Thursday, 19 July 2018

An Appeal For Anonymity (update)

(This is an updated version of my blog post from April 2018)

Many people are today celebrating the fact that Sir Cliff Richard has won his 'violation of privacy' case against the BBC. He claimed its coverage of the South Yorkshire Police's raid on his Berkshire home in 2014 was both intrusive and disproportionate, violating his human right to privacy. The High Court agreed. The police raid had been prompted by an unsubstantiated claim by one individual of a sexual assault perpetrated by Sir Cliff in the mid-1980s. Inevitably, the publicity of the raid was devastating for the singer, who was never charged.

Sir Cliff Richard
This case is a stark reminder of the enormous power of the traditional media to damage irreparably the lives of individuals. In that one fell swoop, before anything had been proven, even before any arrest had been made, Sir Cliff's name and reputation were trashed throughout the globe, while the BBC was congratulating itself on a massive scoop. 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. They must have been so excited to have such a high profile target at their mercy. What a scoop! Indeed, the BBC's obvious satisfaction of a job well done led to them to nominate the entire unsavoury episode for a television award.

But did anyone for a moment stop to think it was only an allegation which had been laid at Sir Cliff's door? Did it not occur to them that the allegation may not be true, in which case they'd be destroying the man himself and his 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. Only, because he was a national treasure, the story was even juicier.

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 (merely accused), particularly involving alleged sex abuse, 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 directed at innocent people. I know this because it happened to me as soon as I was arrested and interviewed in December 2012, as a result of some filthy lies which emanated from the mouth of some greedy, opportunistic lowlife who had never met me. Did the mob pause to allow justice to take its course? Of course not. Within a few days of my arrest, one pleasant individual posted the comment 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 unanimous '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. This is why anonymity for those accused of a crime (particularly a sexual one) is so important in our modern society. This is why our laws surrounding publicity after arrest need updating.

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. Sad to state (and I know this from first hand experience) 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. And still people argue against anonymity for those merely under investigation. Surely our laws surrounding publicity after arrest need updating.

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. 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. Someone under investigation for a crime is presumed guilty and this is inevitably relayed as a fact.

Even those defendants who are acquitted by a jury of alleged sexual assault 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. This is why the politicians have been reluctant to review the laws surrounding publicity after arrest. They are, by and large, craven and, anyway, realise there are no votes in facing this glaring flaw in our present system.

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: to suggest that anyone falsely accused of sexual assault will be able to carry on his or her life as an innocent citizen thereon in evokes an Alice in Wonderland world. Once an accused's name is published in the media in association with a sexual allegation, life as that person knew it is effectively over. Forever.

To exacerbate matters, apart from the obvious negative implications on future employment, online posts now seem to have a permanence that ensures spite, bile and lies will be accessible to all who care to type onto their keyboard that 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 the perjurers and fantasists are linked to their names in perpetuity. I am indelibly tied to the vile lies of the couple of chancers who made an allegation against me. And still many people argue against anonymity for those merely under investigation.

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 in a matter of minutes, 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 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. Nothing. (How many pages in that newspaper would have been filled had I been found guilty?) And still many people argue against anonymity for those merely under investigation but not charged.

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: '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. Two hundred years ago criminals were branded on their foreheads; nowadays the search engines do the job, only you just need to be accused to be marked for life. Ask Sir Cliff!

Friday, 13 July 2018

Reputation Arsonists and Court Redress

A long hot British summer – as infrequent as these may be – is quite capable of bringing out the best (and worst) in some people. It is a chance to soak up the rays at the beach or in the local park. It is a chance, after months of cold winds and incessant rain, to enjoy sitting outside in the garden. On the other hand, some plants wilt, the grass turns brown, the tree leaves turn to crisps and, just as predictably, one or more criminally-minded arsonists will deliberately start fires, regardless of the risk to wildlife, property, livestock and, above all, fellow human beings.

As we watch television images of the wildfires consuming thousands of acres of Saddleworth Moor, police are investigating whether arson may have been involved. It is difficult for most of us to imagine the thought processes of the ignorant, reckless few who feel compelled to start these fires.

