Anyone wrongly accused of sexual abuse lives in fear of the ‘bandwagon effect’. If the allegations against them are made public then they are afraid that the mentally disturbed and the unscrupulous will jump on the bandwagon and claim that they too have been abused. The police have taken the view that publicising someone’s name in this way gives courage to genuine victims to come forward. Since the Henriques Report criticising Operation Midland and Operation Yewtree, such announcements or ‘leaks’ of arrests on suspicion of sexual abuse have fortunately become less common.
The Mail on Sunday has been looking into the actions of ex-police detective constable Mark Williams-Thomas and have criticised the way he is said to have publicised the names of the accused in Operation Yewtree at an early stage in their investigation. Mr Settle, a former Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle describes this as ‘reckless in the extreme. If you put famous people’s names out there, you may not merely destroy their livelihoods. There’s a great danger it will lead to a bandwagon effect, generating further, false allegations, so the potential for miscarriages of justice is huge.’
So at last there is some recognition of the danger of the ‘bandwagon effect’. The College of Policing now advises that the names of suspects should only be released before charge in ‘exceptional circumstances’, and this advice is to be welcomed, but there is a risk that the guidelines can be interpreted loosely and still lead to harm to the innocent.
Let’s hope that the views of detectives like Paul Settle become the norm and the wrongly accused do not fall victim to the bandwagon effect any more.