SHOW OF FORCE: Search for justice in naming a ‘suspect’ pre-charge

wave-of-the-hand

 

On the afternoon of Thursday 14th August 2014, police attended at a Berkshire residence to carry out a search of the property. They had apparently received a complaint from somebody and decided that searching the property was something that should be done in order to investigate the complaint. Nothing so unusual about that, you may think. After all, it is something that happens daily, up and down the country, when complaints are made to the police.

What happened in this case, however, is slightly more unusual. According to Amanda Platell in this morning’s Daily Mail*, the police admitted that they had confirmed to the BBC that they were going to search the property. Having received this information, the BBC then obviously do what any self-respecting national television station would do and turn up at the property to secure as much footage as they can about the ‘story’.

Amanda Platell may be a veritable bottomless pit of misplaced moral outrage but I suspect, rather like the broken watch that tells the correct time twice a day, she has probably hit upon an issue here which, in the interests of justice, needs to be addressed, and quickly.

The person whose home was being searched last Thursday is a ‘national celebrity’. That fact, obviously, secures him no immunity from the law and its processes. What it does do, however, is mean that in the event that ‘plod’ comes knocking at his or her door, it is going to arouse the interest of the media if and when they find out there is a criminal allegation being made against them. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the media has an economic interest in stories involving ‘celebrities’. And if these ‘stories’ involve allegations of some of the most detested and detestable human behaviour, the more interest there is going to be. The media know that the public is now almost seemingly intoxicated by the cult of celebrity, and will milk that for all it is worth.

The media, like all of us, are subject to restrictions on what can or can’t be said about a story like the one I have described above. Why not? Because in the event that the matter comes to trial, it is essential that the individual concerned can secure a fair trial by a jury who have not been influenced by extraneous material and by soaking up what is often little more than the groundless opinion of others. The legal process often involves, for example, applications being made by the defence for certain evidence to be excluded under statutes such as sections 76 and 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and others. The more the case has been discussed and commented on in the media, the greater the likelihood that the jury may become aware of matters which, if they are deemed legally inadmissible, they should not. The fairness of any trial is then thrown into doubt.

But the possible legal implications are not the only ones that are at play here. As Amanda Platell probably rightly suggests, the implications of how this particular story has been reported go beyond legal issues. It touches upon how we, as human beings, respond when we are told that an unnamed complainant has suggested the commission of a repugnant criminal offence by another, ‘celebrity’ or otherwise. Many of us may be able to look at matters such as this objectively, and say something like ‘Well, he (or she) is innocent until they are proven guilty’, but should we have to?

Anyone who knows me will know I am a hardened opponent of any but the most necessary legal regulations to ensure that society functions in a way which creates the most harmony for the most people, and in any event justice and fairness for all. What I question about what has happened since Thursday lunchtime, when this story broke, is why the person was ever named, or details of the search disclosed. The inevitable media frenzy creates potential injustice and unfairness, and an atmosphere in which an individual (whatever the eventual outcome) has had his or her reputation brought into the public spotlight for examination.

None of us should engage in any kind of comment or speculation in relation to the individual concerned. Although we all now know who it is, I have deliberately refrained from using his name, and the only reason for mentioning the incident at all is because it highlights something I suggest we need to address now, particularly bearing in mind the ongoing police operations and enquiries into serious allegations of child abuse by ‘prominent’ people.

I have two questions arising out of all of this. Firstly, should the name of anyone who has not been charged with a criminal offence ever be made public in relation to an ongoing criminal investigation? Whilst in the vast majority of cases, the press have no interest in reporting pre-charge (or even post-charge) criminal cases, I suggest that cases like this serve only to run the risk of blighting someone’s reputation unnecessarily and increase the prospects of a trial being rendered unfair. Secondly, should the name of an accused person after being charged with a sexual offence ever be made public prior to conviction? This is, perhaps, the more debatable issue, bearing in mind it cannot be denied that releasing limited details of the name of an accused and some information about the charges may lead to other victims coming forward and making the case against him/her more compelling.

