Since I posted the nineteenth blog in my series of “Stories of Injustice” I have received a number of messages and comments on what I wrote. I started by adding them as a comment or as Addenda to the original blog, but it seems best now to start a new blog because of the interest I seem to have awakened in this extremely difficult contemporary problem.
Everyone agrees that those who are truly guilty of abusing children deserve to be punished, but what about those who are truly innocent despite all the efforts of the justice system to provide a trial process that always gets the correct result? The idea of an innocent man of good character being sentenced to a very long prison term as a sex offender in the twilight years of his life for something he did not do is a horrifying one.
These stories also cast light on the impact their convictions and sentence have had on their partners and the other members of their family. young and old.
Here is No 24:
“I just wanted to personally thank you for your recent blog ‘stories on injustice’ and your follow up blog yesterday regarding historic sexual assault and the English justice system.
18 months ago my husband was convicted for nine years and became (I now realise) another victim of a false allegation from a single uncorroborated source. Following his conviction, I realised very quickly I wasn’t on my own in this situation and I set up a website to try to help others. Since then I work every spare second I have trying to find new evidence for my husband and actively working to try to co-ordinate the efforts of false accusation support groups.
With regards my husband’s case, all the new evidence I have found has been sent to my legal team and I am currently awaiting Counsel’s opinion of whether they feel it satisfies s23 Criminal Appeal Act 1968, which as I am sure you appreciate is very difficult as in a lot of cases decades ago there was no ‘evidence’ in the first place.
Prisoners aged 60 and over are the fastest growing age group in the prison estate with nearly triple the number there were 15 years ago. 42% of men in prison aged over 50 have been convicted of sex offences, with one in eight of the sentenced prison population now classed as a sex offender. The prison where my husband is incarcerated now has five dedicated wings for ageing prisoners and is proposing to establish a dedicated health wing for those inmates who are infirm or requiring medical support in their later years, of which there are many who are unable to now leave their cell.
Last Friday, 45 officers were deployed to bed watch. This resulted in all other prisoners being locked down as there was insufficient officers to let them out. My husband spends 22 hours a day regularly in his cell due to officer shortage and this is having mental and physical effects on him and the other prisoners. Ambulances are called several times a day to the wing my husband is on and surrounding wings, which must be causing a massive drain on the NHS as it takes them 3-4 hours to actually get into and out of the prison for every call out.
Whilst I regularly hear “there is no smoke without fire” and prisoners always will shout their innocence, actually life in prison maintaining innocence is incredibly difficult. As an example, there is a 92-year old in the cell next to my husband who was sentenced to 15 years for a single accusation nearly 60 years ago. He is still maintaining his innocence and suffering basic prison regime. Honestly with a 15-year sentence and no hope of getting released, wouldn’t you just admit it and have an easier life inside?
As a lay person I obviously do not have all the answers and I vehemently agree that we need a justice system that protects children. However, we currently have a justice system that is feeding the compensation culture and allowing people to use the justice system as revenge. We need a top to bottom review to highlight what needs to change to make the English legal system great again. I recognise this has been acknowledged in HoC Select Committee reports and also discussed in the House of Lords on Thursday 30 June 2016. However, nobody appears strong enough to grab the nettle. I know that as families in conjunction with support groups, we must keep pushing to be listened to.
My apologies, the email was longer than anticipated. I genuinely only started to say thank you.”
This is a valuable reminder of something I touched on in my own blog on the topic: the treatment of these men when they have been sentenced to prison for a sexual offence they are adamant they did not commit. It also gives useful information about the numbers of convicted sex offenders locked up somewhere or other on the prison estate.
The next writer (No 25) says:
“My family has also suffered terribly as a consequence of false allegations. My partner was accused of abusing my grandson’s ‘friends’: boys coerced to tell their stories by those who would cover their own crimes. He was found guilty, but sentenced to the minimum tariff which his QC felt was given as the sheriff did not agree with the verdict. That begs the question then that should that be the case, why are judges seemingly powerless? The sheriff, I felt was fair in his summing up and was directing the jury to acquit. However…………
Ten days after my partner’s arrest, the same individuals made allegations against myself, that I had threatened the same children with violence in order to pervert the course of justice. I was arrested, released without being questioned and bailed to appear in court the following week. With not a single question being asked, or the alleged offences being investigated, I was ordered by the court not to return to my home. I was homeless with an already frightened 10-year old, with only the clothes we stood up in.
My case was eventually dismissed at trial, again I was never cross- examined in court, nothing. Sitting next to my partner in the dock throughout, and listening to the lies these people told convinced me 100% that he was not guilty. Two witnesses had to have their statements read to them as they could not remember anything they had said at interview.
