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15 February 2014

I can’t help wondering where English justice has gone of late. The newspapers and TV a week or so ago were all agog to report that yet another Coronation Street star has been cleared of sexual assault allegations. William Roache walked free of Preston Crown Court with (yet again) the prosecuter wailing that ‘the case had been treated like any other.’ Oh please! Once again the jury went out long enough to get settled, elect a foreperson, (probably discuss recent episodes of the soap) each talk maybe 15-20 minutes, have a smoke, a cuppa, run a ballot, and return to announce ‘not guilty’ on all charges. Roache was the third Coronation Street star to have been charged with this sort of thing and the third to have been acquitted with the jury talking little time to decide because the case and the complainants had no believability.

Yes, I do believe that historic charges can be viable, and I certainly do believe that they can have occurred. I worked in Rape Crisis for several years in the 1980s. What I do not believe in, is the lack of commonsense in bringing charges where a) there is nothing beyond the complainant’s word, and b) where these events happened 30-70 years ago and memories, the complainant’s and everyone else’s have faded. In fact that was what struck me about the William Roache case. One complainant said that she had told someone at the time, an aunt who had since died. But I know girls, (I was one) and if you’ve been raped who do you tell? Not usually an aunt, who you do tell is your best friend/s. Right then and there, you weep on her/their shoulders. And these women were all in their fifties so best friends should still be alive and compos mentis. The court should have been able to find at least one best friend who could testify that she’d been told about a rape (and by whom) at the time. Not remember it? Oh yes, she would have. Roache was a big star even then. But – no best friends were called. And that alone made me suspect the stories.

Incest is another matter. many victims of that don’t speak for decades, often for fear of what it will do to their family – or because of very believable threats by one who has constant access to them. But what might be termed stranger-rape? About that you tell your best friend, you receive comfort. If you are almost 16, you are also old enough for her to possibly persuade you to tell your parents and to go to the police. Even if that persuading is ineffective or doesn’t occur, you’ve still told her. Even less believable, you have in this case one complainant who said that yes, she was complaining she’d been assaulted by Roache and then admitted she couldn’t actually remember the event and it may not have happened, (that complaint was dropped) followed by a complainant who said that Roache had raped her twice. Not over the same visit, but on two separate occasions some time apart. I find that unbelievable. And it reminds me of comments someone made on a bad marriage when asked if she planned to marry again. She said no. “You don’t stick your foot in a beartrap, chew the foot off to get away – then go find another beartrap.” If you are raped by someone you have deliberately sought out, you don’t then a couple of months later, seek him out again, allow yourself to be private with him under the same circumstances, and expect nothing to happen. Not if you have the sense God gave a rabbit. And the Prosecution Service should know all this too. So why did they prosecute? I can only think that it was a case of ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t.’ In other words, someome made it clear that if they didn’t, it would look as if they were giving him a free pass because he is a celebrity. So they ignored commonsense, lack of witnesses or evidence or any kind of medical indications, and prosecuted – to lose a fourth case while looking as if they’re engaging in a vendetta. I see their problem, I just find it very unfortunate that male celebrities are the ones paying the biggest price for it.

(And on that too, latest result on this sort of thing has been the Southwark Crown Court clearing of the former BBC Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis of 12 counts of indecent assault. They failed to reach a decision on two further charges. The jury tossed out twelve of the 14, and were hung on two. The Crown Prosecution Service has now to decide if those two complaints will go back to trial. What do you want to bet they do – because if they don’t there’ll be an outcry that they are giving celebrities a free pass. I don’t hold with that either, but in my opinion the truth is, that too many of these guys are paying for being celebrities of the Jimmy Saville era and not for what they’ve done. I don’t believe that in these cases the men would have been charged at all if they had not been well known.)

But then too – the standard of evidence for taking a case to court and for convicting are two different things. One is a question, do we have enough to take this to court? The other is, do we have sufficient evidence, believable witnesses/ complainants to get a conviction? And the answer is often yes to the first but no to the second, after the evidence has been disected, shaken out, held up, considered and throughly chewed over. Two different standards apply to the decisions. And they can be very difficult decisions to make. However I still believe that too many of these historic cases are being brought, driven by public outcry, and by the determination of the CPS not to be seen as being weak on such events or because the defendants are well-known. I think however, that when you have a string of such cases and we’re seeing the defendants being acquitted after very little discussion by the jury, then perhaps the case was too weak to have been brought in the first place. But then, in a way the CPS are defending themselves against an accusing public by doing so. I don’t know the answers here, I only know that I think it’s very hard on a defendant being charged with offenses they probably didn’t commit, that may or may not have happened fifty years ago, for which most sensible juries are going to acquit, and that the defendants have to defend against,  spending vast sums to do so, and suffering  emotional trauma to themselves and their family in the process. I wish there was a better way. Something in which the CPS and the defendants and their families probably wish too – even more so than I do.

 

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