Some of these morons are innately cruel, while there are others who are believed by psychiatrists to get a form of sexual thrill from watching the world around them go up in smoke and flames (generally from a safe distance, of course). No doubt, if a fire-fighter or an innocent person or animal in the fire’s compass is killed or seriously injured, the conscience of the perpetrator won’t be much troubled.

Ask the general public their views and I’d be prepared to bet that 99.99% of those polled would condemn these twisted fire starters as coming from the bottom rung of civilised society and that they are deserving of exemplary punishment when (or if) apprehended. In fact, the criminal offence of arson is considered so serious that the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. I’m reliably informed that convicted arsonists are regarded within the prison system as being so dangerous that certain open prisons refuse to accept them owing to the potential risk they pose to life and property.

However, there is an equally serious form of fire starting that seems to be much less open to social condemnation, regardless of the devastation and human misery that it can cause: I believe I’ve even coined a phrase for it: ‘reputation arson’.

The ‘reputation arsonist’ sets out, often with malicious glee, to destroy the good name – and life – of his or her chosen victim (or victims). In the past this could be achieved only by spreading vicious, untrue gossip in the local neighbourhood. Occasionally, anonymous poison pen letters would have been written and distributed, but the reach was limited. Despite this, terrible damage could still be wrought.

Today, the effects are much worse due to social media platforms – and some elements of the traditional media – which are being misused to inflict far greater, lasting injury on victims. The most obscene, vile lies can be invented and passed on to an audience of thousands, or even millions, at the click of a mouse. Disgusting conspiracy theories can be propagated as ‘fact’, without a shred of truth or evidence, putting lives at risk. Yet, popular services such as Twitter and Facebook seem unable – or unwilling – to tackle the phenomenon of the ‘reputation arsonists’. And unlike the traditional poison pen letter, the most blatant lies can remain visible online forever.

These devious, malicious ‘reputation arsonists’ light a fake fire under an innocent person and subsequently smear that target by claiming, “There’s no smoke without fire.” In common with the reckless arsonist who sets fires with matches or lighters, these amoral, cruel individuals who target others with their filthy lies and distortions seem to get some kind of perverted thrill out of the destruction of their targets. They revel in watching that person’s life’s work and reputation burn to ashes in public, egged on by a ragbag of nasty cheerleaders, who race to join the online assault.

In many cases, members of these unholy alliances have never met the intended victim. In the case of celebrities or people in public life, they may have seen them on television or read about them online or in the press, but their personal knowledge of the individual and of his or her family is likely to be zero. Yet the 'reputation arsonists' are more than happy to throw around terms of abuse such as ‘nonce’, ‘paedo’, ‘pervert’, ‘rapist’ and worse. Their only aim is to cause hurt, personal injury and the maximum reputational damage.

Very few of these twisted characters are ever brought to justice. They rely on the fact that most of their victims will not take civil action for defamation owing to the prohibitive cost of seeking redress in the High Court, which can easily run to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Everyone knows that libel proceedings are a game for only the very wealthy. Yet, why should only the super-rich and famous be able to defend their reputations from vile, unscrupulous liars, greedy fraudsters, sexual fantasists and twisted, obsessive slanderers? Surely everyone, no matter how ‘ordinary’, is entitled to enjoy his or her good name and reputation, unless proven otherwise in a court of law?

So here is an idea: perhaps we’d benefit from the equivalent of the Small Claims Court to deal with defamers: the burden of proof would be on those publishing or promoting these allegations to prove to a civil standard that what they have published is fact or fair comment.

I’m sure the prospect of having to stand up in public and explain to a judge on what basis they have published such vile accusations would concentrate their (usually limited) minds wonderfully. “And what evidence do you have that this could be true?” the judge might enquire.

Repeating some libellous drivel they’ve picked up from some online forum or twitter exchange or lies they've read on some anonymous conspiracy-loon website really won’t convince a civil court that there is a scintilla of truth in the smears they have been peddling. Like most untutored bullies, they will doubtless crack under the slightest pressure to prove that what they have written is actually true (pay attention the vile troll, who’s never met me, but who posted the charming assertion: ‘What the fuck? He’s fucking guilty!’ shortly after a unanimous jury had acquitted me in a matter of minutes at the conclusion of my farcical trial in 2014).

