Cautious steps from the Home Secretary, Theresa May. She has ‘asked’ the College of Policing to ‘consider’ implementing a time limit on the length of time a suspect is allowed to be held on police bail in England and Wales.
One hopes she is actually referring to the total ‘spread’ of time during which the ’24 hour rule’ contained within PACE can be activated.
The ’24 hours rule’ was sold to us as a protection for suspects – they couldn’t be held at the police station for longer than 24 hours – but it has been turned into an instrument of control; there is nothing in the PACE regulations which stipulates how long ‘police bail’ can last, nor how many interviews the 24 hour PACE clock can contain. It could be 24 visits to the police station for one hour interviews, or indeed 48 visits for half hour interviews.
Now Paul Gambaccini has joined the long list of Yewtree suspects who have endured a year and more of innuendo, speculation, in some cases estrangement from their children, intense pressure on their families and marriages, an inability to earn a living in their previous career – and forced to sell houses and investments in order to fund their defence. The best they can hope for at the end of all that – as innocent men and women – is a mealy mouthed announcement from the Crown Prosecution Service that:
‘there is insufficient evidence to prosecute in relation to allegations of sexual offences made by two males believed to be aged between 14 and 15 at the time of the alleged offending.’
Even when they can’t build a fire – they like to puff a little smoke in your direction as a parting shot.
The judicial system has long been weighted against the innocent. In prison, those who appeal against their conviction because they are innocent – shall we take the unfortunate Sally Clark as an example, to take this out of the realms of ‘all men are guilty’ and the ‘jury has spoken therefore they are guilty’ – find that they are further penalised, above and beyond those who are genuinely guilty and accept that they are.
The prison service’s Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system, initiated last November, means that maintaining your innocence can result in effective solitary confinement for up to 23 hours day, seven days a week – in addition to no personal clothing; no rented TV; hardly any possessions; virtually no access to money to buy telephone credit or stamps; limited opportunities to exercise, to phone family or even take a shower.
Sally Clark endured 3 years of this before she was able to prove her innocence – at which point she was booted out the door with usually an hour’s notice. No aftercare, no probation officer, no support system in place for those who have had the temerity to prove their innocence. Victor Nealon spent 17 years proving his innocence – he left prison with just £46 in his pocket and a lifetime of relationships and friendships irretrievably broken. Protesting his innocence of a rape charge – which DNA finally showed he was innocent of – had meant he had never been eligible for parole.
Dave Lee Travis has reportedly been left a broken man financially after his ordeal, Freddie Starr was undoubtedly physically broken. It will come as no surprise to learn that the biggest offenders of these long term ‘police bail with no charges’ incidents, are the Metropolitan Police, who run Operation Yewtree.
Obviously all allegations of sexual abuse need to be carefully investigated; equally obviously it is a slow and painstaking operation. Obviously, there needs to be a system of rewards for prisoners who address their crimes honestly and work at their rehabilitation.
Those two factors don’t need to result in such severe penalties for those who are innocent. The problem for the first group of ‘innocents’, those who have never even been charged, is that because they have not been charged, newspapers are free to speculate – and invite comments – on the nature of the ‘possible’ charges, choosing their words cleverly to ensure the worst possible connotation is taken from their articles.
It is argued that publication of investigation into an individual allows other ‘victims’ to come forward. So, why not publication – as in the form of the ‘court circular‘ which seems perfectly capable of allowing those interested in the movements of the Royal family to know their whereabouts and get themselves to the same place if they are interested – that would be a world away from the free-for-all ‘click bait’ which the newspapers currently indulge in.
It is a premature, and in many cases, totally unfair, form of punishment of innocent individuals.
Those who are charged, and have to spend hundreds of thousands on their defence, most certainly should be repaid their defence costs – it is completely unfair that a person’s life savings can be wiped out by one allegation without foundation.
Those who manage to prove their innocence from prison, should have a system of support – they are more, not less, deserving of support than those who are guilty of crimes. Nor should rewarding prisoners for good behaviour have to penalise those who are innocent.
The current ‘habit’ of the CPS of blowing a little smoke into the rumours surrounding those who have been released without charge, should be stopped immediately – it is quite unnecessary, and is merely PR on the part of an embattled CPS.
None of this in any way prevents the investigation of what may be horrendous crimes, nor should it. There is a lot that Theresa May could do to ensure a justice system that contains some justice for the innocent – she, and the government can move extremely fast when they are minded to.
‘Asking’ the College of Policing to ‘consider’ implementing a time limit on the length of time a suspect is allowed to be held on police bail doesn’t even scratch the surface of all that is wrong at the moment.