The Wrong Kind of Victims
Article by Felicity Stryjak
Definitions of “Victim” –
1) A person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action,
2) A person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment.
In July 2022, an ex-teacher was tried for sexual offences against a teenaged pupil. Under oath the teenager admitted being infatuated with her and that she rejected his advances. She was found not guilty unanimously and acquitted of all charges. He has anonymity for life and was likely financially compensated by the state for his ‘Ordeal’. On the other hand, she has lost her career and had her picture and address printed in the paper.
In 2017, a young man was on trial, charged with 12 counts of rape and sexual assault. Three days into the trial, his two-year ordeal came to an abrupt end, (of sorts), and all charges were dropped when messages that had not been disclosed, refuting the accusers’ claims came to light. His barrister stayed up all night to review disclosure that should have been made weeks before. He has had to rebuild his life in a new direction from that which he planned, while his accuser retains anonymity and doubtless ‘Compensation’ too.
In 2016, a retired fire-fighter was released from jail having served three years of a six-year sentence (increased to eight-and-a-half years on appeal) and exonerated. It was only due to the tireless work of his wife, that lawyers and investigators were persuaded to work on his case pro bono. Tragically, within months of his release, his wife was dead, and he believes the cause to be the stresses that accompanied his ordeal. Again, though his accuser waived his anonymity in this case, it was there if he wanted it and he doggedly pursued compensation.
Who would you suggest is the victim in any of these cases, or any of the thousands of others over the years, for that matter? The person claiming victimhood or the person unjustly accused? There is a growing list of people who are prosecuted for perverting the course of justice having made false accusations, but the authorities and campaigning groups would have the public believe that such cases are ‘Vanishingly rare’. They are not. At the following website is tip of a very large iceberg: https://criticathink.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/database-of-false-accusations
These are only a few of the ones that make the national press. It goes without saying that many more get no press coverage at all and remain invisible to the public consciousness.
Are those who pervert the course of justice truly victims? Were any of the three accusers briefly described above ‘Victims’? Were they harmed in any way; did they suffer ill-fortune or mistreatment?
Or are those they accused the victims? Most people agree these days that to be accused of a crime you haven’t committed causes psychological harm. Only the most radical of feminists insist that it’s ‘No big deal’ or ‘So tiny a number that it’s acceptable collateral damage’. It’s also increasingly accepted that to be subjected to an investigation by police when innocent is ill-fortune and to be churned through the legal system without proper investigation and spat out at the other end, even if not convicted is mistreatment at the very least. Add a wrongful conviction into the mix and mistreatment piles upon mistreatment.
Yet, on so many levels, the falsely, maliciously, mistakenly or wrongly accused are not seen as victims. Nor are their families and nor are the friends, relatives and colleagues who may have been duped along the way and all of whom, to varying degrees, may suffer as a result.
While not suggesting that everyone adversely affected in this way should be compensated, and the legal concept of remoteness should, of course, be observed, the question remains: when someone has lost reputation, money, and potentially home and job as a consequence of someone else’s actions shouldn’t that be cause for compensation?
People are fired from their jobs on the strength of a mere accusation, even banned from working in the same profession ever again such is the stigma attached to accusations of sexual crime.
The ‘Balance of Probability’ test is used by organisations and Family Court as the yardstick by which to judge, always erring side of caution. Regardless of the statistics which suggest that, given the large number of cases closed with NFA (No Further Action), it is more likely that the lack of evidence suggests that there was no crime, the assumption always seems to be that the crime is more likely to have happened than not.
An accusation has effectively become a statement of fact.
Why, when the CICB so willing to pay compensation to those claiming to be the victim of sexual crime without the need for a prosecution, a guilty verdict or even a name, are the wrongly accused not so compensated? Have they not suffered and is their suffering not arguably more measurable?
Why is no one in authority asking these difficult questions and looking at the issue of unintended consequences? Or was it the intention all along that such accusations could be made with impunity and without consequences?
Perhaps the better question is why are those who do ask questions routinely ignored?
Take, Sir Richard Henriques, for instance, who in 2016 was commissioned to write a report on Operation Midland and identified over 40 recommendations for better practice. Not one has been implemented: not even simple, humane suggestions such as keeping suspects informed of the progress of the investigation.
In fact, things have got immeasurably worse, with those RUI (Released Under Investigation) left for months on end with no idea of how or where the investigation is going.
Worse still, it’s not unknown for cases to be closed NFA with the OIC neglecting to tell the accused at all. Most often, it’s a terse phone call, occasionally an email, with nothing officially required in writing as formal notification.
Talk about being left hanging!!
Of course, The Henriques Report is not unique in the respect that it is ignored. The Bach Commission Report of 2016, which relates to access to justice, suffered a similar fate and there are doubtless others before and since.
Even when a prosecution for Perverting the Course of Justice is undertaken, the crime is against the state, not the person. Two notable false accusers, Carl Beech and Jemma Beale, who accused multiple people of horrendous crimes, were found guilty but not of harming those they accused, but only of effectively ‘Misleading the police’ – and then only prosecuted because, arguably, the extent of accusations and the large number of people they had accused could not reasonably be ignored.
