Innocent till proven guilty

With the slew of allegations launched in the media over the past few months, we must always remember this key principle of a just society – every individual is innocent until proven guilty.

Whilst I have the utmost sympathy for genuine victims of horrific crimes, we cannot ignore the fact that there are proven examples of false accusations, which also destroy the lives and careers of those targeted.  For example, consider the “torturous” experience of Simon Warr, subjected to “672 days on bail, in the glare of maximum publicity, during which time I suffered disgusting insults in the street and from the internet mob… my name and photograph were repeatedly published in the press and on the internet. After a nigh on two year nightmare, my accuser’s allegations were dismissed by a jury within a half an hour.”  He mentions the case of a fellow-teacher in a similar situation who, under the extreme pressure, committed suicide, as did Welsh Labour MSP, Carl Sargeant.

In the UK, we have seen the reputations of Sir Cliff Richards, Sir Ted Heath and many others dragged through the mud.  Lurid stories of a Westminster paedophile ring, stemming from one individual that never received any corroboration, were circulated with full page spreads by news outlets that said very little when the testimonies were disproven.

Even the Church of England has been targeted with serious questions raised about the case of Bishop George Bell who was posthumously ‘blackened” by an alleged victim – pocketed £16,800 “without sufficient investigation”.

So, given all the evidence of how much damage false accusations can inflict and the ease with which these claims can be concocted, why is there not more caution and less of a rush to judgement?  One case in point is the backlash against Lena Dunham, after a co-worker that she knew very well was accused: “Our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year … We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue.”

She was effectively bullied by internet vigilantes to retract this statement by those who highlighted Dunham’s previous tweet – “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape.”  This is clearly ridiculous.  How on earth can you make such a sweeping statement for all women on such a sensitive subject?

There seems to be a confusion between “believing” someone, and respecting their right to complain but then investigating carefully an allegation to discover the truth.  Again, we must highlight as misguided the likes of Hillary Clinton when she demands that all women be “heard and believed”.

Please don’t rush to judgement.  Give the accused a fair chance to defend themselves, just as we must afford victims the opportunity to seek justice.  Remember the context – are the complainants motivated by money, politics or ideology?  Above all ask… where is the evidence?

PS – on the day this was published, yet another shocking case emerged of a woman’s lies resulting in an innocent man having his life “flipped upside down.”  Student Liam Allan, speaking after his rape trial collapsed following the detectives’ failure to disclose vital evidence to the defence, said he felt “betrayed” by police and the CPS whose presumption of guilt inflicted “mental torture”.  The evidence in question was a disk of 40,000 text messages, many of which revealed the alleged “victim” pestered Liam for “casual sex”.  The Jezebel in question told her friends that she enjoyed sex with him and even spoke about her fantasies of having violent sex and being raped by him.  If this was finally uncovered, after the accused spent two years on bail, he faced 12 years in prison and on the sex offenders’ register for life with little chance of appeal.  Note how we do not even know her name and there has been nothing said about prosecuting her for wasting police time and attempting to pervert the course of justice…

In Googling that story, I also came across this report on Jemma Beale who invented four separate incidents of sexual assault, one of which led to a man being wrongfully convicted.  Thankfully, she has now received a 10-year prison sentence but are these cases just the tip of a treacherous iceberg?  Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has made a high profile push to bring more sex attack cases to court and asked her lawyers to trawl through a man’s relationship history to boost conviction.  Surely, the same rigour must be applied to scrutinising the complainant’s background?  We desperately need a fair, impartial, bias-free policing and criminal justice system.

 

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