Trawling and Trickery
The following is a blog from Simon Warr reproduced with his kind permission. Simon was himself the victim of false allegations of child abuse and his horrific experience is described in his book Presumed Guilty.
Although there is mounting public concern about disclosure failures by police and prosecutors – especially when allegations of a sexual nature have been made – there is also a danger that a range of other types of police misconduct and malpractice may be being overlooked. It is obvious that any comprehensive review of how the embattled Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reached its current state of crisis must certainly examine the much wider institutional flaws which are undermining our justice system.
I am referring particularly to the practice of police ‘trawling’ for complainants. What the police are unable to secure via ‘quality evidence’ (i.e. unearthing actual facts which help to prove what the truth is), they often attempt to make up with ‘quantity evidence’. That’s to say, if the complaints they are dealing with seem weak and ostensibly difficult to prove (sometimes because they could well be blatant lies or fantasies), the police know that if they can find others willing to make a similar complaint, they then have a much better chance of securing ultimate ‘success’ in court.
The police use this similar allegation ‘evidence’ to sway the jury into thinking the accused is a pretty unseemly human being or to use the vernacular, ‘a dirty old man’. They know that if they can muster even a ragbag of fantasists and liars to support the original allegation, they have a much better chance of persuading twelve members of a jury to convict the accused, thereby ensuring the often vast amount of taxpayers’ money that has already been spent in the so-called investigation is never going to be a source of subsequent embarrassment. This is why investigative teams are hell bent on securing convictions at all costs once a suspect has been arrested. And, of course, successful prosecutions will certainly not damage any CPS lawyers’ or police careers.
There is no place for this crude practice of police trawling in any fair, just democracy.
To exacerbate matters, the police sometimes use individuals who operate outside their force to advertise on their behalf, as happened in their ‘investigation’ of the complaints made against me, in 2012, by two greedy, unscrupulous liars. Our parliamentarians need urgently to investigate and deal with the fact that certain police forces choose to enlist this active support of private individuals – totally unregulated and completely unaccountable – in order to ‘trawl’ for further allegations of sexual misconduct (often, although not exclusively, historical in nature). The fact that these trawling operations have taken place is then often concealed from the defence, the judge and the jury.
In my case, they used the services of a Newbury businessman, a man seemingly obsessed with the entire ghastly topic of child abuse, who proclaimed on his website, within hours of the official announcement of the postponement of my trial in April 2014, that he had been asked by the investigating force to advertise on his website the fact the police were still eager for others to come forward to make complaints against me. He also stated that he would be ready to receive allegations to pass on.
How utterly crude is this and some might well argue how utterly corrupt. I can only speculate how this sort of online trawling is permitted in any decent, lawful society and what the self-appointed ‘agent’ acting on behalf of the police gains in involving himself in such a case. It is difficult to fathom. Is he simply an obsessive injustice collector (specialist subject: child abuse) or is there a much more sinister reason?
The dangers of police officers getting involved with such characters must be obvious: making use of an unaccountable, often covert, third party who has nothing to do with the actual investigation violates all professional standards of modern police practice. How much of this dangerous activity has already been going in the background on for years?
One of the major concerns about these unofficial trawling activities is that of cross-contamination of evidence. In some cases there is blatant collusion between individuals who are now claiming as adults that they were sexually abused years earlier when they were children. Those planning to make complaints may have got together face-to-face or else may have communicated with each other online or by phone. Is it possible to ascertain the extent of the sharing of bogus stories between subsequent complainants in order to ‘get things straight’ before they even approach the police? Others read about the original complaints against the defendant online or in the press and exploit the information to their advantage, often financial.
Then there is the malignant role being played by certain firms of personal injury lawyers who thrive on the historical sexual allegation industry. Apart from the myriad which appear online at a few touches of the keyboard, there is well-documented evidence of advertisements being placed in prison newspapers for those who wish to make allegations of a sexual nature to contact one or other of these firms, with the promise of sizeable sums of compensation.
It isn’t difficult to understand why someone who is short of a few bob, or a prisoner who earns a miserable £10 a week, might be inspired to spin a profitable yarn to an obliging lawyer in the hope of getting a generous tax-free payout. And since the risk nowadays of being prosecuted for lying to the police, or for perjury in court, is absolutely minimal, any fantastic pack of old lies will do. There is nothing to lose and perhaps a lot to gain.
I found it unsurprising to learn that the individual who actively advertised – unsuccessfully as it turned out – for further false allegations against me actually includes hyperlinks from his own website to a particular firm of personal injury solicitors who specialise in cases of alleged historical sexual abuse, including directing messages to a named lawyer at the firm. Was he hoping for commission, I wonder?
So why would police officers ally themselves to individuals who are so shamelessly and openly touting for compensation business? Might it be because detectives who work in this field are only too aware that the potential prospect of an undeserved financial payout of thousands of pounds can be a powerful motivating factor for some insidious individuals who come forward to make bogus complaints?
And I have recently discovered that the activities of this Berkshire-based ‘injustice collector’ are far from being unique. In certain instances, some self-proclaimed ‘activists’ have particularly dubious backgrounds of their own, including those who are themselves convicted criminals. Some have stood in the dock convicted of fraud, others of a range of drug offences; even some who have records for the vile and violent abuse of women and/or children, including members of their own family.
Many of these obsessive characters would be unable to pass any positive vetting or criminal records check required to be allowed to join the police, not to mention employment as teachers or carers, yet they are seemingly regarded by some detectives as being appropriate persons to gather sensitive intelligence that may be used in prosecutions (even if the actual source of the trawling remains concealed). How can that possibly be interpreted as justice in any form?
The time is long overdue for a major reform of our justice system. It has become far too easy – indeed, virtually risk free – for fraudsters, fantasists, revenge seekers and attention-seeking liars (as well as their enablers) to make false allegations, especially of a sexual kind against innocent victims. But this will doubtlessly continue until police officers investigate all allegations impartially and dispassionately, refraining from usurping the role of the jury in deciding whether the particular allegations being made are “credible and true.”
In addition, ALL police contacts with those who are engaged in trawling for complainants on their behalf must be fully documented and disclosed to the defence well in advance of any trial. Police forces urgently need to ensure that they never make use of dubious, unaccountable trawlers, who are subsequently hidden and protected. In cases where personal injury solicitors have already been consulted by complainants, juries should be told the details if and when a case eventually goes to trial.
We, the British public, deserve better from our police forces in these ‘investigations’ and there is a need for real consequences for fraudsters and perjurers who seek to destroy the lives of innocent people and their families. Making false allegations of any kind is never a victimless crime and where police or judges suspect that a complainant is lying, prosecution should always be seriously considered (to be honest, I’m not holding my breath on that). Otherwise, our legal system will never address the current crisis, in which innocent victims of miscarriages of justice continue to be sent to prison, their lives destroyed, while those of us who were falsely accused and then acquitted will forever live under the shadow of monstrous lies.