There are those who still insist that prosecuting liars, rather than discouraging lies, discourages genuine victims from coming forward. To add insult to injury, the likes of Carl Beech and Jemma Beale – and a growing number of others – are not required to repay the compensation that they fraudulently claimed. Why not? Insurance fraud is prosecuted regularly, and there are calls for the victims of insurance fraud to be supported by the industry as a whole.
There are even companies who assist their clients in the making of a claim to the CICB, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, with a heavy focus on sexual crime.
It has frequently been said, too, that the police help victims of sexual crime make a claim, presumably as part of their ‘Believe the Victims’ support package.
According to the CPS – In R v Cotter and Others  EWCA Crim 1033, it was held that where the prosecution case is that a false allegation has been made, all that is required is that the person making the false allegation intended that it should be taken seriously by the police.
It is not necessary to prove that she/he intended that anyone should actually be arrested.
However, there is absolutely nothing in the CPS guidelines which acknowledges the harm caused or offers redress to any identifiable individual who is the target of the false accusation. False accusations occur for a wide variety of reasons. I doubt anyone would suggest that a person who makes a genuine mistake of identity or who suffers from a genuinely diagnosed mental illness should be punished via the legal system, but what of those whose objective was to cause harm to the person and their reputation?
The vast majority of false accusations, it could be argued, are to provide a smoke screen for ‘Regretted sex’ or cheating, or a jealous ex seeking revenge, anger with a parent for whatever reason or one parent seeking to oust the other from continued involvement with ‘Their’ family.
False accusations against institutions are without doubt a basis for greedy claims for compensation which far outweigh anything that the CICB has to offer, encouraged, in part by police and support organisation’s trawling, along with a prod or two from unscrupulous lawyers.
Common sense will surely indicate that if someone is telling you that they are a victim because a, b or c happened, and it becomes demonstrably clear that a, b or c did not happen, then they are not a victim, as they claim.
Why then is that someone still legally a victim, with all the concessions and protections that victimhood affords them? Are we, as a society, simply too scared to say that the people they have accused have been victimised? Too scared to admit that people do lie about sexual crimes especially when the pros (victimhood, sympathy, compensation, a clean slate to start a ‘New’ life without the involvement of an ex, except from the regular CMS payment e.g.) outweigh the cons, and when they do, the people they accuse are victims?
Is it that the whole business of accusations, investigations (such as they are), courts, lawyers, support agencies for women and the whole VAWG machinery is too lucrative to give up?
Has the ‘War on violence against women’ become like the ‘War on drugs’? Has it become too much of a going concern, too dependent on a supply of ‘Victims’ and the endless churning out of ‘Services’ that create them and purport to support them, to care whether or not the person claiming victimhood is actually a victim?
How often has it happened that someone says ‘I didn’t know I was a victim until someone/my friend told me?’
Are there no lengths to which this industry will not go, even apparently creating victims where there are none?
Why is it that the targets of Perverting the Course of Justice, the men and women who are accused of horrendous crimes, lose so much of their lives, families, friends and reputations and often dragged through the courts to boot, not recognised as the victims they actually are?
Is it the same reason why the government is so unwilling to address the issue of wrongful convictions, and have indeed put measures in place to ensure that those so convicted have an increasingly difficult time getting an appeal – and if they do and are exonerated, stand little to no chance of being compensated?
In the years since 1997, 800 cases have been referred back to the courts by the CCRC: that’s an average or 32 per year out of the thousands referred to them. In 2021/22, 57 were overturned, making a total of 540 in 25 years. This is fewer than 21 per year overall. People wait YEARS for their cases to be reviewed, often serving their sentences or dying before a decision is reached.
This is in the face of the government openly admitting that there are probably around 1500 wrongful convictions PER YEAR, meaning that at best, 1.5% of wrongful convictions are detected and rectified, while 98.5% of the wrongfully convicted are left to flounder in jail, their lives ruined for something they did not do. The CCRC, as mentioned, take years to review some cases, in part because their resources have been constantly cut since their inception in 1997, despite the obvious growing need given the ballooning prison population.
Even when exonerated, compensation is next to impossible to secure. As an example, Barry George, who served eight years for the murder of Jill Dando, was deemed ‘Not innocent enough’ to be eligible for compensation for his ordeal.
Likewise, Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon who, in 2016, after serving lengthy jail sentences were refused compensation. Mr Nealon even found himself defending a demand for costs after the court of appeal ruled that a DNA test did not rule him out of committing the crime, but only ‘Pointed to an unknown male’.
In 2014, the law had been changed so that only those who could prove their innocence ‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’ could be compensated, leaving them with the unenviable task of having to prove a negative – a standard supposedly not required to secure their conviction.
What, one asks, does one have to do to convince a court that a conviction is wrongful ‘Enough’?
There is no denying that a jail sentence causes damage to the individual. How much more then is caused when that individual is innocent of any crime? As Jon Robins, author of Guilty Until Proven Innocent, notes:
‘When a conviction is quashed, the court of appeal does not reinstate the presumption of innocence…There is less state support for the victims of miscarriages of justice than for other prisoners,’ and this applies to those acquitted too.
