A few days after Liam Allan escaped a possible prison sentence by the skin of his teeth, saved by a diligent prosecutor chasing up non disclosed material, another man is rescued at the last minute.
Isaac Itiary had spent several months in prison awaiting his trial having been charged with six counts of sexual activity with a child and two counts of rape. Although he had told the police that he believed the girl was 19 (when in fact she was underage) vital evidence that corroborated his account was not passed on to the CPS. To quote The Times newspaper of 20th December “some text messages which helped the prosecution, had been provided by the police in September. It was unclear why those undermining the case were not disclosed sooner”. Concerning the content of those text messages The Times said “They showed that she routinely posed as a 19 year old”.
The Metropolitan Police is now undertaking a review of all its live cases being investigated by the Child Abuse and Sexual Offences command to make sure there aren’t any other non disclosures gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere.
Perhaps the Met’s review will save some more people from an unjust conviction. However, non disclosure of evidence is not a recent phenomenon. Our members have spoken about the uphill battle they have faced to get evidence disclosed. Material has been released at the last moment without giving the defence team enough time to examine it properly or has not been released at all. Those who can’t afford a good defence team or who are unable to fight every inch of the way for disclosures are not receiving adequate justice. We believe that there are many people in prison for sexual offences which they didn’t commit.
The officer investigating Mr Itiary may have been careless, too busy or negligent. We will have to wait to find out. However, let’s hope that any review doesn’t just place the blame on one person. Police are under pressure to increase their conviction rates at the same time as they are having their budgets cut. They have been ordered to “believe the victim” when a sex offence is alleged. This puts them in an impossible situation. They have to engage in “doublethink” in which they have to believe the allegation is true while investigating it impartially. Meanwhile despite the advice of the Henriques Report to revoke the “believe the victim” guidance no changes have been made. Strong political leadership is needed to rebalance the scales of justice.
These gross failures of the justice system are attracting the attention of the media, for now. When the spotlight passes onto the next news item and Liam and Isaac are forgotten let’s hope that there is a thorough review of the investigation and prosecution of sexual offence cases in general. The impact of a wrongful allegation is severe and long lasting. We have to make sure the justice system is fair to both complainant and defendant without bias.
Read the Oxford University paper, The Impact of Being Wrongly Accused of Abuse in Occupations of Trust: Victims’ Voices