Damages could be capped at a maximum of £10,000 (as in the existing Small Claims Court). This would be sufficient in most cases to discourage social media trolls & reputation destroyers from posting any old vile rubbish they can think up. It would be vital to keep any legal costs to a minimum, so the multitude of non-celebrities who are targeted can seek justice.

And if judgement is given against the defamer and an appropriate award made by a judge, then let the High Court bailiffs loose with warrants to execute. The prospect of having a pair of burly, unsmiling court officers turning up on the doorstep with a hefty bill and the legal power to seize goods, and even property, might serve as a genuine deterrent to any twisted ‘reputation arsonist’ who is tempted to spread smears and lies.

The message needs to go out that online targeting of innocent individuals and the spreading of malicious allegations and lies is never a ‘victimless’ crime. Social media mobbing and twisted ‘reputation arsonists’ wreck human lives and I know from first-hand experience can even lead to suicide. Whole families, including young children, can have their lives devastated by these vicious libel peddlers.

We often hear politicians and campaigners talking in the national media about cleaning up the internet, cracking down on bullies and generally making it a safer place. If we really are serious, then notorious libellers and persistent ‘reputation arsonists’ need to be made accountable for their crimes. Let’s make them think twice before they light the next fire under an innocent victim.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

“Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards…”

Just when it seemed as though public attitudes might just be changing towards sexual allegations, following the supposed abandoning of the ludicrous ‘you will be believed’ dogma, along comes another example of unthinking ideologically-inspired nonsense peddled by a senior public official. This time it’s the so-called ‘Victims’ Commissioner’, Baroness Helen Newlove.

Baroness Newlove, Victims' Commissioner
On her official Twitter account, the Baroness – or possibly one of her flunkies – has recently posted the following politically-correct twaddle, masquerading as concern for the amorphous mass known collectively as ‘victims’:

I strongly disagree with judges who demand that rape victims are referred to as complainants. A victim is a victim from the moment the crime is committed. They deserve to be treated with respect, sensitivity & feel that their pain is acknowledged. To do otherwise is a backward step. 

The Baroness obviously takes the view that everyone who claims to have been raped (or otherwise sexually assaulted) is telling the truth. She doesn’t seem to believe that any sane person is capable of lying about having been abused, which strikes me as naivety in the extreme.

As we have seen in a series of recent scandals over disclosure (in other words ignoring or withholding of evidence by police), the key issue is often whether any ‘crime’ has even been committed in the first place, or whether it merely exists in the imagination of a chancer or fantasist; the tall tale made up in a bid for revenge, or is solely a disgraceful lie emanating from the mouth of a compensation-hungry fraudster. Has it not occurred to Helen Newlove that liars, fantasists and fraudsters exist?

I put it to her in the strongest possible terms that they do and, wherever these people rear their ugly heads, it is the accused and his or her family who are the victims. Is she really advocating that we lurch back to the ‘you will be believed’ school of nonsense?

I find it extremely concerning that this very poor example of a palpably fallacious argument is being advanced by a well-paid public official, who also has a seat in Parliament: since 2010 she has been a member of the House of Lords.

Of course, no-one is suggesting that people who complain that they have been a victim of a serious crime should be treated with anything other than professionalism, kindness and respect by the police, prosecutors and court officials. However, prejudging the outcome of a contested trial by confirming ahead of a jury’s deliberations that a crime has indeed been committed is, in my view, a very backward step indeed, and one that is grossly unfair and totally unjust to any defendant.

What is the next step along this particular road to judicial hell? Judges and prosecution barristers referring to the ‘as yet unconvicted rapist in the dock’ rather than ‘the defendant’? Then, any pretence of a presumption of innocence in sexual trials would really be dead and buried.

It seems that the whole institution of the ‘Victims’ Commissioner’ is another of those ludicrous and expensive quangos established by the last Labour government and indulged by successive administrations. It seems that Baroness Newlove has no particular qualifications, nor expertise in criminal justice, beyond having been herself a victim of a particularly horrific crime when her husband, Garry, was murdered by drunken thugs in 2007. While having every sympathy for her loss, it does seem a strange criterion upon which to justify making a senior public appointment. And this is where the problem seems to lie: we are expecting someone with no legal background nor qualifications to act as a public watchdog and advocate.

