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“Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards…”



The following is a blog from one of our committee members, the BBC Suffolk Radio presenter Simon Warr, who himself suffered a wrongful allegation and was found not guilty. He wrote a book about his experiences titled “Presumed Guilty”, find out more about his book here.

Just when it seemed as though public attitudes might just be changing towards sexual allegations, following the supposed abandoning of the ludicrous ‘you will be believed’ dogma, along comes another example of unthinking ideologically-inspired nonsense peddled by a senior public official. This time it’s the so-called ‘Victims’ Commissioner’, Baroness Helen Newlove.

On her official Twitter account, the Baroness – or possibly one of her flunkies – has recently posted the following politically-correct twaddle, masquerading as concern for the amorphous mass known collectively as ‘victims’:

I strongly disagree with judges who demand that rape victims are referred to as complainants. A victim is a victim from the moment the crime is committed. They deserve to be treated with respect, sensitivity & feel that their pain is acknowledged. To do otherwise is a backward step.

The Baroness obviously takes the view that everyone who claims to have been raped (or otherwise sexually assaulted) is telling the truth. She doesn’t seem to believe that any sane person is capable of lying about having been abused, which strikes me as naivety in the extreme.

As we have seen in a series of recent scandals over disclosure (in other words ignoring or withholding of evidence by police), the key issue is often whether any ‘crime’ has even been committed in the first place, or whether it merely exists in the imagination of a chancer or fantasist; the tall tale made up in a bid for revenge, or is solely a disgraceful lie emanating from the mouth of a compensation-hungry fraudster. Has it not occurred to Helen Newlove that liars, fantasists and fraudsters exist?

I put it to her in the strongest possible terms that they do and, wherever these people rear their ugly heads, it is the accused and his or her family who are the victims. Is she really advocating that we lurch back to the ‘you will be believed’ school of nonsense?

I find it extremely concerning that this very poor example of a palpably fallacious argument is being advanced by a well-paid public official, who also has a seat in Parliament: since 2010 she has been a member of the House of Lords.

Of course, no-one is suggesting that people who complain that they have been a victim of a serious crime should be treated with anything other than professionalism, kindness and respect by the police, prosecutors and court officials. However, prejudging the outcome of a contested trial by confirming ahead of a jury’s deliberations that a crime has indeed been committed is, in my view, a very backward step indeed, and one that is grossly unfair and totally unjust to any defendant.

What is the next step along this particular road to judicial hell? Judges and prosecution barristers referring to the ‘as yet unconvicted rapist in the dock’ rather than ‘the defendant’? Then, any pretence of a presumption of innocence in sexual trials would really be dead and buried.

It seems that the whole institution of the ‘Victims’ Commissioner’ is another of those ludicrous and expensive quangos established by the last Labour government and indulged by successive administrations. It seems that Baroness Newlove has no particular qualifications, nor expertise in criminal justice, beyond having been herself a victim of a particularly horrific crime when her husband, Garry, was murdered by drunken thugs in 2007. While having every sympathy for her loss, it does seem a strange criterion upon which to justify making a senior public appointment. And this is where the problem seems to lie: we are expecting someone with no legal background nor qualifications to act as a public watchdog and advocate.

The baroness’s ridiculous tweet reminds me of the famous court scene in Alice in Wonderland:

‘No, no!’, said the Queen. ‘Sentence first—verdict afterwards.’
‘Stuff and nonsense!’, said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’
‘Hold your tongue!’, said the Queen, turning purple.
‘I won’t!’, said Alice.
Off with her head!’, the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

And yet, here in Baroness Newlove, we have the modern equivalent of the purple-faced Queen of Hearts, advocating that we should turn our justice system on its head solely to recognise the pain felt by ‘victims’… Baroness, some of your so-called ‘victims’ will be liars, fraudsters or fantasists, of this you can be sure.

Fortunately, despite her very grand sounding title and generous salary, Helen Newlove has no actual power over the courts. It can only be hoped that judges and sensible politicians will continue to ignore her dangerous, misguided, unqualified opinions.

In theory, at least, the office of the Victims’ Commissioner is supposed to offer:

‘inclusivity representing all victims and witnesses, including the most vulnerable members of our community.’

Yet, when it comes to the actual definition of what constitutes a ‘victim’, things become much more hazy. It appears that only certain victims actually qualify for such support and representation. For example, I have yet to hear the taxpayer-funded Victims’ Commissioner say one single word about victims of miscarriages of justice or those whose lives and families have been, and continue to be, destroyed by malicious, false accusations, propounded by the plethora of greedy, selfish, heartless liars. Employing a victims’ champion who only represents certain types of victim, while ignoring others, seems to me to be a very poor way of spending public money. What kind of message is this sending?

Are those who have had their life utterly destroyed by these malignant liars and fraudsters, Baroness, the wrong sort of victims?