No Smoke. No Fire. Still burnt.

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Most people in the UK have a general belief that we live in a society that is protected by a robust legal system there to protect the public, based on a simple premise of “innocent until proven guilty”.  When Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that we need to look again at how the Police investigate cases of sexual abuse and assault, suggesting that something was wrong with the current system in automatically believing complainants, it might have struck a discord with that logic.  

But what if there really is something seriously wrong with current practise? 

Consider the basic premise of our legal system.  When a crime has been committed the police are called, evidence of the crime is collected – such as photographs, samples, prints, DNA etc. – and witnesses are interviewed.  That is how the Police go about finding the main suspect, and how they corroborate the case against the accused.   After collecting all the evidence, the Police submit the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a decision on whether to charge the accused.  The CPS use a two stage test to ensure there is both enough evidence of good enough quality and the public interest to prosecute.

If the accused is charged they become the “defendant” when the case goes to court.  Most people recognise the Crown Court by the presence of the jury, who must be objective, apply only the law to the evidence given in the court room during the trial, and only give a “guilty” verdict when then can reach one “beyond reasonable doubt.”  Therefore, any uncertainty or need for clarity or more proof, must be classed as “not guilty.” 

Simple, right?

Now imagine a situation where there was not a single piece of “evidence” that a crime was even committed, let alone that the defendant was the one who committed it.  Unlike with a murder, there is no body; or there is no stolen car;  no building that was burnt down; no DNA evidence to use; nothing to prove the incident even happened.  All you have is the claimant’s statement about the crime.  Normally there would be no way in our legal system that the case could be prosecuted because it would fail to even pass the “evidence” stage, let alone get anywhere near a courtroom.

And yet if the crime that is reported is a sexual crime against adults – especially women – or children, and particularly when it is an historical crime, this is exactly what happens.  Police officers have been instructed to believe the claimant and treat them as being truthful, even if every grain of their experience tells them the statement appears to be a lie.  It is a “presumption of guilt.”  If the alleged offence took place years, even decades ago, there could be no evidence at all to corroborate the claimant’s account.  Would this not constitute reasonable doubt in the facts of the incident unless there was any further evidence a jury could use to establish guilt?  What happens if the claimant has a track record of making false allegations?   

As unlikely as it might seem, these cases still get to court, and sometimes wrongful convictions happen.  All that is required is a disgruntled ex-partner to decide it is time for revenge and a whole investigation is launched – and that is one of many possible scenarios.   Worse still, even if the CPS decision is to take “no further action” due to a lack of evidence, the accused could still have information appear on enhanced DBS checks, perpetuating the notion “there’s no smoke without fire.”   When such miscarriages of justice happen as a result of a false, malicious allegation it is extremely rare for the lying claimant to face any repercussions, sometimes leading to them repeating the lying.  How can we prevent that when numerous Police forces even have a policy that they will never charge a lying claimant?

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was not referring specifically to false, malicious allegations but what he was saying that there needs to be more checking of the veracity of all allegations.  Convictions are not enough – we have to know they are safe and truthful.  After all, a wrongful conviction not only victimises the innocent and their families, it leaves actual offenders walking free and remaining a risk to society.  Moreover, real victims of abuse today continue to suffer as Police time is wasted investigating red herrings from decades ago.  

It is a shame that Sir Hogan-Howe has yet to broach the issue of false allegations and shared his opinion on what should happen when a claimant is clearly lying.  However, if he needs a real life example of what is at stake then few examples are better than No Smoke, No fire; The Autobiography of Dave Jones.

If justice really is blind, maybe it is about time she started to see.

 

If you or anyone you know is affected by issues in this article, and/or you need advice or information on false allegations, visit:

 Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers (FACT)

People Against False Accusations of Abuse (PAFAA)

1 COMMENT

  1. What an excellent article. Would it be too much to ask for some politicians to read this and start to question the whole concept of British justice? All parts of the process have to work on the same principles of innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. When the police assume guilt right from the start, it is like falling dominoes and the scary thing is, it can – and does – happen to anyone.

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