Defending Historic Sexual Offence Allegations
As outlined in a previous blog (Sir Cliff Richard and the law of Privacy 24th July 2018) most will have read the recent reports about Sir Cliff Richard’s invasion of privacy case against the BBC which he won. The case, of course, originated in an accusation of historic sexual abuses resulting in a police raid on his home in August 2014 which was broadcast live on the BBC.
The allegations related to an unnamed man making an allegation, in late 2013, to officers of the Metropolitan Police. He claimed he had been sexually assaulted at a Billy Graham rally at Sheffield United’s football ground in 1985 when he was a child. The allegations (involving four boys in all) were then passed to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014. Watching the events at his home in Portugal Sir Cliff described feeling shocked and humiliated by what was happening to him. Sir Cliff always strongly denied the claims of sexual assault and despite the dramatics there was no arrest and no charges were ever made prompting the action for serious invasion of privacy.
The cost to Sir Cliff was considerable and not just the £3.4million to argue his case in court. He took legal action to redress the “profound and long-lasting damage” he suffered. The real cost to him of this apparently false accusation, as Sir Cliff’s lawyer claimed, was that Sir Cliff had suffered permanent damage to his self-esteem and he was now frightened to be near children.
To suffer detriment does not require a charge or guilt. Sir Cliff is a celebrity but damaged reputation can happen to anyone with potentially serious consequences such as loss of family, employment and abuse. Given the amount of time that has often passed the details of a case are difficult, complex and prosecutions can be based on a complainant’s word against that of the defendant. Given the gravity of the allegation it is crucial to act quickly minimise damage to a person’s reputation and potentially their liberty.
The law then and now
The current law in England and Wales is governed by the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, there is a fundamental principle that the law is not applied retrospectively. This means that any charges brought will be based on the law at the time of the alleged offence and the legal representation needs to be expert in both the current and historic law. Most historic sexual offence charges will be made under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 where the alleged offence occurred before 1 May 2004. As implied, there is no time limit as to when sexual offences can be prosecuted.
Where you stand if accused
As the offences occurred some time ago it is unlikely that there will be any physical or forensic evidence. The alleged offences are quite likely to have taken place in private with no witnesses and no charges at the time. The allegations are likely to be based on statements from the accuser only. These statements may be unreliable as they recall events that occurred many years ago and often they will have been a child at the time.
It is important to understand that following criticism of both the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for failing to take action in the past it has become more likely that the CPS will prosecute a case now with less evidence than they may have done previously.
False Accusations and Motivation
The accuser and defendant will often be well known to each other. Allegations often involve family members, schools or care homes over a period of time. These forms of relationships may have put the accuser in a vulnerable position. Possible motives can be financial or involve a personal vendetta. The accuser will probably claim that they did not report the offence at the time because they were afraid to do so which, in some cases, will be true and is not of itself an indicator of falsehood. In order to prepare a well-informed defence, it is important to spend time with the client to understand the circumstances at the time of the alleged event(s) took place. This can include documenting times that the client may have been alone with the accuser or understanding the dynamics of a family relationship especially if there may be a reason that might motivate them to make a false allegation.
What does it mean?
Reputations can be quickly and irreparably damaged by rumour and speculation following any allegations. The impact of even unsubstantiated accusations can have a detrimental effect. If faced with such a situation get in touch without delay and, if possible before a formal charge is made.
An allegation of a historic sexual offence is a serious matter involving potentially a custodial sentence, and it is important that a thorough defence statement is prepared. If there are any issues with the consistency and reliability of evidence it must be thoroughly addressed. Where it is alleged that the offence was committed several times this can lead to “course of conduct” evidence. Because of the potential to cause misleading impressions about the extent of the alleged offence, thorough preparation and a detailed defence statement are needed as a counter.
It is essential that your legal representation is experienced, professional, and highly competent in this area of the law. Our expert team have the expertise to ensure our clients are treated fairly when dealing with the criminal justice system. Those accused should be able to expect that the case will be dealt with promptly and the police will consider the evidence in support of the defendant just as much as that supporting a charge, but this is not always the case.
Contact our Expert Historic Sex Abuse Defence Solicitors Manchester & London
Many of our clients face the difficulties explored above and we make it our priority to protect their liberty. At Tuckers Solicitors, our Specialist Casework Team, led by Stuart Sutton, has extensive experience in cases involving historic sexual offences. We provide a professional and supportive legal service and pride ourselves on handling such cases with sensitivity and care working tirelessly to ensure that the rights of our clients are defended.
Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ready to deliver expert advice and representation.