A man wrongly accused of rape after the police failed to disclose vital evidence called on a civil liberties group to rethink its campaign to prevent victims of sexual crimes having to submit their mobile phones to the police. Liam Allan had his life turned upside down after he was charged with 12 counts of rape and sexual assault. His trial collapsed after police were ordered to hand over phone records.
Allan spoke to the Justice Gap in the wake of calls by the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch to protect victims of sexual violence from what it called ‘intrusive data gathering’. The group is calling for ‘urgent reform to demands for rape victims’ mobile phones and personal records’. ‘Other victims of crime are not treated this way. People who have suffered sexual violence are victims – not suspects,’ it says.
Analysing a complainant’s mobile records was ‘core to an efficient police investigation’, said Liam Allan. In his case, the police downloaded 40,000 text and WhatsApp messages from the complainant’s phone but refused to pass this evidence on to the defence, despite repeated requests from Allan’s lawyers for the messages to be disclosed before the trial. They were told there was nothing to disclose. The case against Allan collapsed three days into his trial at Croydon Crown Court.
Allan said that the issue was being inaccurately presented as ‘the police suspecting the complainant is making a false allegation’. ‘However, the information stored can be just as vital to proving guilt as it is proving innocence. This is constantly spun as a negative thing for real victims of rape, when in truth, without the victim even realising, there could be vital evidence within those messages that assist their case. Without such an investigation, many real cases will collapse, whilst many false ones will go through. That’s a dangerous gamble, and no one’s justice is worth gambling. I’m fearful this is moving things in the wrong direction for victims of crime and miscarriage of justice victims.’
Griff Ferris, legal & policy officer at Big Brother Watch, told RightsInfo that ‘victims of any other types of crime’ were not asked to ‘put their private lives on trial’. ‘Treating rape victims like suspects is an affront to justice, undermining trust in our justice system, and deterring victims from bringing offenders to justice,’ Ferris said. ‘We urge the police and the CPS to take action to protect victims of rape from these excessive digital investigations, which are swamping police in irrelevant information and obstructing justice. This broken system must change.’
Dr Dennis Eady of Cardiff Law School Innocence Project said that it was ‘shocking’ that there was ‘a move to stop the police even obtaining text messages from accusers never mind disclosing them’. ‘In the light of current concerns about non-disclosure, epitomised in the case of falsely accused Liam Allan, this is incredible. Where sexual allegations are concerned it seems there is a wish to close every possible avenue that might enable the accused to defend themselves or prove their innocence as Liam did.’
Eady went on to say that was ‘even more shocking’ that those campaigning were doing so ‘under the banner of human rights – except of course the right to a fair trial or not to be arbitrarily detained. Fundamental rights that they seem determined to abandon.’