Never let the truth stand in the way of a good conviction

In the light of the national publicity afforded to the acquittal of the T V actor Michael  Turner (Le Vell) I feel that it is time to utilise the recent cases of so called celebrities to highlight the parallels between these recent ‘historic’ cases and those of the residential social workers of the 1980/1990s, and indeed the continuing hounding by the police of men and women in their late years for alleged offences which it is claimed to have taken place decades ago past. The latest being operation Pallial  which is ‘investigating’ claims dated in the 1960s, and those in process in the Midlands (Nottinghamshire – Derbyshire – and Leicestershire) in which a news item on Radio Nottingham on July 13   claimed that thirty-nine people had been arrested.

The Daily Mail on September 11th devoted five full pages, including the front page to the story of Turner’s (Le Vell’s) acquittal, under the heading “WHY WAS HE EVER CHARGED’ . Inside the paper it was reported that “What happened to Michael Turner was an abuse of our judicial system”

“The ‘evidence ‘ itself as it unfolded in the witness box, would have had any sensible head shaking in disbelief”. There was never any physical or forensic evidence or psychiatric report, simply the words of one young girl and her mother, who incidentally could not offer any direct account only support her daughter’s claims. But of course the law has been changed to allow hearsay ‘evidence’  and removed the requirement for corroboration in abuse trials in order to gain convictions – ‘never let the truth stand in the way of a good conviction’ would appear to be the mantra of the current justice system!

There are immediate and telling parallels between the  modern celebrity allegations and trials, and the historic allegations and trials made against residential staff in the past. The major difference being that the celebrities had the wherewithal to fight the allegations effectively and were acquitted whilst the residential staff were convicted and sent to prison for periods of up to fifteen years on no better evidence but poorer advocacy. Once again there was no physical or forensic evidence or psychiatric reports merely the words of  men, often in their forties with long criminal histories.  When the dates  or other details of offences claimed by the ‘victims’ ,did not coincide with the official records they were allowed, indeed encouraged, to alter their statements to accord with the verifiable facts of the circumstances. Similarities can  be identified between the investigations into the Hillsborough Disaster and the ‘Historic residential staff’ and the ‘Celebrity’ investigations, in all these instances, the rules governing police investigations were either fundamentally changed or significantly amended, in order to remove constrictions which might prevent successful prosecutions.

It is claimed in the press reports that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided in 2011 that there was insufficient evidence in the Turner case on which to proceed to trial, this was communicated to both parties in the December of that year.  Despite the police having carried out what  was described as “intense police investigation’ the mother of the complainant made a formal complaint to the Crown Prosecution Service, the daughter meanwhile suddenly remembers other rapes which she had ‘forgotten’ when previously interviewed. When residential staff could not remember incidents after some twenty or thirty years they were told that they were lying in order to cover up their offending. The CPS state that in view of that complaint they decided to review the case and Alison Levitt QC a legal advisor overruled the decision of Nazir Afzal the Chief Crown Prosecutor. Further the alleged victim made more allegations in February 2013 here again the decision appears to have been taken to charge the defendant with child abuse by the same advisor. This begs the question when is it acceptable for an ‘Advisor’ to overrule a Principal in office, and make decision which should properly be the remit of the Crown Prosecution Service?

Whilst not in any way attempting to understate the terrifying impact that such allegations have on an innocent man such as Turner and other more recent cases, they do not compare with the impact that had been experienced by those in the residential work setting. A number of men were sent to prison, despite their protestations, for periods of fifteen years, others in excess of one hundred and fifty men were convicted and served long prison sentences. When released their families were broken, their children not allowed to be with their fathers, they were to sign the sexual offenders register for life and  their prospects of employment made impossible by the insidious reports of the Vetting and Barring system. The incidence of long term ill health amongst those who survive, is extremely high, poor heart problems abound, strokes are a common phenomena, and many have died prematurely.  Most damaging of all is the fact that it appears there is nothing that they can do to change the system. In 2002 the Home Affairs Select Committee examining such matters came to the conclusion that there had been “a new genre of miscarriages of justice”, the report was dismissed by a government minister!

Please let us have a proper and genuine examination of these trials and the processes which led to them, we had the Waterhouse enquiry, but the terms of reference were such that the claims of child abuse was ipso facto correct because claims had been made. There was neither then, nor since, any attempt made to genuine examination  into whether there was in fact any substance behind many of the claims made. However it can be clear that many who made the claims received very large sums in ‘compensation’, some in excess of £100,000! Quite an incentive to the false claimant!!

There is much more that can be stated regarding the infamy of the proceedings which caused innocent men to be convicted of the most  heinous crimes and serve very long prison sentences and to suffer the insidious aftermath of such allegations.

