I was asked, as an experienced child abuse lawyer, to give an interview to LBC Radio this morning about the recent press conference given by Harvey Proctor, who has now been interviewed twice by the Metropolitan Police about serious allegations being investigated by Operation Midland concerning his connection with the Dolphin Square child abuse paedophile ring, and various serious allegations. My view is that we should not be judging guilt or innocence at this stage, nor should Mr Proctor be attempting to manipulate the press and public into believing that he is innocent in advance of any criminal charges. The venue for the trial of guilt or innocence is the criminal court, not the media. If it is wrong for the allegations to be made public, so is it wrong for him to hold a press conference in an attempt to clear his name. I also do not think that this is anything approaching a witch hunt.
- Peter Garsden is the senior partner at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden and head of its child abuse department. Peter is also president of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers
- Matthew Scott, a barrister at Pump Court Chambers specialising in criminal law who blogs at www.barristerblogger.com, has responded here
- Sketch by Isobel Williams (www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk)
The questions posed by LBC Radio were:
Is it correct for the identity of a suspect to be made public before charging him/her with a criminal offence?
In cases where the individual has based his/her career upon promotion through the media, and is a public figure, then different rules should apply in that they have based their popularity upon the help they get from the media and the public. ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword.’
In other cases against celebrities, the media exposure has brought other complainants forward, who otherwise would not have been contactable by the police in that the abuse had taken place many years ago whilst the celebrity was making public appearances. This has had the effect of reinforcing the case against the accused, and assisted the prosecution.
In group actions I have been involved in, after charges have been brought, admittedly, in care home cases the accused has appealed for witnesses to come forward to support his good character, which has back fired on him/her, in that it has brought forward other complainants of abuse against him/her.
The debate on anonymity goes on. I can see there is an argument that no details of an offender should be released until after charge, when the reporting restrictions clearly apply, in order to prevent justice being affected. No such prohibitions apply pre-charge, which place the debate into clearer focus. I think that the complainant should be protected, because they are often vulnerable children or disabled adults, and far less powerful than the accused.
Is this a witch hunt against homosexuals?
The Salem witch hunts of many years ago involved witches being hunted down and put to death by the authorities for simply being witches without any evidence of wrong doing. The analogy being drawn is clearly wrong in that here we have actual allegations by individuals being investigated by the police against certain accused individuals. If there was no evidence to investigate then the witch hunt analogy would hold more water. In a civilised society, with all the rules of evidence there are, then a witch hunt by the Police could clearly not happen.
Should the Policeman in charge of the investigation resign if he has got it all wrong?
Clearly not. The policeman in charge has an obligation to the public to investigate all allegations made to him/her by the individual concerned. It is his/her job to seek out all the available evidence, then refer it to the Crown Prosecution service, who will decide whether it meets the threshold required by them to charge or otherwise. Again, because of the independence and power of the CPS, it would not be possible for the police to charge someone on the basis of bias even if he wanted to do so.
According to the Guardian, the allegations made by ‘Nick’ are:-
- In 1980, Proctor is accused of stripping and tying a boy to a table in a house in central London, stabbing the child through the arm and the body over 40 minutes, before raping and killing the boy through strangulation. Nick claims to be a witness to the murder.
- In a London home between 1981 and 1982, Proctor is accused of anally raping Nick at a party before being joined by two other men who then punched and kicked an alleged victim who is believed to have died.
- In Kingston upon Thames, between May and June 1979, Nick claims he witnessed a boy being run down and killed by a car, and believes Proctor was part of the group responsible for the killing. Proctor is accused of raping Nick with several other males in Dolphin Square between 1979 and 1984.
- He is alleged to have opened the door to the exclusive Carlton Club when Nick was taken there by a rapist between 1978 and 1981.
- Proctor is accused of raping Nick at a swimming pool party in central London between 1978 and 1981.
- Between 1981 and 1982, Proctor is accused of forcing Nick to perform oral sex in a large townhouse in central London. On another occasion, Proctor is also accused in the same venue of producing a penknife and threatened to cut Nick’s genitals.
- Between 1979 and 1984, Proctor is accused of forcing Nick to perform oral sex before beating him with punches at a central London address.
- Over the same period, at locations including the Carlton Club, a flat in Dolphin Square and a central London home, Proctor was alleged to have been present at Christmas parties with Nick. At one of these parties, he is alleged to have forced Nick to perform oral sex.
These allegations are said by Mr. Proctor in the press conference to be so fanciful and extreme that they could not being true. He does maintain that he is innocent, and should not be pilloried by media exposure. On the other hand these allegations are so serious that they must be rigorously investigated by the police in great depth. It is undoubtedly correct that if an allegation has been made, then the person against whom it is made must be entitled to counter them at a police interview or criminal trial in a balanced way. Mr Proctor denies the allegations, and as such he should be given the right to defend himself at a trial before a Judge and jury, if indeed he is ever charged. The trial should not take place in the glare of the media before charges have even been brought.
At the press conference, there was no representative from the police, or the complainant. It was simply an opportunity for Mr Proctor to make allegations against the police, and to suggest that the complainant was making false allegations. It was therefore a one sided debate clearly designed to influence the media in his favour. Arguably such publicity could affect any criminal trial, should there ever be one. To hold a press conference about the wrongfulness of media exposure concerning allegations of abuse, is somewhat paradoxical.
This argument has been made by public figures against whom allegations have been made many times before. The same is true, of course, of non-famous people, but their stories are of limited media interest due to their low media profile. Hopefully, one day, some legislation will be passed to clarify the position one way or another. Meanwhile, it provides opportunities for debate to take place by those for and against.