Is Lowell Goddard moving towards a ” Show Trial ” over the Westminster Paedophile Ring?

lowell goddard

Justice Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC

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Last month I  highlighted Ben Emmerson’s opening address to the Goddard Inquiry in which the leading counsel raised the argument of examining false accusations of child sex abuse and finding  against those who made them – effectively putting ” survivors on trial “.

I wrote: “this threat …must be very real for survivors who may want to give evidence in highly contentious cases. If  it does – sometime down the route – look at the Westminster paedophile ring – will ” Nick ” be expected to testify and face questions from lawyers for Harvey Proctor  who is alleged to be his abuser ( and vociferously denies it)- at the risk that a ” court” will decide he could be publicly condemned for going to the police in the first place.”

Now Lowell Goddard has confirmed this in an otherwise finely balanced statement issued surprisingly on All Fools Day ( but then she is a New Zealander and may not have known).

In it she says:

“. I am committed to ensuring that we hear all relevant testimony, including from victims and survivors as well as from those affected by false allegations of abuse. As I announced in November last year, the Inquiry intends to explore the balance which must be struck between encouraging the reporting of child sexual abuse and protecting the rights of the accused.  

I am determined to get the process of the Inquiry right.

I will ensure that all relevant evidence is considered. As is standard practice in public inquiries, questions to witnesses will normally be asked by Counsel to the Inquiry whose role will include, where necessary, the exploration of witness credibility. Affected parties will not ordinarily be permitted to ask questions of witnesses directly, but as I said in my Opening Statement in July 2015, affected parties are entitled to make an application to ask direct questions and I will grant those applications if fairness requires it. “

Yes there is a point here but the press seem to have immediately interpreted this to mean that  Harvey Proctor will have his day in court so he can condemn ” Nick” and ” Nick’s ” credibility will be judged by Lady Goddard and Ben Emmerson.

I am not going to comment further on Proctor’s case  but  draw attention  to another scenario.

Dame Janet Smith’s conclusion on the Jimmy  Savile scandal at the BBC concluded that  paedophiles were both very clever and manipulative ( Harvey Proctor’s lawyers please note this is not a reference to him).

Now just imagine if Bishop Peter Ball had appeared before Goddard after he had been first cleared but well before his recent conviction as a sex offender in a fresh police investigation.

Justice Goddard and Ben Emmerson would have heard what a decent and well respected chap he was from George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, Tory Mp, Tim Rathbone, Lord Justice Lloyd and ex Tory minister Sir Tim Renton. What chance would any  survivor have against such a phalanx of the great and good to be ” credible” let alone ” credible and true”. I can just imagine the line of questioning from Ben Emmerson and he wouldn’t be hauling the former Archbishop of Canterbury over the coals.

And how utterly stupid Lowell Goddard and Ben Emmerson would have looked when a subsequent police inquiry found the Bishop guilty.

The pitfalls of handling the Westminster paedophile allegations in such a way should be clear to see and the inquiry better think very carefully about how they are going to do it. And survivors again the  Latin words ” Caveat Emptor” – buyer beware – should be utmost in their minds  before taking part in such an inquiry.

 

 

The BBC Panorama child sex abuse fall out: No one yet knows the truth

Elm Guest House:  One of the alleged venues which Panorama debunked

Elm Guest House: One of the alleged venues which Panorama debunked

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Investigating allegations of historic child sex abuse is the most difficult job I have ever undertaken as a journalist.

Normally in an investigation you can get documents, find trusted sources, and corroborate information.

 Child sex abuse is  by its nature a private act between two  people-one who is not capable of giving consent.

 The person who is abused is likely to  be damaged for life by such an experience and could find it difficult to relate to other people. So prior to the Jimmy Savile expose hardly anybody believed them.

 The perpetrator  who would suffer huge damage to his or her reputation if found out  will go to any length to cover their tracks -including, if the current  Met Police criminal investigation , Operation Midland, is to be believed, murder.

Rack this up and say you wish to uncover acts more than 30 years ago- when mobile phones  and the internet were science fiction- involving very, very powerful people in high places who can pull strings and you have made it doubly difficult.

That is why it is absurd  for the BBC to put out a documentary claiming to reveal the truth about the Westminster paedophile ring when the story is only half complete, when the police haven’t finished their investigation, and nobody has tested the evidence.

The result was a documentary that probably left the public confused, the police visibly annoyed because it could have put off new people coming forward to help them complete their investigations and the survivors who were interviewed by the BBC worried they had been traduced.

