Superb acting, though one would expect nothing less from Julie Walters and Robbie Coltrane; an impeccable script from Jack Thorne, if there is such a thing as thespian justice he should end up with a shelf full of BAFTA awards; every last detail showed the time and effort put into it.
Throughout the four part series carefully crafted breadcrumbs of possible information were laid in our path – even then they were hidden in ‘flashbacks’ from people who might or might not have been remembering events correctly. You could never be sure.
Did the daughter really remember her Father paying off the babysitter’s taxi? If he did, what did it mean? That it was true, he did rape her in the empty house – or did it mean that he had succumbed to her vampish invitation to have a drink after his long day filming? Did they just have a drink and discuss her forthcoming school exams, or was it proof positive that he had sexually overwhelmed her. We weren’t told.
In not telling us, those nuggets of information – ‘he had paid off the taxi’ – became like land mines, inviting us to step unwittingly on that one fact and be blown skywards, across the murky swamp of moral panic, onto the rocky shores of speculation and assumption, opinion based on our own prejudices, posing as factual proof.
That of course is the task faced by every jury in a historical sex abuse case. We were invited to become that jury. Superbly, realistically so.
The end result perfectly illustrated the conundrum faced by every such prosecution. A jury are not empanelled to decide whether or not they ‘believe’ the alleged victim’s tale, they are there to decide whether or not the prosecution have proved beyond reasonable doubt that the known facts – ‘he paid off the taxi’ are proof that a rape took place. Which of course it can’t be. It can only suggest that the physical circumstances are such that it would have been physically possible for a rape to have taken place.
Jack Thorne expertly stroked the permanently priapic Twittoris of the feminist social justice warriors. Those hardy keyboard warriors were groomed to perfection; every last canard from the sexual abuse memes were there – the daughter suffered mental health issues, as do so many who have been sexually abused; the other alleged victims were hesitant, unsure of dates, explanatory of why they hadn’t come forward before the police trawl, damaged, unsettled, everything we have been told to expect of a sexual abuse victim. Yet were they?
Julie Walters, as the wife, was alternately supportive and doubting, as befitted a woman who had chosen to live for years with a serially unfaithful husband. She was troubled throughout that an incident where Coltrane’s comedic partner had called for him in his trailer and disturbed him in flagrante delicto, might well be proof positive that at least one of the girls was telling the truth despite the evidence that she was a committed fan who had made subsequent attempts to remain in contact with him.
As with ‘paying off the taxi’, we were given the opportunity to construe via flashback that he had had sex with someone in his trailer that night, that he had met the girl and asked to kiss her, that she had told him she had a boyfriend and ‘wasn’t like that’ – and is that evidence ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the sex overheard by Coltrane’s partner was rape, or even the same girl, or even the sound of sexual activity? Not in legal terms, but yet again we were invited to bring our own prejudices to this banquet.
The merciless objectivity of the defence team, who can find their own dark humour in these cases to sustain them, was exposed to view. The humiliation of the alleged victims under cross examination – and the utterly devastating humiliation that the totally innocent bystanders, the wife and daughter, were subjected to as barrister struggled to illustrate various points was painstakingly illustrated.
Eventually a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict was recorded by the jury – correctly so on legal grounds in my opinion. None of the crumbs of evidence that we had been shown added up to proof that he had ever had sex with anyone other than his wife and prostitutes. That is not to say that he hadn’t – nor that the witnesses were lying, just that the cold hard facts presented to the jury, even amplified by the ‘flashbacks’ we had been privy to, did not amount to evidence of paedophilia or rape.
Twitter exploded before the credits had even rolled, and one of the first out of the trap was little Ben Dowell, who has made the dizzying leap downwards from the lofty heights of showbusiness editor on the Sunday Times to ‘freelance occasional contributor’ to that nest of Meirion Jones supporters lurking in the bowels of the cuddly old Radio Times. Gosh! Last time I set eyes on little Ben he was spark out in the rosy dawn, upside down in a Clun hedge, having apparently walked nose first into a localised talcum powder storm…
In the style of the great master, Nick Pisa’s, school of preemptive copy filing, Little Ben had 700 words ready and waiting as the credits rolled.
National Treasure has revealed the truth about Paul Finchley.
Robbie Coltrane’s character Paul was a rapist and paedophile, but he was acquitted of all charges by the court in a stunning climax to Channel 4’s National Treasure.
Yes, Ben had just crashed headfirst into that murky swamp inhabited by the true believer. Never mind the evidence, forget the jury’s responsibilities, ‘she said/he did’, therefore ‘he was a rapist and paedophile….’.
And there was also nothing alleged about his attack on Rebecca.
It clearly was rape, and not only that, Finchley’s comedy partner Karl knew it. He came upon his friend in his trailer while he was committing the offence, his victim’s cries and struggles obvious to anyone with a set of ears, and did not intervene.
Play that episode back as many times as you wish, and you will not hear any woman’s voice, nor ‘sounds of a struggle’ – unless you count the grunts and groans of either a far too heavy man engaged in physical exercise, which could indeed be sexual intercourse – or pulling on a far too tight set of trousers.
As for her husband, well, the fact that the woman he loves now knows him to be a lying rapist seems to be his principal – and only – punishment. At the end all he could do was vainly howl her name, over and over….
There, encapsulated, lies the problem with historic sexual abuse gracing – or disgracing – our courts. Half the population expect it to be a vindication of a woman’s ability to tell the truth. It destroys families and alleged victims alike in its flailing attempts to be all things to all men and women. We could but sympathise with the obsessed fan, the ‘golddigger’ who had sold her story, or the teenage vamp. They may have been telling the truth, they may not, but the court is not a lie detector. It is quite incredible how many people imagine that the possibility something occurred equals proof that it did.
The judicial system is a cold machine which operates on facts. The only thing it can do, with the aid of an ungroomed jury, is to decide whether the prosecution has put forward irrefutable evidence that an event occurred at the hands of the man in the dock – not emotive supposition that it was ‘possible’ for it to have occurred.
Bravely, the jury in this series was shown as having concluded that they hadn’t.
Brilliantly acted by all the cast..gutted he did get off when he was guilty. #NationalTreasure
— gaynor duncan (@gaynorduncan) October 12, 2016
Repeat umteen thousand times on Twitter….