seen contemporaneous documentary proof that the second complainant, who, it was alleged, was a victim during the same assault, didn’t even join the school until a term after the teacher had left. They could never have met. This fact alone must raise serious doubts about the safety of some of the other convictions in that trial.

Police officers investigating allegations often make no effort to check the factual accuracy of claims being made, as they are on a pre-determined course. I find it hard to believe that if it were a murder enquiry, or the investigation of a major bank robbery, any key evidence would be ignored by detectives. However, if the allegations being made involve sexual offences – especially historical ones – the usual rules about gathering evidence can be completely disregarded. How is this being allowed to happen?

It is high time we woke up to the danger of police officers being ‘groomed’ by devious fraudsters, liars and attention seekers, who seem able to manipulate detectives (and others) emotionally. Surely it goes without saying police officers who work on cases involving sexual allegations must maintain a proper professional distance and resist the temptation to get involved in the often chaotic lives of complainants, some of whom are driven by either financial or narcissistic reasons. The ludicrous mantra ‘you will be believed’ must be rejected for good. As I have stated repeatedly, it is NEVER the police officer’s job to believe either the complainant or the defendant. Their duty is to investigate without fear or favour.

It is hard to accept the common excuses now being offered for the lengthening list of collapsed prosecutions as a result of disclosure failures or other types of police misconduct, which are: under-staffing and/or a lack of resources. As the current massive operation in Salisbury clearly demonstrates, thorough and professional investigations are perfectly possible when the political will is present.

My own experience – and the cases of others – leads me to the view that in too many instances police officers are studiously ignoring any evidence (whether involving a review of electronic records or taking eye-witness testimony) which might undermine the credibility of those making allegations of sexual offences, for fear that cases in which they have invested significant personal emotional effort and energy might collapse. This approach is, quite simply, a perversion of the justice system and urgent action to redress the balance is now required.

On a personal note, I think I have made it clear why I am convinced the two liars who had me dragged me to Court in 2014 will never be called to account by the State. Is this British justice to be proud of?

Monday, 26 February 2018

Trawling and Trickery

Although there is mounting public concern about disclosure failures by police and prosecutors – especially when allegations of a sexual nature have been made – there is also a danger that a range of other types of police misconduct and malpractice may be being overlooked. It is obvious that any comprehensive review of how the embattled Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reached its current state of crisis must certainly examine the much wider institutional flaws which are undermining our justice system.

I am referring particularly to the practice of police ‘trawling’ for complainants. What the police are unable to secure via ‘quality evidence' (i.e. unearthing actual facts which help to prove what the truth is), they often attempt to make up with ‘quantity evidence’. That’s to say, if the complaints they are dealing with seem weak and ostensibly difficult to prove (sometimes because they could well be blatant lies or fantasies), the police know that if they can find others willing to make a similar complaint, they then have a much better chance of securing ultimate ‘success’ in court.

The police use this similar allegation ‘evidence’ to sway the jury into thinking the accused is a pretty unseemly human being or to use the vernacular, ‘a dirty old man’. They know that if they can muster even a ragbag of fantasists and liars to support the original allegation, they have a much better chance of persuading twelve members of a jury to convict the accused, thereby ensuring the often vast amount of taxpayers’ money that has already been spent in the so-called investigation is never going to be a source of subsequent embarrassment. This is why investigative teams are hell bent on securing convictions at all costs once a suspect has been arrested. And, of course, successful prosecutions will certainly not damage any CPS lawyers' or police careers.

There is no place for this crude practice of police trawling in any fair, just democracy.

To exacerbate matters, the police sometimes use individuals who operate outside their force to advertise on their behalf, as happened in their ‘investigation’ of the complaints made against me, in 2012, by two greedy, unscrupulous liars. Our parliamentarians need urgently to investigate and deal with the fact that certain police forces choose to enlist this active support of private individuals – totally unregulated and completely unaccountable – in order to ‘trawl’ for further allegations of sexual misconduct (often, although not exclusively, historical in nature). The fact that these trawling operations have taken place is then often concealed from the defence, the judge and the jury.

In my case, they used the services of a Newbury businessman, a man seemingly obsessed with the entire ghastly topic of child abuse, who proclaimed on his website, within hours of the official announcement of the postponement of my trial in April 2014, that he had been asked by the investigating force to advertise on his website the fact the police were still eager for others to come forward to make complaints against me. He also stated that he would be ready to receive allegations to pass on.

