The polygraph (or lie-detector) machine has been around since the early 1920s and was invented by an American police officer, John Larson. The instrument measures a person's blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates as he or she answers a series of questions. The technology is widely used across the world by law enforcement agencies, as well as intelligence services (primarily on their own agents) in the hunt for spies and moles.
Unfortunately, there have been numerous cases over the decades of people beating the technology. Psychopaths and sociopaths, for example, who usually have much lower anxiety levels than the average person, seem more able to defeat the machine. Hence, here in the UK, quite rightly, we do not rely on any polygraph data in our courts of law. Such results are deemed inadmissible as evidence.
This stated, I do think there is a role these machines can play in the pursuit of justice outside the courtroom. I refer particularly to claims of 'historical’ sex abuse and in the police’s initial decision whether or not to pursue a complainant’s allegations with a full-scale investigation.
Since 2012, UK police forces have been pretty much swamped by adults coming forward to claim that they were abused as children. Many of the allegations go back over thirty years or even longer. A few accusations have even dated back to the 1950s. The very nature of these claims means that there cannot be a shred of actual evidence of whether or not the complainant is telling the truth.
Nothing but a full and frank confession by the accuser that he or she has been telling a pack of lies from the start will stop the investigating officers from doing all in their immense power to have the accused person found guilty in a court of law. The result is a plethora of innocent people are having their reputations ruined, their lives effectively destroyed, just because these agents of the state know they have the full backing of the overwhelming majority in our society and seemingly unlimited resources at their disposal.
Both personally, as well as through my current research into false allegations, I have come to know of so many innocent people who have committed suicide soon after they have been arrested and have had their name plastered all over the local, in some cases national, press. Politicians have little, if any, interest in any of this, of course, because speaking up for innocent people accused of historical abuse will not curry favour with the electorate and the vast majority of MPs care only about popularity and securing as many votes as possible in the next election. Ensuring the repair of pot holes in the local roads is a far more rewarding cause, given the constant pursuit of popularity by the average parliamentarian.
For many in society, it has been the case until recently (as more and more cases come to light about vital evidence being concealed by the CPS and the police, the general public are beginning to become rather more sceptical) that if a person has been accused of child abuse, he or she deserves everything that he or she gets. With innocent people's reputations destroyed, there are even some innocent targets who end up spending time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
Our prisons are stuffed full of people serving time without a shred of actual evidence having been presented at trial beyond the word of the accuser and, if police trawling has been effective, others who have either been in cahoots all along with the original complainant or who have read about the accused person's arrest and, prompted by the thought of a hefty pay-out in the event of a guilty verdict, throw their proverbial hat into the ring. After all, what have they got to lose?
Of course, a positive indication that an accused person is lying about their innocence might also persuade them to enter an early guilty plea, so my proposal isn't just one-sided. Genuine victims of sexual abuse might be spared long drawn out police investigations, as well as having to give evidence, if a polygraph test supports an abuser's guilt and encourages them to admit their crimes.
Above all, this guessing game which can destroy those who are not guilty of any crime – or even kill – must stop. Are we prepared to allow the destruction of innocent people’s reputations and careers when it could be avoided by the use, very early in an historical sex investigation, of one of Mr. Larson’s instruments? I would gladly have volunteered to take such a test in late 2012, as it might have saved me 672 days of torment on bail, not to mention my successful teaching career – which was ended despite a unanimous jury acquitting me in a matter of minutes. I daresay my false accuser, in the same circumstances, would have thought twice about spewing forth his totally groundless, filthy lies told in pursuit of hoped-for compensation.