The programme was right to show that closed cases including paedophile teachers and headmasters , celebrities and other powerful people had been found guilty because brave survivors had come forward, been believed, and won justice in the courts.

They were also right to raise the questions of when a suspect should be named publicly – because of the damage it could cause to their reputation. But I have little sympathy for Harvey Proctor, the ex MP who protested too much, because he put into the public domain what the allegations were against him before an investigationhas concluded whether they could be true or false. He is no shrinking violet.

At the moment information about this dark side of British history is coming to light in a piecemeal fashion. So the BBC cannot possibly know the ” truth ” about events in the past. It would have been far better if the Panorama team, who say they have spent a year on this, had waited another year before promising to come forward with a considered judgement.

 I would like them to concentrate on how the BBC has come to terms in tackling its own problem in handling the culture that allowed paedophiles like Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall to thrive unchecked. They have a big report from Dame Janet Smith which will eventually have to be published – and they have already looked at the damage Jimmy Savile caused in the NHS. That would be a Panorama worth watching.

Child Sex Abuse: The Met Police’s honest attempt to safeguard survivors and alleged abusers

Scotland Yard: a honest statement Pic Credit: Wikipedia

Scotland Yard: a honest statement
Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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Yesterday unusually the Met Police issued a long statement on Operation Midland – the most controversial criminal investigation into allegations that young boys were murdered and sexually abused by people involved in a Westminster paedophile ring.

The press  coverage has concentrated on the mea culpa by the Met Police itself when a senior investigating officer described some very sensational allegations by an abuse survivor called ” Nick” as ” credible and true”.

The force stuck by its description as ” credible” but dropped the reference to ” true”.As their statement says:”only a jury can decide on the truth of allegations after hearing all the evidence.

“We should always reflect that in our language and we acknowledge that describing the allegations as ‘credible and true’ suggested we were pre-empting the outcome of the investigation.”

But the long statement – it is about 1200 words- also calls for the media and some of the accused,to modify their behaviour both in the interest of protecting vulnerable survivors and not defaming alleged abusers so they can get a fair trial.

The words in the statement covering survivors were particularly pertinent.- coming straight after the Daily Mail has gone as far as it could to identify ” Nick” in a piece in Saturday’s paper and on-line – including a pixellated picture and details about his mother and the job he held.

The Met Police make the eminently sensible suggestion that the press should be extremely careful about identifying vulnerable people – and suggest that print and on-line journalists should follow broadcasters and incorporate part of the regulator Ofcom’s code  when interviewing vulnerable people.

Their definition is much wider than minors. Vulnerable people “may include those with learning difficulties, those with mental health problems, the bereaved, people with brain damage or forms of dementia, people who have been traumatised or who are sick or terminally ill.”

One could  say someone who has been sexually abused as a kid has certainly been traumatised. Unsurprisingly, this does not seem to have been mentioned in the print media.

The police statement adds: ” Our other main concern is the risk that media investigations will affect the process of gathering and testing evidence in our criminal investigation. In recent weeks, one journalist reporting on Operation Midland has shown the purported real identity of someone making an allegation of sexual assault to a person who has disclosed that they have been questioned by police concerning those allegations.”

It rightly warns:”it is extremely distressing to discover that their identity might have been given to anyone else, particularly if that is to someone who may be involved in the case. Secondly, possible victims or witnesses reading the article may believe their identities could be revealed as well, which could deter them from coming forward.”

The police also make it clear  that until someone is charged they will not name anybody. There is a case for protecting individuals who stand accused of such a heinous crime – both murder and sexual abuse – who are still alive from being exposed because it will prejudice a trial. The problem with historic child sex abuse many of those involved are now dead – and it is their reputation that is at risk not a future trial.

However the accused also have to behave responsibly as well. Harvey Proctor, the former Tory MP, who has been questioned by the police as part of the investigation, has the right to call a press conference to defend himself. But it is very irresponsible to name other people who may or may not be under investigation by the Met Police or demand that his accuser be named.

It is not surprising that this has become such a controversial issue. The stakes are very high. People’s reputations face ruin and proving historic child sex abuse is a very difficult thing to do as it takes place in private and people are hardly going to admit to it.

What is required now is some space for the police to continue this complex and difficult investigation.

Everyone, not just the police, needs to tread very carefully and try to report this honestly and objectively, without fear or favour, and without blunting the detailed investigative skills needed to do the job.