How utterly crude is this and some might well argue how utterly corrupt. I can only speculate how this sort of online trawling is permitted in any decent, lawful society and what the self-appointed ‘agent’ acting on behalf of the police gains in involving himself in such a case. It is difficult to fathom. Is he simply an obsessive injustice collector (specialist subject: child abuse) or is there a much more sinister reason?

The dangers of police officers getting involved with such characters must be obvious: making use of an unaccountable, often covert, third party who has nothing to do with the actual investigation violates all professional standards of modern police practice. How much of this dangerous activity has already been going on in the background for years?

One of the major concerns about these unofficial trawling activities is that of cross-contamination of evidence. In some cases there is blatant collusion between individuals who are now claiming as adults that they were sexually abused years earlier when they were children. Those planning to make complaints may have got together face-to-face or else may have communicated with each other online or by phone. Is it possible to ascertain the extent of the sharing of bogus stories between subsequent complainants in order to ‘get things straight’ before they even approach the police? Others read about the original complaints against the defendant online or in the press and exploit the information to their advantage, often financial.

Then there is the malignant role being played by certain firms of personal injury lawyers who thrive on the historical sexual allegation industry. Apart from the myriad which appear online at a few touches of the keyboard, there is well-documented evidence of advertisements being placed in prison newspapers for those who wish to make allegations of a sexual nature to contact one or other of these firms, with the promise of sizeable sums of compensation.

It isn’t difficult to understand why someone who is short of a few bob, or a prisoner who earns a miserable £10 a week, might be inspired to spin a profitable yarn to an obliging lawyer in the hope of getting a generous tax-free payout. And since the risk nowadays of being prosecuted for lying to the police, or for perjury in court, is absolutely minimal, any fantastic pack of old lies will do. There is nothing to lose and perhaps a lot to gain.

I found it unsurprising to learn that the individual who actively advertised – unsuccessfully as it turned out – for further false allegations against me actually includes hyperlinks from his own website to a particular firm of personal injury solicitors who specialise in cases of alleged historical sexual abuse, including directing messages to a named lawyer at the firm. Was he hoping for commission, I wonder?

So why would police officers ally themselves to individuals who are so shamelessly and openly touting for compensation business? Might it be because detectives who work in this field are only too aware that the potential prospect of an undeserved financial payout of thousands of pounds can be a powerful motivating factor for some insidious individuals who come forward to make bogus complaints?

And I have recently discovered that the activities of this Berkshire-based ‘injustice collector’ are far from being unique. In certain instances, some self-proclaimed ‘activists’ have particularly dubious backgrounds of their own, including those who are themselves convicted criminals. Some have stood in the dock convicted of fraud, others of a range of drug offences; even some who have records for the vile and violent abuse of women and/or children, including members of their own family.

Many of these obsessive characters would be unable to pass any positive vetting or criminal records check required to be allowed to join the police, not to mention employment as teachers or carers, yet they are seemingly regarded by some detectives as being appropriate persons to gather sensitive intelligence that may be used in prosecutions (even if the actual source of the trawling remains concealed). How can that possibly be interpreted as justice in any form?

The time is long overdue for a major reform of our justice system. It has become far too easy – indeed, virtually risk free – for fraudsters, fantasists, revenge seekers and attention-seeking liars (as well as their enablers) to make false allegations, especially of a sexual kind against innocent victims. But this will doubtlessly continue until police officers investigate all allegations impartially and dispassionately, refraining from usurping the role of the jury in deciding whether the particular allegations being made are “credible and true.”

Alison Saunder, DPP
In addition, ALL police contacts with those who are engaged in trawling for complainants on their behalf must be fully documented and disclosed to the defence well in advance of any trial. Police forces urgently need to ensure that they never make use of dubious, unaccountable trawlers, who are subsequently hidden and protected. In cases where personal injury solicitors have already been consulted by complainants, juries should be told the details if and when a case eventually goes to trial.

We, the British public, deserve better from our police forces in these ‘investigations’ and there is a need for real consequences for fraudsters and perjurers who seek to destroy the lives of innocent people and their families. Making false allegations of any kind is never a victimless crime and where police or judges suspect that a complainant is lying, prosecution should always be seriously considered (to be honest, I’m not holding my breath on that). Otherwise, our legal system will never address the current crisis, in which innocent victims of miscarriages of justice continue to be sent to prison, their lives destroyed, while those of us who were falsely accused and then acquitted will forever live under the shadow of monstrous lies.