The baroness’s ridiculous tweet reminds me of the famous court scene in Alice in Wonderland:

'No, no!', said the Queen. 'Sentence first—verdict afterwards.'
'Stuff and nonsense!', said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'
'Hold your tongue!', said the Queen, turning purple.
'I won't!', said Alice.
Off with her head!', the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

And yet, here in Baroness Newlove, we have the modern equivalent of the purple-faced Queen of Hearts, advocating that we should turn our justice system on its head solely to recognise the pain felt by ‘victims’… Baroness, some of your so-called ‘victims’ will be liars, fraudsters or fantasists, of this you can be sure.

Fortunately, despite her very grand sounding title and generous salary, Helen Newlove has no actual power over the courts. It can only be hoped that judges and sensible politicians will continue to ignore her dangerous, misguided, unqualified opinions.

In theory, at least, the office of the Victims’ Commissioner is supposed to offer:

Inclusivity representing all victims and witnesses, including the most vulnerable members of our community.

Yet, when it comes to the actual definition of what constitutes a ‘victim’, things become much more hazy. It appears that only certain victims actually qualify for such support and representation. For example, I have yet to hear the taxpayer-funded Victims’ Commissioner say one single word about victims of miscarriages of justice or those whose lives and families have been, and continue to be, destroyed by malicious, false accusations, propounded by the plethora of greedy, selfish, heartless liars. Employing a victims’ champion who only represents certain types of victim, while ignoring others, seems to me to be a very poor way of spending public money. What kind of message is this sending?

Are those who have had their life utterly destroyed by these malignant liars and fraudsters, Baroness, the wrong sort of victims?

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Disclosure Scandal and Wrongful Convictions

Present day miscarriages of justice are in the spotlight. But what about all those of yesteryear?

Alison Saunders’ car crash appearance before Parliament’s Justice Committee earlier this week was excruciating to watch. All her self-justifying bluster of previous media performances was missing. The Director of Public Prosecutions was on the ropes over the disclosure scandal and she knew it. 

DDP Alison Saunders
Both the embattled Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and some police forces, especially the Metropolitan Police, are currently in damage-limitation mode. Ms Saunders recently attempted to maintain the ludicrous fiction that no-one is locked up at Her Majesty’s Pleasure because of disclosure failures. Now we know for certain that this assertion is simply untrue.

The latest CPS report reveals that, during January and February alone, a total of 47 prosecutions for rape and other sexual offences were discontinued following a review of what had been disclosed to the defendants’ legal teams. Of the men affected by this (and all but one of those who had been charged were men), 14 had been held on remand in prison. All of these victims of our so-called ‘justice’ system have now been released, almost certainly to ruined lives, including lost jobs, homes and reputations. 

In fact, hundreds of ‘live’ prosecutions have been abandoned, or charges have been dropped, since the scandal began to attract national publicity back in December, when the case of student Liam Allen imploded after electronic messages from his female accuser were very belatedly handed to Mr. Allen’s barrister. Subsequently, many other collapsed prosecutions, and the heart-breaking stories of those whose lives have been utterly devastated, have also been hitting the headlines. Overwhelmingly, these have involved sexual allegations, although a corruption case also crashed in flames last month, but only after the innocent businessman involved had spent nearly eight months in prison on remand. 

In addition to the cases above, reviews have revealed there are serious disclosure issues in prosecutions which are still to go ahead. Once these issues have been attended to, at least the defendants will have a more level playing field before their trials.

I am still worried. Despite seeing Ms Saunders being given a very public verbal drubbing by MPs, I feel that we are no closer to gaining any clarity regarding the vexed question of all the miscarriages of justice which must have occurred over a number of years due to the withholding of evidence by the police and CPS staff. It is an important aspect of this scandal that the national media is only now realising this could prove to be one of the worst legal outrages for decades. Both the Daily Telegraph and Metro have published features this week raising questions about the prospect of thousands of wrongful convictions over the past few decades.

Yet the alarm bells were already ringing back in July 2017 when HMCPS Inspectorate issued a report on disclosure entitled ‘Making It Fair’. This document warned that it was ‘rare’ for police officers to tell prosecutors about evidence that could undermine the prosecution case or assist the defendant with their defence. The CPS Inspectorate has specifically highlighted the consequences of these legal failures, describing them as ‘a steady stream’ of wrongful convictions.

