Until relatively recently, most allegations of sexual offences did not attract any real publicity or media interest. The exposure, prosecution and convictions of Jimmy Savile and other high profile individuals has certainly changed this. It has given rise to more and more publicity of complaints being made to police of a sexual nature. This article examines the consequences of being falsely accused and highlights what suspects need to do if they find themselves accused of sexual offences.
Home Office research suggests that only 4% of cases of sexual violence reported to UK police are found to be false. To some, that might not seem very many, but when you consider the considerable escalation in complaints of a sexual nature in recent years, 4% is actually a very significant number of cases.
The impact of being a victim of a false accusation can be catastrophic. It can impact upon every aspect of a person’s life. Lives can be destroyed, and in extreme cases as recent media reports have shown, lives can even be tragically lost. Families can be torn apart, relationships shattered, careers left in ruins, friendships strained or lost. In those cases which result in prosecution and conviction, lengthy prison sentences are often imposed. The stigma of being convicted can be difficult to shift, and often never is.
The reality is that although statistically it might be considered rare, a false accusation of any kind can be made against any one of us. One significant reason for that is because the motives for making a false claim are so diverse, and in some cases no motive can ever be discovered at all. Other more readily identifiable motives include the desire to obtain some level of financial compensation or the need to get back at a partner for being unfaithful. In some of the cruellest of cases the complaint can occur when a victim begins to regret the sexual activity that took place – that at the time was undoubtedly consensual – and that the level of regret becomes too much to handle and then manifests itself in to a formal complaint.
Take a couple of recent examples, the case of a Muslim taxi driver who refused to take a £10 note covered in kebab as his fare. He was wrongly accused by the passenger of sexually assaulting her in the back of the cab. Rightly, the false accuser was convicted for perverting the course of justice and jailed, but it could have easily been a different outcome. The unfortunate taxi driver continued to live with the consequences long after the accusation.
In a second well documented case, a university student was falsely accused by his ex-girlfriend of raping her. He spent two years on bail following the accusation before the case was thrown out of court when it became clear that the allegation was false. Although understandably relieved that his ordeal was over, he has commented that he still needs to rebuild his life. His relationships with both friends and family have all been adversely affected.
This second case also highlights the contribution the police and prosecution can have in creating miscarriages of justice; particularly concerning the problems suspects can face regarding disclosure of evidence. In this case, the defence insisted in the disclosure of material that the police and prosecution considered to be ‘unused’; meaning it was material gathered during the investigation that the police and prosecution didn’t feel assisted the defence or undermined its own case. The case considerably reinforces the real need to have an experienced team around you when facing trial. It was down to the tenacious and meticulous approach to his defence that this young man was rightly cleared. Other lawyers may not have approached the case in the same way and again, his case could easily have ended in a conviction and an inevitable lengthy prison sentence.
At Wells Burcombe, we are very aware of the problems that are faced by those accused of sexual offences. We not only help with the factual and legal content of the case, but assist clients dealing with the emotional impact and the sense of real isolation that can be experienced. We offer a very inclusionary service where our clients feels involved in the decision making process. In addition to this, our approach is not simply to stand back and see if the police and prosecution can prove their case. We approach every case knowing that the prosecution will be highly motivated in securing a conviction.
The mentality of investigating officers is that if a complaint is made then it is likely to be immediately given a great deal of credence. This clearly requires defence lawyers to be pro-active in their approach to defending these cases. There are sometimes significant flaws in the way in which the police are trained, and certainly how they are left to investigate cases. They can become blinkered in their approach to investigations, sometimes at the expense of their statutory obligations to investigate cases impartially. This means that it will frequently be up to the defence to make the necessary enquiries that will help demonstrate that a complaint is false.
What can be done to protect the falsely accused in sexual complaint cases?
The most important requirement for any suspect is to instruct an experienced solicitor. Insist on a senior lawyer handling your case either before interview; or immediately after interview if, either you didn’t have a lawyer with you, or if you felt that your lawyer was not sufficiently experienced to handle your case.
It is not uncommon these days for suspects after interview to be released under investigation. This means that a suspect is released without charge or any bail conditions whilst the investigation continues. Never assume, however, that the police will carry out that investigation quickly or with any regard to what impact the whole affair is having on you. Your lawyer should be ensuring that the police do their job properly by securing vital evidence that is capable of supporting your innocence. If not, the lawyer should be pursuing such lines of enquiry on your behalf. After all, the stakes are high.
False claims are sadly made, and will always be made. Those who are shown to have made such claims will invariably, and rightly, go to prison. Defendants facing false accusations cannot and should not simply hope and pray that the jury will believe them and not the accuser.
Defence lawyers play an important part and make a real difference when it comes to the many challenges faced by an accuser who is not telling the truth. Cases like this require a proactive approach; they require defence lawyers who will actually investigate the case and the complaint and not simply sit back and hope that the accuser will get caught out at trial. This approach is very dangerous.
Yes, it is right that the prosecution always have to prove a defendant’s guilt, but that should not prevent lawyers from properly challenging a case against a client. We are highly experienced criminal defence lawyers and have achieved significant success in ensuring that those wrongly investigated for such allegations clear their name.
Contact us in London (West Drayton) on 01895 449288 or in Hertfordshire (St Albans) on 01727 840900 or by email via our contact page.