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.

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