 We are grateful to George Jensen for sending in this article. 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. J. Martin Stafford says:

    Like George Jensen, I too was outraged by the decision to prosecute Michael Turner. On the day after the trial (11 September) I posted the following open letter to Kier Starmer, QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, denouncing the decision. I received only an ‘off the peg’ response from the Manchester office of the CPS, but have since been in correspondence with the Attorney General’s Office and the CPS Inspectorate. This correspondence is on-going. The CPS will entertain complaints only from directly interested parties. This raises the question: to whom should one complain if one believes, as I do, that a senior officer of the CPS acted very wrongly in putting Michael Turner on trial? I intend to persevere until this question and the points raised in my ‘letter of remonstrance’ are satisfactorily answered.

    Now that the trial is over and Mr Turner safely acquitted on all charges, I am writing to say that in my view the decision in mid-February to reopen this case and instigate criminal proceedings brings into question possibly the integrity, and certainly the judgment, of those responsible. For reasons I shall specify below, it is a disgrace to the Crown Prosecution Service and one that calls for the most comprehensive remonstrance:

    §1. I first became aware of Mr Turner’s case in mid-October of 2011, when it was reported that he was under investigation. Around the turn of the year, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the NW Area, Mr Nazir Afzal, decided that there was ‘insufficient evidence to put before a court. As there is no realistic prospect of conviction it is therefore only right that the allegations against Mr Turner are prevented from going any further…’ (Manchester Evening News, 1 Jan 2012). This pronouncement was both public and unequivocal. Moreover, the very fact that so damning an admission had been made by a senior officer of the CPS must surely have blighted the prospects of any subsequent prosecution.

    §2. It was with astonishment and dismay that I learned on the morning of 15 February 2013 that the case had been reopened and that charges were to be brought. It very soon occurred to me that the case had been reviewed in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and that the new decision was prompted by a desire on the part the CPS to show its muscle by ‘throwing to the lions’ people whose names are well known. The new decision was in stark contradiction to that of thirteen months previously and therefore must come perilously close to violating those maxims of evidence which protect the innocent from frivolous or malicious allegations.

    §3. It is clear beyond dispute that from the outset the prosecution’s case was seriously flawed. There was only one complainant, who could have denounced the accused much earlier. Her failure to do so should always have been regarded as highly suspicious: for there has surely never been a time when children and young people were more attuned to the dangers of sexual abuse, or when the means of redress were so readily accessible. Why did she not avail herself of them at a much earlier
    opportunity? Probably because her allegations were nothing but a monstrous concatenation of lies.

    §4. The cultural context of this case also casts grave doubt on the veracity of the allegations.
    Compared to the past, there are now many more delinquent young people who would have no compunction about fabricating stories of this kind. They can do this without hazard to themselves: for when their allegations are positively refuted or found to be unsubstantiated, no sanctions are usually visited upon them – not even the indignity of being exposed and denounced as a liar.

    §5 Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that girls are encouraged to see themselves as sexual objects at a much earlier age than was the case a couple of generations ago. Many young people are party to a sub-culture in which fantasies about sex and violence are freely available – a fact frequently reported and bemoaned in the media. Such an environment constitutes fertile soil for the growth and proliferation of delusional, opportunistic or malicious allegations. On the very day that I first became aware of Mr Turner’s problems (15 October, 2011), BBC Radio 4 News also reported that of accusations of impropriety made by children against teachers almost half are deemed to be malicious, and only about 3% result in cautions or convictions of those accused.

    §6. On 6 March this year, as Director of Public Prosecutions you announced (BBC Radio 4, Today programme) that henceforth the prosecution of cases involving the sexual abuse of children should be less cautious than heretofore. You ingenuously acknowledged that this was a reaction to the Jimmy Savile scandal, thereby confirming my suspicion that the decision to reopen this case and prosecute Michael Robert Turner was made not in the pursuit of justice but as an act of quasi-political posturing. What a feast! His status as a well known actor in a popular television programme must certainly have rendered him attractive as a victim of such opportunism; for his case was sure to be prominently reported.

    §7. The CPS must surely now be embarrassed that the case against him was such a weak one – mere allegations unsupported by any corroborating evidence! I believe that many will feel that the decision to bring it to court was not just cynical but also reckless and inhumane. It is profoundly regrettable that the prestige of so vital an institution as the CPS should be damaged in this way.

    §8. To revert to the matter of §1 and §2, viz. the conflicting decisions of December 2011 to drop this case and of February 2013 to reopen it. Many will think it intolerable that after the publication of the 2011 decision and so long a lapse of time Mr Turner should have been placed once again in jeopardy – a wrong compounded by the considerable delay in bringing him to trial. This case suggests that some of the most senior officers of the CPS have failed to discharge their duties with wisdom and discretion. I therefore submit that we need new legislation specifically to guarantee that so menacing a cloud as on-going jeopardy will hang over no one: once an officer of the CPS has declared that someone will not face charges, then that decision should be final and binding unless there comes to light substantial new evidence. There should at least be some specified time limit to safeguard suspects from being under perpetual jeopardy. [See endnotes.]