As I invite responses to these questions, I make one appeal. Please do not mention the name of any individual who has not been convicted of any criminal offence. It is not necessary to make your point, and the questions are aimed at stimulating a debate about the general issue, and not specific individuals.

* ‘Cliff Doesn’t Deserve This Lurid Trial By Television’: Amanda Platell Daily Mail 16th August 2014: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2726393/PLATELLS-PEOPLE-Cliff-doesnt-deserve-lurid-trial-television.html

 

Mark Fletton is a former barrister. He is now a writer/researcher and lives in Exeter.

8 comments

  1. Nothing new and nothing has changed in the world of media frenzies, another lamb to the slaughter where the members of the public are all reincarnated as the Witch Finder General.

    The dominant forces and their alliance should be described as nothing more than being primitive. They are, the Government, the House of Lords, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police Service, and last but not least the media and the BBC.

    Trial by kangaroo court is so active in our country today, henchmen and henchwomen who’s only purpose in life is to subscribe to media frenzies. They are not at fault they seem to be born that way, when so many have to share the same brain cell one can expect this type of behaviour.

    A right to a fair trial? This is only accessed by the rich, the privileged and government ministers. The latest exposure and all those involved in the fiasco of searching the home of the said famous person, and the perfectly timed media intervention giving it the full exposure is down to one man.

    He will probably be paid handsomely for another historic abuse headline hitting the big time. He is probably a so called expert in such “failed abuse cases” reigniting the public’s interest in the abuse scandals.

    These cases are not coming about by accident, they have been very well orchestrated, rehearsed, and timed to come out with maximum exposure. They were fuelled many years ago by frenzies but at that time they failed to get maximum exposure due to interference and other tragedies

    The henchmen have been rebooted and are being paid handsomely in their quest and thirst for hanging and wanton revenge on previous failings. They thrive on the backs of the poor abused victims who they claim to help, in order to reap financial gain for themselves.

    Who else could alert the BBC, the media, and the Police and bring them altogether to work like clockwork for maximum exposure.

    Any form of abuse is abhorrent and needs to be dealt with the full force of our justice system, and no exceptions made.

    The influx of historic abuse cases of late and the orchestrated timing of such said cases is more than worrying and is certainly alarming.

    The way they are being given maximum exposure and are being turned into a Kangaroo court are affecting the right to a fair trial, this is not an illegal act within itself.

    I have to question that those who are behind bringing about theses historic accusations and the methods and their contacts they are using, that it may fall into the remit of some form of illegal activity.

    I think not, what I would like to see is that it actually interferes with ones right to a fair trial. This has to be one for the legals to mince over and chew on, maybe they can bring about something to change the mindset of this unacceptable allowed practice.

    If payments are being made to a person or said persons acting on behalf of such victims by alerting the media and agencies of the alleged allegations before any charges are brought upon the accused. Is this not condemning and affecting the right to a fair trial?

    The Kangaroo court now passes judgement, do they think about the not so famous people who have no exposure, theirs is not breaking news.

    They are the ones who really suffer from the media manipulation to maximise their sales, and pay those who help them gain access to celebrities who may or may not have skeletons in their cupboards.

    Call it underhand, call it freelancing, call it fair game, call it brutal behaviour, there are no winners in the murky world of so called journalism. Just cash and more cash, an industry created on the backs of those who suffer, and those who are still suffering. A disgusting act in itself.

    1. Thanks for your comment. You make a number of important points, as you always do, and all of them deserve to be taken seriously. You appear to be no stranger to some of the material that circulates in what has become known as ‘the alternative media’, and nor am I. I was therefore totally unsurprised by what has unfolded in the past two years or so, including some of the names that are now surfacing in the mainstream media. It seems clear to me that more are going to come out, as some point.

