November 25 2023

Mistaking prejudice for bravery

Mistaking prejudice for bravery

Sketch by Isobel Williams

Sketch by Isobel Williams. http://isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk/

Peter Garsden is a lawyer at the height of his powers. He has recovered a great deal of compensation for those who have been abused as children. But his attack on Harvey Proctor published on The Justice Gap this morning was ill-judged, injudicious and unfair.

It boils down to this: Mr Proctor was wrong to attempt to use the media to defend himself. He should have left his defence to a police interview and – should there ever be one – a criminal trial.

That would be a strong argument, were it not for the fact that Mr Proctor has had to endure month after month of smear, and its inseparable buddy innuendo, suggesting that he is guilty of the most appalling crimes that it is possible to imagine: child rape and child murder.

Why should it be acceptable to accuse and smear him yet unacceptable for him to defend himself?

How long would he have to put up with attacks on his character before it would be acceptable for him to defend himself?

  •  Matthew Scott is a barrister at Pump Court Chambers specialising in criminal law who blogs at www.barristerblogger.com
  • This article is a response to an article written by Peter Garsden, senior partner at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden, which was published on The Justice Gap this morning here
  • Sketch by Isobel Williams (www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk)

The undisputed smear leader, not even mentioned by Mr Garsden, has been Exaro News, an online news outlet that Mr Proctor very charitably described as “odd”. Exaro has been gleefully assisted by a selection of internet prosecutors, mainly obsessive tweeters and seedy conspiratorial websites, but also the Russian propaganda channel Sputnik, which has somehow managed to find time, when it is not disseminating unreprentant Stalinism, to interview Exaro’s Editor in Chief Mark Watts at inordinate length about what its presenter George Galloway described as “Britain’s biggest ever scandal.”

We never named Mr Proctor until his name was in the public domain,” is Exaro’s defence.

It is hogwash.

First it encouraged speculation – some of which took place in the comments published on its own website – with hints about “still living ex-MPs” being involved. Then it revealed in March that Proctor’s home had been raided by police, on the very day that the raid took place thereby catapulting Proctor’s name into the headlines.

So when Mr Garsden sniffily complains that Proctor’s news conference was a “one sided debate clearly designed to influence the media in his favour” one is entitled to ask: where were you when the only side in the debate was Exaro and their internet cronies? Did you complain, or raise so much as an eyebrow at their attempts to manipulate the media against Mr Proctor?  If you did, then I apologise, but I certainly did not notice it.  Mr Garsden seems to think it is perfectly acceptable for Mr Proctor’s accusers to make their case through Exaro and its social media friends, but wrong for Mr Proctor to defend himself, months later, at a news conference.

Nor does Mr Garsden have a word of criticism for the behaviour of the police. Nobody is suggesting that the senior investigating police officer should resign merely for investigating someone who turns out to be innocent. That would be absurd.

The reason Mr Proctor has called for his resignation is that Supt Kenny MacDonald announced almost as soon as he started the investigation that he found “Nick’s” allegations “credible and true.”

It might have been just about defensible, though still very unwise, to describe them as “credible,” but to say that they were “true” was disgraceful.

The only possible construction of the officer’s remarks was that he had made up his mind without gathering, let alone listening to, the evidence. That is a very good definition of prejudice.  A police officer who is demonstrably prejudiced against the main suspect is unfit to lead a murder investigation.

So what does Mr Garsden have to say about police prejudice?

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 (sic) wanted to do so.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if the investigating officer is biased because the CPS isn’t; an argument which is as absurd as it is complacent.

Of course the overwhelming majority of CPS prosecutors are fair-minded; but their charging decisions are dependent on the evidence produced by the police. No matter how good the CPS are, a prejudiced investigation will produce a prejudiced charging decision.

In any case, influencing the charging decision is only one part, and a relatively small part, of the job of the police in a murder investigation. A prejudiced police officer running the show is poisonous to its integrity.

Mr Garsden doesn’t like the use of the term “witch hunt” to describe Mr Proctor’s investigation.

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 …. 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.”

It may be that he is uncomfortable with the analogy because, as he explains on his firm’s website, he himself actually believes in the widespread existence of witches who sacrifice children. If you believe in the existence of evil witches a witch hunt is not necessarily a bad thing:

My own belief is that there are several hidden societies in England and Wales which practise ritualistic abuse to the present day, which includes the sacrifice of children described graphically in Dennis Wheatley novels. The Wicker Man film is obviously fictional, but not far away from the truth, I believe. A similar attitude would have been adopted to child abuse 70 years ago, I would imagine.

Although Witchcraft was commonplace in this country in medieval times, there are many who alleged they have been a victim of it today. The point is that not enough people are brave enough to believe that it is true.”

I don’t know whether Mr Proctor is distantly related to the famous Goody Proctor who was imprisoned in Salem, but his analogy is surely that a bizarre denunciation, accepted without question by the police, has been enough to ruin his life, almost as though he were her.

He probably also had in mind that outbreaks of witch hunting were often accompanied by a sort of mass hysteria in which anyone disputing the need for a hunt would be mocked and ridiculed. Nobody familiar with Twitter could deny the dangers of a similar hysteria today.

The central allegation – that Mr Proctor is guilty of sexual serial killing – seems to have been accepted by the police as true not because of the strength of the evidence but because, as Mr Garsden might put it, the investigating officer has been “brave enough to believe it is true.”

Unfortunately I think Mr Garsden has mistaken prejudice for bravery.

It is a dangerous confusion.

  • This article is a response to an article written by Peter Garsden, senior partner at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden, which was published on The Justice Gap this morning here