    §9. Let us examine further the professed reason on account of which this recent mischief was wrought: viz. your concern that there should be no repetition of the Jimmy Savile scandal. Such a prospect must be very remote. Fortunately, Jimmy Savile, like Dr Harold Shipman, was a very unusual phenomenon: one that in any event is unlikely to crop up frequently and whose recurrence is rendered even more improbable by increased public awareness and by the technological advances which facilitate the collation and exchange of intelligence. I fear that if you persevere in deploying less stringent criteria for bringing cases to trial, you will foster an environment in which the courts are encouraged to convict people of child abuse as readily as they convicted of witchcraft many hapless folk in the 17th century.

    §10. I venture to predict, however, that your policy will rebound on you. In such cases as this, which depend solely on the word of one person against that of another, juries are already reluctant to convict – and rightly so. If they see you prosecuting weak cases with undue zeal, that reluctance will harden to a firm resolve to acquit. A probable consequence of this is that prosecutions that ought to succeed will fail because the process is seen to be discredited. In my view, this is no way to serve the interests of justice or to secure the welfare of society, but is yet another instance of an ill-conceived policy having the opposite effect to what its promoters intend.

    §11. I am not alone in feeling deeply aggrieved. My indignation and resentment at the treatment meted out to Michael Turner is, I believe, shared by many. That such a thing can happen in this country appals me. The way in which this affair has been conducted must redound to the discredit of your office and to the disgrace of those responsible, who enjoy a highly privileged position. This affords almost total protection from the moral and professional hazards that ought to attend miscarriage. (How many times in recent years have we seen those who think themselves secure from criticism and redress emboldened to do wrong?) In my view, the decision to apply retroactively to this case the new policy of less cautious prosecution was gravely reprehensible.

    §12. There is no reason whatsoever to doubt that Mr Afzal’s original decision to drop the case (now fully vindicated by the verdicts) was made with impartial, professional detachment. By contrast, February’s sudden and belated reversal of this decision smacks of victimisation and persecution – the antitheses of justice and fair-dealing. This feature of the case, which to me appears most sinister, affords reason to suspect your readiness to pander to demotic sentiment. If anyone else so behaved, contriving to expose an innocent man to seven months of misery and to the possibility of imprisonment, he or she might well be charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. The privilege enjoyed by your staff prevents me from using that phrase or the bringing of such charges: but whatever words we deploy, the underlying reality is, I suspect, an ugly one and constitutes a serious stain on the probity of the Crown Prosecution Service.

    That I should feel provoked to address you in such terms gives me no pleasure, but I sincerely believe that these things must be said. I shall do my best to ensure that the text of this letter is widely circulated and that the important issues it raises are fully discussed. I shall also require you, in due course, to disclose the expense which the CPS has incurred by bringing this case to trial and in reimbursing the costs of Mr Turner’s defence.

    I am, Sir,
    Yours faithfully,
    J. Martin Stafford

    Note 1 to §8. On 5 June 2013 there came into force new rules whereby victims of crimes can appeal against CPS decisions not to charge suspects. You appeared on the Radio 4 Today programme to discuss this change in practice. You said that any revised decision made in response to such an appeal should be made ‘swiftly’ and ‘within weeks’. By contrast, the time lapse between the decision not to charge Michael Turner at the end of 2011 and the reversal of this in mid-February 2013 was 58 weeks. Sir, you cannot deny that the treatment Mr Turner received fell woefully short of the standard that you yourself have now prescribed. For the revised decision to prosecute him was neither swift nor conformable to any normal acceptation of the term ‘within weeks’.

    Note 2 to §8. I submit also that legislation is needed to prohibit, on pain of imprisonment, the buying or selling of stories related to allegations of sexual abuse. In cases such as this, the prospect of pecuniary gain is, I believe, a strong incentive to make false allegations and an inducement to commit perjury. No ‘victim’ (whether self-proclaimed or proven) should be allowed to sell his or her story, and no newspaper should be allowed to buy it.

    Biographical Note.
    Martin Stafford was born in Hyde in 1948 and educated at Stockport Grammar School and the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield. He has never had a career – only work. Since the mid-1970s he has contributed more than a dozen articles to learned journals, mainly on the history of ethics (Bernard Mandeville, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Herbert Spencer, Edward Westermarck) and philosophical aspects of human sexuality. He prepared an annotated collection of the documents which constitute the Mandeville controversy of the 1720s [Private Vices, Publick Benefits? – the Contemporary Reception of Bernard Mandeville (Ismeron, 1997)]. In 2002 he was invited to serve on the Advisory Board of an encyclopaedia [Sex from Plato to Paglia, 2 vols. edited by Alan Soble (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2006)] to which he contributed five entries.

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