There is no surer way to forget your own troubles than to listen to those of others.
On Saturday, I sat and listened to the stories pour out of individuals who have suffered from the hideous process sometimes lightly dismissed as âbeing the subject of a false allegation of sexual misconductâ.
Believe it or not, there are those in our society who consider it a travesty that these people should even be allowed to congregate in public along with academics studying the way the legal system works to try to ensure fairness and justice for all.
We were advised that extra security had been laid on by the university, warned that activists were planning to disrupt the conference.Â Activists who insist that anything less than âtotal beliefâ for each and every allegation of sexual misconduct – even where a trial has taken place and the defendant found not guilty – is adhered to, then âchildren will sufferâ.Â
So, to be clear, I am not talking about a meeting of paedophiles or their supporters – I am talking about a meeting of men and women who have always been totally innocent, have been found to be totally innocent by a jury of their peers, and remain totally innocent, of carrying out sexual abuse – but still there are those in society who feel that they do not have the right to free speech!
Estimates of false allegations range from 2 – 10%. For the sake of fairness, I shall work on a figure of 5%.
There is a problem even with that low estimate, for it is little known that to be charged with âwasting police timeâ – a more common, and considerably more lenient charge than âperverting the course of justiceâ – the false allegatorÂ must be chargedÂ within six months of the original accusation, not six months from when the accusation was found to be false. Unlikely to happen when it is common for 12 – 18 months to elapse between original accusation and a charging decision regarding the defendant!
There is a further problem in that the accuser remains anonymous, so the possibility of âcorroboration by volumeâ which has seen to so many public figures charged with historic abuse after much publicity, cannot be applied to tip the balance into âlikelihood of successful prosecutionâ that determines whether the CPS will take action against a false allegator. The case must stand or fall on whether other evidence had been fabricated or created to support the false allegation and/or whether the complaint was malicious – even whether it is âin the public interestâ to so prosecute, particularly when so many of the allegatorsÂ have been found to be mentally ill.
Quite amazing that my fairness based â5%â of false allegations ever manage to surmount these obstacles.
That 5% means that of the 1433 individuals currently being hosed down by Operation Hydrant, the latest historic abuse multi-disciplinary inquiry, we can confidently state that at least 71 of those individuals will suffer the indignities, stress, and financial penalties that were so eloquently described on Saturday.
I made a list of their main points of contention; lets go through them one by one. Starting with their first point of contact with our justice system.
The dawn raid. It is perfectly reasonable, when you are faced with a dangerous and possibly armed gangster, that a) you strike when they are half awake at 5am, b) you go in mob handed, ready to deal with a steroid infused bank robber who has already proved himself capable of dealing a lethal blow to some unfortunate security guard. It is not reasonable when you are dealing with a 72 year old man who is accused of having ogled a schoolboy in a shower 40 years ago. Yet they still do just that – part of the theatre of policing.
The house search. It is perfectly reasonable, when you are conducting a major investigation, to search the house with a tooth comb. Removing computers and incriminating material is understandable. Removing, as I heard in one case involving a man accused of raping a 17 year old – 35 years ago – the teddy bear belonging to his 50 year old female tenant, in case it showed evidence of âgrooming a childâ is not. Neither is so efficiently removing every scrap of paper in the house, that you are left with no contact telephone numbers. Diaries, letters from past lovers, even Christmas cards vanish, not to be seen again for many months. It leaves people feeling they have been personally violated. Total strangers are going to trawl through every last detail of their life – not merely (in the case of teaching staff) from their career, where they might have offended – but the poetry they have written in retirement and never shown anyone, the recriminatory letters to their family intended to be opened after death. Take a look around your own home; tell me you donât own some greying underwear, or have carefully secreted that letter from an old flame 56 years ago, or quietly nipped into Boots to buy a tube of something helpful without telling the world that you suffered from an itchy bum.Â We all have secrets we would prefer to keep to ourselves – but you have no secrets when you are the subject of a full scale house search. You have become public property. Your partner, your children, the neighbours, all are witnessing this public spectacle – part of the theatre of policing.
Finally you are taken away in aÂ police car. Exactly the same way that drug dealers are removed from our streets, murderers transported to jail, fraudsters removed from polite society. Of course the neighbours will be watching again, and speculating. Your partner and children will just have to deal with the speculation as best they can.
After several hours in a vomit stained police cell, bereft of your shoes and belt, with a Styrofoam cup of tea if you are lucky, you may find that those policemen that were so keen to start work at 5am have finally worked up the enthusiasm to interview you. You may even have the company of a recently qualified young whippersnapper of a duty solicitor to advise you to reply âno commentâ to any questions until you understand fully what you are suspected of.
