Are the Operation Yew Tree Convictions Yet Another Miscarriage of Justice?
We should all now be very worried, in fact seriously worried – If these rich and famous celebrities can be criminally convicted and sent to prison on no more “evidence” than a few faint – and incorrect – memories by financially motivated “victims” of something that happened 30, 40 or even 50 years ago then what hope is there for the rest of us? Is there any lawyer, barrister or judge up and down the land who cannot be worried by the shambles that we have witnessed from the Operation Yew Tree cases?
After a very shaky start when Ken Roach and Michael Le Vell were cleared of charges then came Operation Yew Tree’s successes with Stuart Hall, Max Clifford and now Rolph Harris. Is this series of criminal convictions that we are seeing at risk of repeating the massive miscarriages of justice that happened in the 1980’s to the Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4? Or similar to the more recent cases of dozens wrongly jailed for shaking their babies to death and subsequently released? Unfortunately since most of those being convicted in these celebrity cases are so old there is little chance that we shall ever find out.
Back in the noughties when the courts were passing criminal sentences to dozens of parents based solely on Professor Sir Roy Meadow’s diabolical theories I had a strong sinking feeling that this was not right. It took years before he was finally discredited and many parents wrongly convicted some for year and separated from their children. Dozens even today still remain in jail forgotten and not eligible for a retrial or discharge. Google is full of the heartbreaking stories which no longer make headlines. More recently it continues with parents of children with brittle bones being convicted of child abuse when their kids are deficient in vitamin D. Some clearly innocent parents have been hounded from the UK – see the recent “We want our kids back now” documentary. Now we have this new nonsense that is nothing more than macarthyism “Reds under the beds”.
The near hysteria in the wake of the Jimmy Savile revelations has forced the police to finally do something 40 years too late, but has it also created a demand for justice that has overwhelmed the criminal justice system? Delayed justice is very poor justice for the victims so if true they have been badly let down by the Police. Am I the only one left feeling very uncomfortable that something is not right here? No one dares to publicly criticise what has happened. The papers are strangely silent and unquestioning. Maybe because they have made so much of these celebrities on the way up as well as now on their way down. Certainly the practice of the media imparting so much power to such a small pool of celebrities continues unabated. The way that they make ordinary people become and think that they are untouchable is surely one lesson to be learned from these cases.
I will merely raise some questions starting with not theories or vague memories but indisputable facts. Convictions must be based on evidence (not vague circumstantial or heresay but proven facts). And any evidence must be weighed. Neither has happened in these cases.
1. No photographic evidence exists – There is no video or photographic evidence of these assaults taking place. Neither are there any tape recordings or even notebook records of them taking place.
2. No DNA or any other physical evidence exists of these assaults.
3. 40 Year old memories are not accurate – Many medical studies have proven that memory of events that took place 20, 30 or even 40 years ago is notoriously poor and often wrong. Most of us cannot remember what we did 2 days ago let along 50 years ago. Many times in these cases details have been proven to be incorrect in terms of location, dates and timings of the assaults. So how can we be confident that events that cannot be independently verified can be true? For anyone still not convinced about just how bad and dodgy memory can be then please watch the BBC Radio 4 File on 4 podcast “Memory on Trial”.
4. Nobody witnessed the assaults. Not a single person even claimed to have seen or heard any of the alleged assaults.
5. Motive – No motive for these crimes seems to have been established.
6. No admission of guilt – this would be enough to convict but why are the defendants not only stating that they are not guilty but behaving as if they are genuinely not? The bizarre behaviours such as Max Clifford joking behind a Sky reporter and Rolf Harris singing Jake the Peg in court are not those of a guilty person trying to avoid jail but someone who has faith in the criminal justice system that the truth of their innocence will be recognised. Unfortunately how wrong they were!
7. Delay – Why are these cases being brought only now 20,30, 40 even 50 years after the events took place? If they really happened then why weren’t close friends and relatives told at the time? Why was nothing reported to the police? It is sickening to see the police congratulating themselves on these convictions 30 years after when they did nothing to investigate them when they happened.
8. Lack of victims – If these really were the truly horrific paedophiles that we are led to believe they are then there should be hundreds of victims not the few dozen that we have seen. A real paedo is not going to just peddle their crimes a few times especially given the massive power and opportunities that they were given.
9. No porn found – If these men really are paedos then why was there no child pornography found in their houses or on their computers? Either you are or you are not phychologically deranged to be a paedo so a lack of porn would indicate that they are not and points to their innocence.
10. Criminal harm – These defendants did not physically harm or penetrate their victims neither is it alledged that they did. At most they “touched” them. Whilst I do not condone such behaviour in any way on the scale of crimes these are at the modest end so why are they being treated like war criminals? Compare this with for example the actual permanent physical assault and harm done to the young victims of female genital mutilation. This must surely be a far higher priority for the police to put their resources into as it is causing severe damage to thousands of young girls, repeatedly by a small number of perpetrators. Maybe because there are no celebrities involved?
11. Public good – Contrast the possible alleged harm (that cannot be proven) to a few victims with the massive factual and visible public good that these defendants have done.