      In terms of ‘fair trials’, again I agree with most of what you say. What concerns me about the way events are currently unfolding is that it is inevitable that certain people (almost invariably ‘celebrities’) will have the spotlight fall upon them and be totally innocent of the allegations which are being mentioned in connection with them. For whatever reason, the police thought it was acceptable to ‘tip off’ the media about this particular search. If you wanted to fuel a ‘conspiracy theory’, the police could not have done a better job. None of this would even be getting a mention if it were simply unlawful for anyone to be named in connection with any offence in the media prior, at least, to being charged with an offence. At that point the situation arguably changes.

      The criminal justice system, as I have said on numerous occasions, is breaking down and held together by faith. A considerable number of the general public have been turned, primarily by a complicit and relentless media, into celebrity-worshipping fodder. This is a dangerous cocktail. I have no idea of the extent, or connectedness, of matters and criminality which, for example, the Savile exposure has begun to lift the lid on. What I do believe is that the revelations and speculation that we have seen surrounding it in the past year has the potential to drag innocent people into the spotlight, and as imperfect as our criminal justice system may be, we have to ensure that those people, however rich and famous they may be, do not have their reputations sullied in circumstances where it is wholly avoidable and unnecessary. My own view, for what it is worth, is that the police in this situation acted (on the face of it) disgracefully in briefing the media about the search (and ‘justifications’ for it) of someone who has not yet even been questioned about the allegations, let alone been charged, with any criminal wrongdoing, and if this is how they believe it is appropriate that investigations should be conducted, perhaps it is time to clip their wings and ensure that in future all criminal investigations (and those subject to them) are subject to a blanket media ban until such time (at least) as someone is charged with an offence.

      I appreciate your comments on ‘historic’ abuse cases. Having had considerable experience as a ‘legal’, as you refer to it, one or two things are clear; the victims of abuse often have very good emotional and psychological reasons for not reporting abuse which happened to them for many years, and particularly so in cases where the abuser is someone whom the public would regard as ‘whiter than white’. All I can say is that when I read your comments, it is necessary sometimes to ‘read between the lines’ and I do. I know where you are coming from.

      Once again, thank you for your comments. I appreciate them, as always.

      1. Thank you Mark for your excellent piece and your comments.

        I often wonder why an X-copper would watch the Death Wish films starring Charles Bronson over and over again. Maybe it is the vigilante element of it that excites such a person, did Bronson actually see himself fighting for the good and for justice, I think he saw an opening for making vast amounts of money to be honest.

        An assassin, be it a character assassination or one that actually wants to end the life of a celebrity as they once knew it, in real terms amounts to the death of the known celebrity. A cold blooded method that first finds every detail of anything related to the celeb, using any means and methods that will assassinate the prey. What better way than to have the BBC there lying in wait for the police officers to enter the premises to do their search?

        I am not surprised that the BBC have left themselves wide open to just how they received the information and how they made the decision to broadcast it live for maximum exposure. They decided the person did not have the right to a fair trial. Totally unfair and not in the public interest.

        Nothing worse than X-coppers who could only manage a third of the service and could not serve the 30 years that proper coppers serve. That tells you a little about the vigilante who could not hack it as a proper copper, or should I say a crusader to bolster his bank balance.

        Does the x-copper actually think he is the “Messiah”? That those who have a complaint all go to him in order for him to help them gain justice? The Messiah will be paid handsomely no doubt about that, all that bollocks about he is doing for the rights of the victims.

  2. Thank you, Mark for this piece. There are two camps here. The baying crowd for the blood of this person and fortunately for me, (I am blessed with a professional lot on my TL) those who are capable of intelligent dialogue around such matters.

    Mark, you ask the question, ‘should the name of a person who has not been charged ever be made public?’ Frankly, no. I do not subscribe to this ridiculous notion of ‘it encourages victims to come forward’ Each allegation has a set of circumstances. Fishing expeditions for victims is fast becoming status quo and this is an unhealthy state. People are adults and unless they lack the capacity to make their own minds up of whether a criminal act has been committed against them, the victim lobby has a lot to answer for. Just to be clear, where there are victims, I do wholeheartedly support many organisations who do great work in this area. There is a place for support in our justice system. However, I’m against Labour’s, Victim’s Law.