Now, cast your mind back 33 years, between 31st January 1982 and December 31st 1985, (we have what are called ârepresentative chargesâ these days, so no use thinking that someone is accusing you of molesting them on April 21st 1984 when you know damn well you were on a cruise to celebrate your tenth wedding anniversary) you are being asked whether you ever had physical contact with a boy called Joe at any time over a three year period! Well – did you? How many boys called Joe have you taught in your time? You worked at three different schools over that three year period; how many âJoeâsâ in each?
Nobody is telling you exactly what the allegations are at this stage, so whilst you may know perfectly well that you have never in your life had sexual relations with any male, child or not – is that what they are talking about? Inappropriate behaviour – what the Hell does that mean?
Eventually, after many months of stressful interviews, you may still find yourself charged. If you do, you will be placed in the dock, surrounded by bullet proof glass like a caged animal. Fair enough, it is designed to stop the proverbial steroid crazed gangster from leaping over the barrier and grabbing the judge by the throat – but it is still there for our 72 year old teacher; giving the impression that he is a dangerous animal before the case even starts.
Other impressions are being foisted onto the jury too, before a word is spoken. For the âallegatorâ referred to as âvictimâ in line with national policy, (thankfully the courts havenât progressed to âsurvivorâ yet!) although now a 48 year old Karate trainer, or maybe a burly matron with a fake tan and a fish wives mouth – has taken advantage of the facility granted to six year old children bravely giving evidence against their father of child abuse – and is protected by a screen; âso frightenedâ of you all these years later. No longer police theatre – now itâs court room theatre.
One unfortunate man got to this point in the proceedings, accused of molesting boys (plural) in the showers after he taken them for PE lessons – before the jury took note of the fact that he was their maths teacher, and had never set foot in the showers, nor taken them for PE.
The jury cleared him in record time, as they did another fellow who was accused by a boy – and was able to prove that when he was at the school, the boy was 22 and had long since left. They had never met each other! Others have committed suicide, unable to take the stress. Needless to say, they go down in history as âguilty menâ. We will never know.
You might imagine that these anomalies would be sorted out before a court case – but âit ainât necessarily soâ. The victim’s – or survivors, as they prefer – âmust be believedâ. They must, in the words of Chief Inspector Bailey, in charge of Operation Hydrant, be given more funds for âsupportâ.
âThe government has allocated millions of pounds to provide additional support, but I am not sure that is going to be enough. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of victims,â
In fact, Chief Inspector Bailey estimates that:
âThis year I am anticipating an estimated 116,000 reports of child sexual abuse will be received, that is a 71% increase since 2012, so it gives you some idea of the scale of this. 52,446 are allegations of sexual abuse in the past, some involving cases going back decades.
So by my 5% of âfalse allegationsâ – 2,620 totally innocent individuals will go through this process, and for them, there will be no support beyond the FACT organisation.
They will fund their own defence, they will use up their pensions paying solicitors privately. The cost of this will not be refunded when they are found to be innocent.
They will deal with the fall out within their own family, the stress that can take marriages to breaking point, or alcohol consumption to lethal levels. Their children will be bullied at schools. Neighbours will look askance at them, for surely there is no smoke without fire?
Their lives will be ruined, wrecked. They will lose all faith in the police and the criminal justice system.
One day, they will be handed back a polythene bag with their diaries, and mobile phones, the love letter they kept from 56 years ago, and the poetry they wrote.
They were the lucky ones.
Others will find that juries have been so comprehensively groomed by the media that they believe a victimâs evidence is infallible – and they will have convicted them; sentenced to spend 10, 20 years in prison.
Should they try to appeal, they will find that an appeal will not be allowed âunless they have fresh evidenceâ – fresh evidence in cases that never had any evidence beyond âshe saidâ? Or âhe saidâ?
Should they gather on a damp and dark May day in blustery Cardiff to support each other, to tell their tales of woe, to inquire of academics âwhat can be done to lessen the chances of this continuing to happenâ? – they will find that they require enhanced security in the university to allow them to do so.
Because giving all âvictims a voiceâ will never do, will it? Free speech is for the army of middle aged malcontents, nightly appearing on Sky news with fantastical tales – not for these victims.
You can support the FACT organisation by BACS payment to: Santander Account 98614484 Sort Code 090154.Â Or PAFAA, the organisation for those who have been falsely accused by a family member.
They may be all the support you will find, should it be your turn to be falsely accused one day.