12. No downside only potential reward – The alleged victims have no downside in this whole process, on the contrary they could win substantial damages. They are not paying for any of the lawyers even if they loose, whereas the defendants have lost £100,000 even millions over this.
In the absence of any concrete evidence the only truth is that no one apart from any true victims and true perpetrators really know what happened and whether the defendants are guilty, and on that basis alone the matter should never have been brought to court. They might be true, they might be untrue. We only have the victim’s accounts, based on a faint memory of something decades ago, and the fact that all added together they make a pattern of behaviour. Some of the victims do appear to be genuine but who are they victims of, the celebrity on trial or someone else? How many of the victims have had their memory tested scientifically to determine just how accurate their statements actually are? That will be a zero. And a pattern of behaviour in itself is certainly not causal – any statistician and most scientists can tell you that and prove it with countless examples. To become a central plank in the prosecution’s case is simply ludicrous. Why didn’t the defense team and the Judge do their jobs properly and consign this “major point” to the dustbin where it should lie? We can only speculate as to why.
A court is meant to decide on the basis of the hard evidence that is tested and weight to establish “beyond reasonable doubt” whether someone is guilty or not. How these cases can even be allowed to come to court is unbelievable. Why hasn’t the criminal justice system stopped them? Maybe because this is what gives them a living? Judges, solicitors, barristers, prosecutors and the police all make a healthy living and a nice pension out of this. They are not paid to be moral only to apply the laws that Parliament passes. Where that fails as in these cases then Parliament must step in. How many of the lawyers, judges and police were called to account for the previous major and awful miscarriages of justice? That would be a complete zero. Who cares if someone is wrongly convicted? Not the criminal justice system that is for sure. As far as they are concerned it is job done and onto the next case. Something in our criminal “justice” system is terribly broken and nobody cares or wants to fix it.
It seems to me that with no corroborating evidence and only untested memory from decades ago, that before you even start there are huge doubts in these cases, so how on earth can any conviction be genuine? High emotions and a media frenzy are not sufficient reasons to convict someone – we saw that with the IRA bombers in the 1980’s. When you contrast these cases with the far more serious Ian Tomlinson case where a relatively recent murder or at least manslaughter was caught on video and the person who did it, PC Simon Harwood, was not convicted by a court one has to ask serious questions about just how great this British jury system is.
The Rolf Harris and other “convictions ” are a serious national disgrace and they have been picked on at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable with limited energy and mental capaciyy ie old age. How can flaky and inaccurate memories by definition be used alone to convict someone? What we need now is a judicial review and proper scientific investigation into just how good a person’s memory can be after 10,20, 30,40 or even 50 years since all of these convictions turn on this very shaky premise. Unless it can be proven to be more than 75% accurate then the use of such “evidence” should be banned. New guidelines or even laws need to be passed to protect the innocent from unfair and untrue allegations. All people convicted so far purely on this memory “evidence” should be released immediately and their sentences quashed. Any further trials should only be held where there is factual evidence. If the investigation proves that memory can be accurate in the majority of cases (and that is a very big if) then at least it should only be used as support subject to the alleged victims being made to undergo lie detector tests as well as a full financial audits along with phychometric tests to establish their true credibility. Without them doing that as a minimum then their witness statements should be dismissed.
We only know about the financial situation for one of the “victims” Tonya Lee, who kicked off the whole Harris investigation. She had debts of AUD13,000 and did a A$ 66,000 TV interview before even going to the police. She even had a publicity agent who made AUD35,000 out it. Her “abuse” which was an alleged groping when she was 15 for which she got the wrong dates for and also wrongly claimed she had suffered great weight loss over – which was shown to be untrue in court, resulted in Harris getting 1 year 9 months in prison for. As Harris’s barrister pointed out in court it was pretty clear as to what her motive was at the outset – and it is is amazing that she has pulled it off by not only already benefiting substantially but also stands to gain far more in compensation from Harris. As to the other victims’ financial situations we don’t know but can only speculate.
One other important safeguard would be to televise the trial like the Oscar Pistorius trial has been, so that the public can see the evidence and make up their own minds. It is highly ironic that the very media that made these defendants so popular has not been used to give them any real visibility. Anyone working with children eg teachers, youth workers, baby sitters, scout leaders, nurses, doctors etc is at risk and should be seriously worried. Without such safeguards or new laws to protect us we should all be seriously worried that anyone can bring allegations against any of us at any time, regardless of the facts or evidence for which we could easily find ourselves in prison for. One thing is for sure that with these “successes” behind them the police witch hunt on the celebs will lead to an even bigger one on the general public.
Already in the last year half of the increase in those sent to prison (1,600 people mostly men) are for alleged sex offences that occurred decades ago. The damage to society will be vast. Already it is almost impossible to hug a child or show any physical contact (eg if they are upset about something) for fear of being brandished a paedophile which brings it own set of psychological damages to kids. Now it is going to become impossible to do any children’s work without being at risk potentially for the rest of one’s life. This will scare off many decent innocent people from getting involved in professions or charities such as the Scouts and Guides. The result, a removal of a source of great pleasure and good for millions of children, all because of the unproven allegations of a few dozen women who have plenty of motive to lie. – God help us all!
Article by Peter Lloyd, 1st July 2014