    To answer your second question, I have no issue with press reporting on trials. I do believe here, it is in the public interest. Journalism, is still a profession I respect, I pick and choose which journalists I feel report responsibly and I have worked with a journalist on my friend’s sons case. He cares what work he puts out there and while we do not meet politically, he is worthy of the profession.

    In the events of recent days, this is not cricket at all. Someone or an agency has facilitated this turn of events. Speculation on my behalf is worthless to any public domain, but there will have been trousering of services rendered. Sadly, we see a sense of entitlement from some quarters whereby it’s too free and easy to comment. With freedom of speech comes a responsibility.

    I fear for our justice system. I fear for victims and I fear we have succombed to trial by media and a hungry public for grubby news.

    Thanks again, Mark for your time in writing this.

    1. Thank you, Tracey. In terms of ‘journalism’, as someone who has been around the block a bit, my own faith in journalism is now somewhat lacking. I had always believed that it was at least part of the responsibility of journalists to hold a light up to what was happening in the public sphere and challenge it fearlessly. You really have to look hard for this, now. It would have been a breath of fresh air, for example, for the media outlet briefed in this particular case to have turned round and said ‘Look, we are not going to participate in this. When you decide to charge the person concerned, let us know.’ My own view is that the media ought to be examining itself, and its role in society, and coming to the conclusion that it is way too cosy with the ‘Establishment’. Instead, it is complicit and far too ready to accept the line put out by the Government, the police etc, and always willing to follow the path of least resistance.

      1. Hi Mark,

        I concede faith in the media is nosediving. Aside from ten – a – penny local hacks who cram as much of the ‘juicy’ bits into 1,000 word – spaces, I feel for journalists who, throughout the Leveson enquiry and recent high profile trials, still maintain professional standards. Reporting tactics just as freedom of speech, have responsibilities.

        I do not feel this is simply a police leak. Larger, or shall we say, associates in play, remain at large here. I have seen shabby policing and I have seen great policing. SYP would have been foolish to leave themselves wide open to such a backlash of criticism given their noteriety for poor practice.

        I am slightly surprised the BBC have left themselves wide open for a backlash also. Given certain events around the Savile allegations and who was responsible for the expose there, there are rumblings ‘that’ arena have been working on this for a while.

        Tonight’s statement from Auntie is a shabby attempt on their position and they were acting within reporting guidelines. Twice repeating that the accused has denied the allegations.

        Unacceptable response from Auntie on this one. The denial from the now outed individual is a matter for a court in the due process of a charging decision. This denial is not the issue. The huge issue here is reporting ethics, SYP’s part in this and the facilitation of such information.

        Murky waters…

  3. What a brilliant article if i may say so, on a subject that is very close to my heart.

    I was absolutely appalled and hugely saddened to see yet another person being persecuted in the media based on an allegation that as yet has to be proven or tested in a court of law. The person we are discussing has yet to be arrested or questioned in regards to the allegations that have been made but has for reasons only known to the police and media has ensured the opportunity presents itself for further allegations to be made, some of which may or may not be true.

    I have grave issues with trawling for further complainants to come forward in this way, while i accept, appreciate and fully support the need for complainants to be given the confidence to speak if a crime has taken place the often lure of compensation payable upon making an allegation of this type certainly questions the the motive in which some of these allegations are made. Please dont think i am suggesting that all allegations are false i am not, what i am suggesting however is where we have compensation claims being pursued with complainants being told from the outset that there are huge amounts of money to be claimed surely this might well be enough to persuade many dishonest people from coming forward and making a false allegation? Im sure there are many genuine victims who are able to come forward as a direct result of an allegation being made, but there are certainly many who will jump on the bandwagon with the lure of a quick buck being made also.

