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Statute of Limitations, Protected identity for the accused?


StuartO

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We don't have one in UK of course, hence the option to pursue historical prosecutions, such as we have been doing lately. But should we?

 

Some of these have been easy to accept as necessary - including the guilty verdict today for Fred Talbot, the TV Wetherman who abused teenage boys when he was a teacher. And the long-retired doctor who was raping young patients at Stoke Mandeville.

 

They are prosecutions of people who have been complained about following the wave of publicity which the historical prosecutions have generated since the scandal about Jimmy Saville and Rotherham came out. There might well be quite a few celebs and establishment figures who are keeping their fingers crossed. So far the prosecutions are mostly of celebrities. Maybe this is because that makes them easier to remember having had contact with when you were a young victim.

 

I remember experiencing a man siddling up to the next urinal and putting his hand on my bottom in a public toilet when i was eight or nine. Fortunately another man, a family man with is family, spotted him, scared him off and warned me off - so that was as abused as I got. Fortunately it didn't scar me and indeed it wasn't until years later that I worked out what had actually been going on. I didn't tell my parents, probably because I felt foolish as well as puzzled about the incident.

 

Some of the current wave of arrests, public naming, prosecutions and sometime (but only sometimes) convictions are associated with opportunities for compensation seen by the alleged victims or their personal injury lawyers - and of course celebreties are a more certain source of compensation because they are probably quite well off. My bottom groper probably wouldn't have any money even if he's traceable and still alive. From my viewpoint his prosecution for groping me (which was pretty trivial in nature and had no serious effect on me) wouldn't be worthwhile even if the evidence was available to do so.

 

But lots of victims do seem to want to come forward now, after all these years, and say they still feel let down and scarred badly by what happened to them. There have been enough successful prosecutions and enough sordid stories emerging for us to see that the prosecutions were certainly justified. Stuart Hall for example, who semed such a nice guy, was clearly an exploitive groper of the genitals of very young girls. The evidence was convincing. I think he deserved to go to prison, even though the prosecutions were so long after the offences and even though he is now well over 80 years old. Why should time wash them away if he's never been brought to account? Likewise the long-retired (and long struck-off) doctor who worked at Stoke Mandeville. His were serious offences too.

 

I also welcome the retrospective interest being taken in the activities of members of the political and legal establishment many years ago too. Let's keep digging and find out what went on and who turned a blind eye or covered it up too. Likewise who covered up after Hillsborough. It's going to be a long and difficult job but let's do it. Let's turn over all the relevant stones and look underneath.

 

We protect the identity of victims and accusers (although we do also prosecute them if they are discovered to have made false accusations) but we don't protect the identity of those who are accused. I worry that those who are arrested and then either discovered by the press or even named by police, seemingly deliberatelly sometimes, as part of a fishing expedition to see if more and better evidence emerges. I don't think they are being fairly dealt with.

 

Once upon a time facing justice meant being hauled up in front of your local court rather than having your celebrity reputation and any remaining chance of earning a living being irreversibly trashed in the media. According to those who campaign for justice for vicitms, subjecting a few innocent alleged attackers to this is worthwhile because it helps the overall process of exposing and gathering evidence of historical offences.

 

I don;t buy that idea. That's where I draw the line. I think it is quite wrong to submit people who still are supposed to be innocent until proved guilty to the sort of reputational damage which some of the celebrities have suffered by being named after arrest, including of course people who have subsequently had charges dropped or been acquitted. I don't think people suspected or accused of sexual offences should be named in the media unless and until they are convicted. Maybe, in this age of instant, worldwide media coverage and social media, we should protect the identity of all those who come under suspicion and might get prosecuted, not just alleged sexual offenders.

 

And I don't think our police or prosecutors should be allowed to keep banging away at someone when it is no longer in the public interest to do so, for example when they've developed a need to keep going to protect their own reputation. The CPS are going to retry Dave Lee Travis for the remained (and a couple of new charges) after he was acquitted of most of the charges and found guilty of none. I hope it turns out that they have had good and sufficient reason for keeping going because he's already suffered big time.

 

One of the arguments for a statute of limitations, such as they have in the USA, is that after some considerable time it will be impractical for an acused to investigate properly and gather evidence for his defence. That's a valid point but I don't buy it as a reason to exclude prosecution altogether. If the passage of time compromises defence options maybe we need to take that into account in the way the evidence is weighed; the prosecution still have to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt and the non-availability through time of defence evidence might well present reasonable doubt.

 

And on that basis, protecting the identity of those suspected and accused, until they are proved guilty, which will still need to be beyond reasonable doubt, let's investigate any alleged offence, no matter how long ago the alleged offence might have taken place. We don't need a statute of limitations.

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Everyone is entitled to justice and everyone is entitled to a fair trial. The longer that gap between crime and court hearing, the more likely that vengeance replaces justice and memory loss stymies a fair trial.

 

I'd perhaps consider that allegations made and not properly investigated could be exempt from limitation. Belated allegations should not be.

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