Nobody investigated either case. I could have proved that I was not in the area on most occasions I am supposed to have committed my crimes. The lack of police investigation resulted in children in our village being abused by our adult accusers (who never gave evidence) for 18 months after we were initially charged. The police gave ultimate credibility to liars and abusers. An absolute disgrace. We are now facing bankruptcy, we lost a business, our home, my jobs and both our mental and physical health has suffered. I’m a nurse and I believe it was only because of my excellent professional and personal reputation that I was never suspended or indeed struck off the register.
We are both in our late 50’s. How do we, or anyone else, ever recover from this?”
Needless to say, I am in no position to say whether these accusations were justified or not. But the story casts a vivid light on the importance of what I said in my last blog, that we must do all we can – and this includes the Lord Chancellor and her junior ministers – to maintain the high quality and professionalism of the police, the prosecution service, the defence lawyers, and all who serve in the courts, because if things go wrong, the price for those who suffer a resulting injustice can be intolerably high.
And here is another story (No 26) on the same theme:
“My husband was given a 16-year sentence for historical sex offences he did not commit. There was evidence from social services and the police from 1981 of infatuation. This was not used in court, and they decided on the story she told that it had happened years before. She said [it happened] in a different place because we had proof that it couldn’t have happened where she said.
If someone you knew did bad things you would not befriend them again, let alone go and work where they work. Our family have now got to cope without a husband, father and grandfather.
The police spent six hours turning our home upside down and found nothing and left us with a lot of our children’s memories ruined so much I still cannot put my loft right because it is too upsetting.
Everybody that could have spoken up for us has died, and she knew this. Her statement was also led by the interviewer.
We have no money to pay for an appeal and the barrister told us we could not appeal so another innocent person is in prison.”
I received two other comments (Nos 27 and 28) which were on rather different topics. The first (No 27) had been remanded in custody for seven months for a serious sexual offence for which he was acquitted. He was then released on bail for four more months awaiting a further trial in which he was again acquitted. His story ends:
“I was bailed to my daughter’s one-bedroom flat as I had lost my job and house and money because of being put in jail. I was then put on tag for 4 more months. I went back to trial last week where I was found not guilty on all charges. Now I have been told there is no help for me. I have nowhere to live, no job, can’t see my kids, and told to just get on with my life. It’s been a week ago and I feel really angry as I don’t know what to do with my life now. That’s my life for the last year.”
Is there really no way of helping a man like this?
The other (No 28) attracted a good deal of publicity in February this year because of the unusual nature of the charge against him.
“I was tried with an impossible crime – Sexual Assault with Penetration of an actress for 2-3 seconds (as well as a punch to her shoulder) as I passed her in half a second at Waterloo Station. I consider myself extremely fortunate not to be one of the many falsely accused languishing in prison. If CCTV had not been available … the jury may well have believed her outlandish story. Yet, unfathomably, the Police and the CPS could not see what thousands have seen (I gave the media the CCTV images) – that her story was simply not possible….
I know my case is quite bizarre compared to most, but it demonstrates the intransigent mindset of the police/CPS, the ‘Listen and Believe’ reversal of due process. The logistical impossibility of the accusation counted for nothing, I was guilty from day one and they probably still think I am:
‘There was sufficient evidence to bring this case to trial. We respect the decision of the jury’.
The reverse of an apology. I find it hard not to despise the system I once believed in and I feel foolish for trusting it would protect me.”
When I was listening earlier this year, with other members of the Bach Commission, to the horror stories of what has now been happening within our criminal justice system – stories which were then supported by the written evidence we received – I often wondered what impact all this might have on those who now face trial under conditions far less favourable to the attainment of justice than was the case when I used to appear, in one capacity or another, in our criminal courts between 1963 and 1996.
These stories give part of the answer.
Whether it is the massive reduction in the available resources (because our rulers consider that justice should not be “protected”) or the growing external pressures on the professionalism of criminal justice practitioners, the result is the same. And it is much to be regretted by all of us who care about British justice.
 Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile 2015.
 This debate was largely concerned with other issues, stemming from the treatment of Lord Bramall, Sir Edward Heath and Sir Cliff Richard. In his speech the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, described the sea-change in the handling of the evidence of child witnesses in his (and my) professional lifetime, and at the end of the debate the Government spokesman, Lord Keen of Elie QC, said:
“We must always take allegations seriously, but there is always the danger that the accused will become a victim. We must bear that in mind as well, in this context.”