    When we then advertise the fact that somebody has made an allegation so early in an investigation we run the risk of inviting both the genuine and false accusers blighting justice for so many victims of this hideous crime. There is a balance that needs to be restored in this matter, while there is plenty written and rightly so about the need for complainants to feel able to report these types of allegations there is very little in respect of the trauma caused to the person who has been named in the press following a false allegation.

    I speak from personal experience and can fully explain the impact experienced by my family and my then teenage son when we unfortunately became embroiled in this matter.
    I wont bore you with the gory details of our case but i can highlight the need for not naming anybody until conviction.

    My son was just a teenage when he became a victim of a serious vendetta which resulted in him being falsely accused of a crime he eventually proved had not taken place. Due to the time he spent on police bail he turned 18 during this process. He was eventually charged and was named in our local press. Due to the allegations made he was made to live away from his family home, as you can only imagine to be taken away from your loving family,to be accused of a crime you know you havent committed and then to have your name, address, age and the allegations in the media all while my son was classed as a vulnerable adult while the allegations were yet to be tested in a court of law certainly raises questions. My son was terrified and rightly so,he was distraught at not only to be accused of something he clearly hadnt done but to now be faced with the prospect of the local community being made aware and the issues that raised all while being just 18 years old.

    As the complainant in this matter is afforded anonymity for life and the list of charges are listed for all to see this then presented us with a further issue. The local community gossiped as is human nature, putting two and two together and coming up with 10. My own daughter during this process was indeed named by individuals in the community as the person who had made the allegations against my son this was totally untrue yet there was nothing we could do to stop this as we could not name the complainant.

    So you see, there is a huge impact on a family whereby many innocent people are accused of this crime, their families are wrongly named and the impact of in doing this lasts a lifetime. While my sons name was printed and is still viewable today on the internet the outcome of the trial proving the allegations were false have never ever been printed. What people will remember forever is the allegations that were made, there is no smoke without fire making it almost impossible to pick up the pieces and get on with your life after the event.

    Regardless of outcome, the accused person is blighted forever. If the person is guilty following the allegations being tested at trial then i agree wholeheartedly in the case being made public, which then gives individuals the opportunity to come forward and make a complaint. Naming anybody prior to this point only adds to the erosion of justice that we have experienced today.

    1. Many thanks for your comments and for finding the strength to share your personal experience which cannot have been easy. I am sorry that you have had to go through so much distress and can’t begin to imagine what it has been like to live through.

      I think it can’t be denied that the arrival of the internet has significantly changed the situation, particularly in cases like yours. In days gone by, although the nightmare of what you and your family have gone through may have been reported in a local newspaper or, occasionally a national one, by and large once the dust had settled it may have been possible to hope that a bit of time and distance from the event would at least allow someone to move forward as best they could. That is a far harder proposition now that anyone can sit in front of their laptop in their living room and use a search engine to provide information that would just have been impossible to obtain by your average person even twenty-five years ago. Obviously we are now straying into the territory of ‘rights to information’ and ‘rights to be forgotten’, which is another can of worms entirely, but inextricably linked.

      I think certain offences carry a particular stigma that even an acquittal for them makes it difficult to shake off. Sexual offences, and particularly those against children, are probably an obvious example of this, and I have long wondered whether the accused in this particular kind of case really should be named prior to conviction. You can make a list of reasonable arguments why it is in the public interest to name an accused prior to conviction, and ultimately (like pretty much everything else in life) it is all about balance. What I do think is that given the now free availability at the click of a mouse to information that (a) is likely to be there for all time, (b) can affect someone’s life very negatively without limit of time and (c) may well not give a true and balanced picture anyway, as you rightly say, it is now perhaps time to look at this issue and see how justice for everyone can best be served. I suspect it isn’t right now.

      Again, many thanks for sharing your comments and thoughts. They are much appreciated.

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