Much like remand prisoners released when no charges are brought, they are dumped on the streets with no resources to help them recover from their ordeal. Those on remand may also have lost everything during their time in jail.
Effectively the falsely, maliciously, mistakenly or wrongly accused are victims of the State, a state that is set up to make sure that it and its officials are rarely, if ever, held to account for their actions or their mistakes.
The falsely, maliciously, mistakenly or wrongly accused, the wrongfully charged, the wrongfully tried, the wrongfully convicted and the wrongfully jailed, (those on remand are often remanded because of what a court thinks they MIGHT do rather than what they have done), are victima non grata.
No-one – not the courts, not the legal system nor its officers, not society as a whole is willing to acknowledge their suffering, losses and grief.
Even the system of Victim’s Commissioners, set up to advocate for victims, refuses to accept that help, assistance and support is needed by these groups of people, or do anything meaningful to support or advocate for them.
‘Believe the Victim’ has done irreparable harm to those targeted by self-professed victims who are nothing of the sort. Those who are motivated by delusion or mistake deserve help and assistance. Those who are motivated by jealousy, vindictiveness or ill-will deserve censure and punishment. It is the job of the police to differentiate between the two by undertaking an unbiased investigation and making the search for the truth their priority.
When will those who have truly been harmed or injured, (and in some cases even killed by vigilantes or their own hand), be recognised, so that the resources that are so thin on the ground go to those who need them and not those who demand them?
Must the wrongfully convicted continue to die in jail, without the safeguards that the CCRC was supposed to give them?
Of course, many who have been victimised by the system and treated unfairly and unjustly want simply to try to rebuild their lives to the extent that they can. The emotional energy they and their families and friends have had to expend in order to simply survive their ordeal has left them with nothing left to address the unfair and unjust treatment.
Sometimes it’s as much as they can do to navigate everyday life, forever scarred and branded by the experience. So they go unacknowledged and the issues unaddressed.
What in indictment on our society, which in so many respects considers itself the best the West has to offer. It’s not as if our great and good, MPs and politicians of all colours and celebrities from all branches of the entertainment industry haven’t been accused multiple times, with the result being ‘No Further Action’.
That said, it is always presented as ‘Not enough evidence at this time’. Even when police make clear that there has been a report and investigation, but they are satisfied that no crime took place, the report remains part of the statistics and so inflates that actual number of sexual crimes for each year. Yet nothing changes, and no-one with the power to question the system with any effect raises their voices.
Why, as a society, are we so keen to embrace the idea that a sexual criminal is behind every door and round every corner, that every accusation is genuine and every NFA or acquittal is another ‘One that got away’; that those accused accused are not victims or survivors, they suffer no trauma and deserve no support?
What is it going to take before balance is restored to the justice system and the falsely, maliciously, mistakenly or wrongly accused are weeded out of the system sooner rather than later; before the push for convictions at almost any cost becomes a push for the truth; before the wheels of the sexual abuse industry (for that is what it has become) grind to a halt?
How loud do the screams of the traumatised innocent and their families and friends have to get before the pendulum begins to swing back to a more balanced place? Victims of sexual crime, the genuine and the not-so-genuine, complain that the system ‘Dehumanises them’ and that they feel to be ‘No more than a piece of evidence’.
While that may garner some sympathy, it is perhaps the price they must pay for being the ONLY evidence that is required for a charge, a trial, and potentially a conviction.
However bad it seems, there is a slew of accommodations made for the trauma of being a victim navigating the legal system and they grow year on year. Sympathetic police officers who bend over backwards to be friendly and empathic, videoed evidence, advocates, support workers buoyed by millions of pounds in resources, trips round the court ahead of time, screens, the list goes on.
It’s a whole industry of support and sympathy. No such concessions for defendants whose fears, guilty or innocent, are arguable much greater, given the consequences of a guilty verdict, let alone the consequences of a mere accusation. The very liberty of the accused is at stake, not to mention having to endure the hardships that our punitive prison system dishes out.
The assumption of guilt and the striving for convictions has distorted the playing field beyond recognition and flies in the face of justice. Again, what do we have to do to restore balance to our justice system and to replace Lady Justice’s blindfold?
The mothers, wives, sisters and girlfriends supporting those wrongfully accused and convicted – and it is overwhelmingly women supporting men – don’t have the energy or resources left to counter the tsunami of injustice drowning them and their menfolk.
There are also large numbers of fathers, husbands, brothers and boyfriends supporting women so accused and convicted, but being lower in number there isn’t the support network that they need to help them keep their heads above water in the same way.
We are all not waving but drowning.
There are so many questions, but so few answers. One final question, though – can we ‘Victims who are not victims’ be brave enough to break through the barrier of ‘We are managing this nightmare’ to convince the unaffected public that ‘This nightmare is a stain on our society, and we MUST redress the balance before you are not waving but drowning too?’
Felicity Stryjak is retired having worn many hats in her life so far, teacher and paralegal among them. She was born in Torquay in 1953 and has lived in a variety of interesting places both in the UK and abroad. She intends Scotland to be her final place of abode.
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