Sex abuse allegations can ruin innocent people's lives
PUBLISHED: 20:37 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 20:37 04 April 2019
Public figures who are wrongly accused of sexual abuse can struggle to rebuild their careers and Iain Dale says it’s potentially just as hard for the rest of us too
The Inquiry into Historic Child Sexual Abuse rumbles on. Last week the former Tory MP for Billericay Harvey Proctor completed his evidence in the Westminster paedophile ring section of the Inquiry by calling for a separate inquiry into child abuse levelled at high profile people and how they were treated when accusations were made against them.
Readers will remember that Proctor was cleared in 2016 of allegations made by an anonymous accuser known as “Nick”, that he had murdered three children, having sexually abused them. An independent inquiry by a retired High Court judge declared him an ‘innocent man’. Yet his life remains in tatters. He lost his job, his livelihood and is now living in a lean-to shack, destitute. All because the police were under pressure to get convictions and because they leaked his identity, with the consequence that he was dragged through the tabloids.
When I ran a publishing company I published four books by people who had been falsely, and maliciously, accused of child sexual abuse. I did so because I felt it was important for their stories to be heard. I doubted any of them would be bestsellers, because people don’t necessarily want to read 300 pages at a time discussing issues of child sexual abuse, and I don’t blame them. I did it also to help them clear their names. No one should have to go through what they went through.
Suffolk teacher Simon Warr, a well-known voice on BBC Radio Suffolk, also went through the mill. Completely spurious allegations were made by a former pupil, which were so obviously those of a fantasist as to be laughable.
Yet the police were determined to get a conviction. It went to court and Simon was found not guilty. He too has rebuilt his life. I don’t know whether he has received any form of financial compensation for what he was put through, but if not, then he certainly deserves to. He was a victim of a bungled police operation and some outrageous decisions by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Paul Gambaccini, the well known DJ, was also subjected to the most vile allegations by an anonymous accuser. He was subjected to trial by media and the ‘no smoke without fire’ brigade, but no charges were ever brought. He claimed he was being used as a human “fly paper” to encourage other people to come forward and make allegations against him. He was summarily dropped by the BBC and his life was ruined. Operation Yewtree was a prime example of a police operation which undermined the presumption of innocence. Gambaccini ended up suing the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, but financial compensation could never compensate for the pain he went through.
My final example of injustice concerns Jeremy Clifford, a wedding photographer. Police found ten images of semi-naked children on his computer. The saga went on for years with him protesting his innocence all along. The case was only dropped when it turned out that at the very moment his credit card was used to download the images, he was actually at the altar getting married to his wife. On such vagaries does justice depend. His wife Faith stuck by him throughout, but in the end the pressures were too much and the marriage ended. The case went on for seven years and it was only due to the Cliffords’ own detective work that Jeremy was able to prove his innocence.
Harvey Proctor is right. There should now be a full inquiry into how these, and many other cases, ever came to be taken seriously. The common thread is that the police were so keen to claim a conviction – maybe due to political pressure – that they ignored all the red lights which surely must have been flashing in their minds.
The thing is, if this sort of thing can happen to people in the public eye, they can happen to the rest of us. We should all think on that.
Email Iain at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @iaindale