New guidance for police investigating non recent sexual abuse offers little hope for the wrongfully accused
In August the College of Policing published new guidance on the investigation of non recent sexual abuse. You can read the document here.
While the updated guidance advises that police should gather all evidence both towards and away from the allegation, it is striking that the document contradicts this principle by its failure to even mention that some complainants lie and make false allegations.
Indeed, one of the two direct references to ‘false allegations’ is the statement that ‘Delayed reporting does not suggest a false allegation’ followed by a long list of reasons for delay that does not include this as a possibility. The other direct mention is advice to police that they do not engage in ‘trawling’ or give information that enables false or mistaken allegations of crime. Trawling is described as ‘the process whereby the police contact individuals even though they have not been named’ (s2.1.2). Undermining this, the guidance goes on to discuss media appeals with a supplied phone number to call.
There is a chink of light for innocent people wrongly accused by someone who has a ‘recovered memory’. In a section on Memory, there is mention of suggestive influences on memory, and psychological disorders that can affect memory, including ‘delusional or factitious conditions that might underpin the account’.
But the underlying premise running through the 80 pages is that anyone reporting non-recent sexual abuse is a victim to be believed. Going against the first recommendation in Sir Richard Henriques review of Operation Midland, the guidance includes 369 uses of the word ‘victim/s’ while the word ‘complainant’ is never used.
Against Sir Richard’s second recommendation that ‘the instruction to believe a “victim’s” account should cease’, this instruction is reasserted. Even to the point of a decision not to proceed to charging or prosecuting the accused, the guidance tells police that ‘the victim should not be left feeling they have not been believed’. Encouraging this mindset within the police means that confirmation bias against suspects will continue to work against the averred impartiality of investigation.
Hence innocent people, who are mistakenly or knowingly falsely accused in word-against-word cases, will continue to be put through the agonies of prolonged investigations and, tragically for some, trials and wrongful prison sentences.
Read our earlier articles related to this issue.