Despite this bleak assessment, nearly a year on, there seems to be a very marked reluctance on the part of our country’s legal establishment to accept the fact that, when police officers and/or CPS staff withhold evidence, innocent people are likely to be convicted, with many of them – especially in sexual offences cases – sent to prison for long periods, in some cases for decades or even being handed life sentences. 

It seems that withholding vital evidence from the defence has become so commonplace (especially in sexual allegation prosecutions) that it has now become a normalised practice. Juries have been deceived for years and, given such practices, miscarriages of justice are inevitable. How many potentially innocent victims have been wrongly convicted and jailed? No-one seems to know and very few who are in positions of authority appear to be in any hurry to find out.

I believe that when it comes to cases involving sexual accusations, relevant evidence is usually suppressed (including potential witnesses ignored if what they might say is perceived to be helpful to the defendant); any such material is rarely, if ever, handed over to the defence. This is nothing to do with ‘administrative errors’, short-staffing or lack of financial resources. It’s part of a deliberate strategy within the police and the CPS to ensure the conviction of anybody they have decided from the outset is guilty.

It’s time we all started calling a spade a spade: ‘disclosure failures’ is merely a polite euphemism for evidence being illegally withheld or even concealed by police officers and/or CPS prosecutors in order to increase the likelihood of conviction. The time for politeness is over: this is the worst legal scandal in my lifetime. 

When I was put on trial in 2014, due to the blatant lies of a couple of compensation-hunting fraudsters, (blatant to everyone, it seems, apart from to the Suffolk police), why was no correspondence between my two adult accusers (close friends) prior to my arrest disclosed to the defence? They both claimed they had never discussed their ‘independent allegations’ against me, which is akin to asking any reasonably intelligent person to enter a grotesque ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world. 
    
Source: CPS VAWG Report 2016-2017
In October the CPS was boasting in its annual report that 13,490 people had been prosecuted for sexual offences in 2016-2017 (of whom 79.5% were convicted). It also trumpeted its success in achieving ‘huge increases in convictions for rape (48%) and other sexual offences (79%)’ since 2007-2008. My question is: how many of those convictions should now be considered unsafe due to the illegal withholding of evidence? 

We MUST NOT allow the scandal of police and CPS withholding evidence, especially in sexual allegation cases, to be limited to current prosecutions in progress. This unlawful practice has been going on for years and there is likely to be a multitude of victims of miscarriages of justice. Many may still be rotting in our dangerous, filthy prisons; others may have been released but face years, or even a lifetime, on licence or subject to the humiliating sex offender registration, unable even to start rebuilding their shattered lives or reuniting their families.

Given that the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has repeatedly come under fire for being ‘unfit for purpose’, chronically underfunded and far too timid in referring cases back to the Court of Appeal, the prospect of hundreds - or thousands - of fresh dossiers hitting staff desks must be unnerving for civil servants and politicians alike. Who wants to be the Secretary of State for Justice when the music stops in this appalling game of pass-the-parcel (of blame)? Yet justice demands that convictions are reviewed independently, all evidence which is relevant is disclosed and urgent action is taken to refer meritorious appeals back to court. 

Any legal system that is solely designed to serve the purpose of conviction for ideological reasons (i.e. conviction targets set), regardless of evidence, is not a court of justice but rather a kangaroo court. We rightly condemn such pantomimes in other countries, yet we seem to have turned a blind eye to what has been going on for years in our own backyard.

Charlotte & Stefan Kiszko
Let’s recall the scandalous framing of Stefan Kiszko for a sexually-motivated murder in 1975. This case, which involved the police withholding conclusive forensic evidence of his innocence, has been described as ‘the worst miscarriage of justice’ in UK legal history. Now we may have hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of similar cases due to the disclosure scandal. 

It took Mr Kiszko’s elderly mother, Charlotte, 16 years of often lone campaigning to clear her son’s name and get his wrongful conviction quashed. Tragically, both died within months of his release. How many years of struggle will it take to get justice for the wrongly convicted of today?

It seems the CPS is playing a long game over the outrageous disclosure scandal. The powers that be are obviously hoping interest in miscarriages of justice will wane, eventually be forgotten about, before they are compelled to do anything. 

