Appalling failures of justice by both church and state
“Judge slams police after man cleared in rape trial” and “Bishop besmirched by the Church” were the front page headlines of The Times and The Daily Telegraph today.
Liam Allan, a criminology student, according to the report in The Times was charged with six rapes and six sexual assaults. He was warned that he faced at least 10 years in prison if he had been found guilty.
He was saved by an 11th hour disclosure of vital evidence (downloads off the phone of the complainant), which according to the prosecuting barrister Jerry Hayes “blew the prosecution case out of the water”. The barrister continued to say ” clearly the officer hadn’t reviewed it in any detail. He had failed in his duty of disclosure” (The Times ‘Treasury cuts have crippled justice system’.) What was this evidence that wasn’t disclosed to the defence team before the trial? According to the Daily Mail (15/12/2017, p12) ‘the texts revealed the woman asked Mr Allan for casual sex and fantasised about rough and violent intercourse and even being raped despite telling police she didn’t like being intimate with men’.
The BBC has reported that Mr Allan’s solicitor Simone Meerabux said when her client was arrested he had told police about the existence of the messages but “in spite of all that he was charged”. She said prior to the trial the CPS had told them there was “nothing further to disclose” and it was only after they reiterated their request on the first day in court that the information was made available.
You might think that at the end of this shambolic investigation the police would be apologising to Liam. Well, after explaining how they were going to launch an “urgent assessment” into the handling of the case they said “we are working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and keeping in close contact with the victim (my italics) whilst this process takes place.” I think we can safely assume that the ‘victim’ they are referring to is not Liam.
How did Liam feel about all this? Remember he had spent two years waiting for the trial and had been unable to discuss the details of the case with his mother or friends because they might be called as witnesses. To quote from The Times again he said “I can’t explain the mental torture of the past two years, you are all on your own . . . . I felt completely isolated at every stage of the process. I feel betrayed by the system which I had believed would do the right thing”
The ‘Bishop Besmirched by the Church’ is Bishop George Bell. He will be unknown to many readers. He was admired in the Church of England because of his support for the ‘Confessing Church’ in Nazi Germany during WW2. The ‘Confessing Church’ was that part of the church in Germany that opposed Hitler, at great cost to itself. He was a close friend of the German Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He publicly opposed the Allied carpet bombing of German cities at a time when this was not a very popular view to hold. This stance may well have prevented him from becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. Additionally George Bell was very active in the movement to bring together Churches of all denominations and helped Christian Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.
It shocked many Christians when the Church of England, 57 years after his death, said that Bishop Bell had abused a child between 1949 and 1953. Following this, schools and institutions dedicated to his memory were given new names and his reputation was ruined.
The George Bell Group, consisting of many eminent people, including Desmond Browne QC, Lord Geoffrey Dear, Frank Field MP, Lord Lexden, Alan Pardoe QC, and Andrew Chandler (a historian who has written a biography of George Bell), was formed because of deep concerns about the way in which the Church of England had investigated the alleged child abuse.
Eventually the Carlile report was commissioned by the Church of England. It was tasked with investigating the investigation.
Lord Carlile’s report was made public today and should be cause for rejoicing amongst those other members of the Church who have been wrongfully accused of child abuse. According to the Daily Telegraph today the report found that the Church of England had incorrectly branded George Bell a paedophile despite lack of evidence. It had not pursued all appropriate avenues of investigation such as interviewing a member of Bishop Bell’s staff who was still alive at the time of the process. It also questioned calling the complainant a “survivor”.
Unfortunately, at this point, Archbishop Justin Welby has not cleared the name of Bishop George Bell but has only apologised for the mishandling of the investigation.
These two cases have some similar qualities. Though one is a young student and the other is a dead bishop, both have suffered from seriously inadequate investigations by those who are supposed to be guardians of justice. We expect our justice system to act justly, but what about the church? The Old Testament prophets and Jesus Christ spoke out again and again against injustice and the Church is supposed to follow their example.
One could suggest that both organisations have given into political pressure to give more credence to allegations of sexual assault at the cost of seeking justice. A year after the Henriques report recommended that the guidance given to police to automatically “believe the victim” should end, this guidance to the police has not changed. The Church of England persists in using “victim/survivor” language in its latest safeguarding guidelines.
While both organisations continue to work from a position of bias towards the complainant then miscarriages of justice will continue together with their tragic consequences.
Read a summary of the Carlile Report in the Church Times. The full report is here.