Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Not Fit For Purpose

The scandals surrounding failures of police/CPS disclosure and the consequent collapse of trials – mostly, but not exclusively, to do with allegations of rape or sexual assault – just keep coming. Almost every day brings a fresh revelation concerning the withholding by police or prosecutors of vital information which might have assisted the defence.

We are being asked to believe that these appalling failures within our justice system can be attributed to human error, to tight budgets or to staff shortages. Personally, I don’t believe a word of this self-serving flannel. Key evidence is being withheld from defence teams, judges and members of juries – and even, on occasions, from barristers representing the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), because convictions at all costs, especially when defendants have been charged with sexual offences, suit the current ideological dogmas prevalent within both police forces and the CPS.

Even a cursory glance through the latest official CPS report on ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ (note that there is no mention of violence against men or boys in that title!), issued on 10 October 2017, reveals just how target-driven our justice system has become in recent years (basic common sense tells us pre-set targets and justice are mutually incompatible). In fact, the CPS report celebrates rising prosecution and conviction statistics. For example, it highlights that successful prosecutions of sexual offences (including rape and child abuse) have increased by 14 percent since 2015-2016. Needless to note, there is absolutely no reference to wrongful convictions or to people currently spending time at Her Majesty's Pleasure while maintaining innocence.

The CPS report also boasts how prosecutions for alleged sexual offences against children (including historical cases) have increased by 82 percent in a decade, while convictions are at an all time high of 89 percent. What we don’t know, of course, is how many of the contested trials took place against a background of withheld evidence which might have supported the defendants’ version of events. Many accused people – especially when the alleged incidents date back decades – are quite literally fighting these cases with both hands tied behind their backs.

Of course, target-driven justice was always fated to produce miscarriages of justice. Ideological dogma (and no doubt hopes of promotion) places pressure on police officers to ‘cut corners’ and to abandon traditional even-handed policing methods of following up inquiries wherever they may lead, even if evidence emerges that undermines the accuser’s account of events.

In my own case, elementary detective work could have saved me two years of hell on earth. It was established within ten minutes of my first interview that, contrary to what was being alleged, I had never taught PE or junior school games during the early 1980s. It would not have needed Detective Columbo, even at that early stage of the so-called 'investigation', to expose the lies being told by my false accuser, who was doubtless hoping for a compensation payout and another spot in the limelight. But the police officers, from the very beginning, obviously made a decision not to make any inquiries with former colleagues or ex-pupils which might undermine their quest to have me convicted. Instead, they pushed on with a prosecution which ended my teaching career and cost me my home, even though I was eventually acquitted by a unanimous jury in a matter of minutes. Ultimately, there was little, if anything, to discuss! Meanwhile, the liar and his supportive friend, who both attempted to frame me, have walked away with no negative consequences and their anonymity intact.

Since my own 672 day ordeal finished in 2014, I have become aware of other similar cases where the lies of fraudsters and fantasists have gone unchallenged and not investigated by the police. There are people whom I believe to be innocent who have been convicted and imprisoned, in some cases for years, and had their lives destroyed at the altar of the cruel dogma of set targets. Responsibility for these appalling miscarriages of justice must be shared by the police and CPS because their basic procedures and practices have become fundamentally flawed and unbalanced due to fatuous nonsense such as the mantra ‘you will be believed’, regardless of how ludicrous or obviously bogus such allegations may be.

The very fact that the CPS has now been forced by negative media coverage and rising public concern to review all pending rape and sexual assault prosecutions is evidence that something is very rotten within the culture of the police and the CPS. It remains to be seen how many of these cases where defendants may have already had their lives wrecked, their jobs and/or homes lost, their safety constantly threatened, their family life ruined, will eventually be abandoned. All this trauma is being suffered because of a failure on the part of police and prosecutors to follow the law by disclosing evidence which might have assisted an innocent person's defence.

However welcome a genuine review of current prosecutions may be, it is far from being sufficient. The perverse practices now being exposed – such as failing to disclose vital evidence or refusing to interview potential witnesses because their evidence might assist the defence – must end now. (I can't believe that in any fair, just society I am forced to write this statement).

All target-based approaches to prosecutions must also be ended because constant demands by the CPS (and its cheerleaders in the media and in radical pressure groups) have simply encouraged police and prosecutors to abandon the basic rules of our justice system in order to pursue convictions at any cost. The presumption of innocence, as well as robust, impartial detective work by police officers, needs to be returned to the heart of our criminal justice system.

DPP Alison Saunders
Moreover, ALL contested cases, where those convicted are maintaining their innocence, must be urgently reviewed and case files examined by independent barristers and caseworkers, who do not answer to the police nor the CPS. The ridiculous assertion by Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders that no innocent people are in prison due to disclosure failures is both shockingly complacent and certain to be wrong. How can someone in such a senior position be allowed to make such a preposterous statement with impunity?

It is vital to acknowledge that misconduct by police and prosecutors that could, and does, lead to miscarriages of justice hasn’t just started in the past few weeks… it has been embedded in our unbalanced justice system for years, exacerbated, of course, by 'the Savile effect'. It’s only now that the general public is becoming aware of the sheer wickedness which has been going on behind closed doors for far too long. Justice demands a root and branch reform of both police practices and the misguided, ideologically motivated policies of the CPS, which have led directly to the present crisis.


  1. It has always been obvious that police and prosecutors could do a much better job if they really wanted to. Its not just that the police invoke the mantra of 'believe the victims' its often that the police actually want to believe them and have no desire to be critical or doubtful. Things can be difficult indeed when it is the police, prosecutors and judges who are not just members of the lynch mob but the leaders of it.

  2. I loathed jimmy savile but he was never convicted of anything. Many of the stories were shown to be false and his legacy to charities mostly went to lawyers. It's high time there was a statute of limitations, it is not possible to prove historical accusations.