Waiting for justice will be like waiting for Godot - unless we step up popular pressure. Now.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Address to the FACT Conference

Address delivered at the FACT Spring Conference held in Birmingham on 12 May 2018

Photo courtesy of Allan Shipham
The past six months have been an eventful period for those of us who are concerned about false allegations and their impact upon innocent men and women, especially those of who work, or who have worked, in the caring professions. We carers and teachers are the most vulnerable groups in modern Britain, which is still reeling from the 'Savile Effect'. Despite the fact society depends on us, it is nevertheless quick to cast us asunder as soon as one of the myriad opportunists/cranks/liars accuses us of either a recent or historical sex allegation.

Historical allegations are generally favoured by the liars because they are harder to disprove. These reprobates are tempted to tell their lies because they are all too aware it is immensely lucrative and there isn't a chance of them facing any sanctions if they are exposed as lying: all to gain and nothing to lose.

If someone complains that another person has threatened him or her with a knife and the complainant is subsequently proved to be telling lies, he or she will be punished, at the very least with wasting police time. Make a false SEXUAL allegation and the authorities will do nothing: no one will care a fig, or will lack the courage to care a fig.

Despite repeated claims that false allegations of rape and sexual assault are 'very rare', recent - almost daily - reporting of just such crimes in the national, and on social, media is revealing to the world the sheer scale of the crisis within our palpably dysfunctional justice system. All of us here who have been involved for a number of years in FACT's work have been bleating about this crisis for some time and it is a relief to know that, at last, the wider public is getting the message: false allegations are not rare and they destroy innocent people's lives, even when the lies are exposed.

We, as members of FACT, must strike while the iron is hot: it would be a dereliction of duty to sit back and allow these vile opportunists to continue to behave so recklessly, some might say diabolically. We have a duty to speak up for all those suffering - whether they are waiting for a CPS charging decision or waiting for an appearance in court or if they are spending time behind bars.

What have been the recent key events?

Firstly, I mention 'the failure by the police to disclose evidence' scandals. Those of us who have already been through the criminal justice system, or who have a family member who has experience of it, or who represent individuals who have been falsely accused or wrongly convicted, are all to aware of the serious impact of failure to disclose evidence that could assist the defence.

With the collapse of the Liam Allen case late last year, we have been beset with a steady flow of 'abuse in procedure' cases, proving once and for all that the statement uttered last year by our DPP, Alison Saunders, 'I do not believe there are any innocent people in prison' is as infantile as it is alarming.

The CPS Inspectorate's recent report on disclosure found: 'There has been a culture of disclosure failures among police and prosecutors and this has inevitably led to a steady stream of miscarriages of justice'.

Photo courtesy of Allan Shipham
We here at FACT are part of a campaigning organisation and we need to ensure that this serious issue of wrongful convictions arising from withheld or concealed evidence is discussed widely among politicians/legal practitioners and investigative journalists and, as FACT's media spokesperson, I make daily efforts to spread our concerns. FACT's publicity and outreach continue to bring specific cases to the wider public attention.

The role of social media is key to engaging with the public: some of my own tweets concerning the whole tawdry world of false allegations and their impact on innocent people's lives are regularly seen by more than 6,000 readers. I would request that FACT members who use social media re-tweet and circulate FACT's official tweets to as wide an audience as possible. Any ideas for media initiatives, please don't hesitate to contact me.

The on-going case in the Supreme Court about compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted and jailed for years - including Victor Nealon, whose solicitor Mark Newby is a long-standing pillar of FACT - also has the potential to raise public awareness of the awful injustices being perpetrated within the once highly respected British justice system.

Another recent development has been the publication of new books, which highlight the ubiquitousness of false allegations and wrongful convictions. Gurpal Virdi has recently had his book, 'Behind the Blue Line', published by Biteback Publishing, a house owned by LBC presenter Iain Dale. 'Biteback' is leading the way in the publication of these accounts - my own book, 'Presumed Guilty', was published last year and hot off the press this week is Jon Robins' 'Guilty Until Proven Innocent'.

FACT continues to fulfil its role as a support and information hub for those who have faced, or are facing, false allegations. We now have an opportunity to step up pressure on the police and CPS by sharing our stories, working with sympathetic journalists, lobbying politicians, telling the world the devastation that being wrongly accused can have on an individual's life.

Please support FACT in any way you can.

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?