Presumed Guilty by Simon Warr: A Review

Simon Warr was a languages teacher who was accused of historic sexual abuse of three of his pupils.

The allegations were not, as these things go, particularly serious, although that was of little comfort. The worst was that in the 1980s he had handled a boy’s genitals under the pretext of making sure he had showered properly after PE. Although he had taught in the school, he had never taught the boy (“A”) in question, never taught PE and had no recollection of A at all. After he made his complaint to the police Mr Warr was arrested and bailed. He spent 664 days between arrest and trial. He lost his job – technically a resignation, but in effect a forced one – and the school house in which he was living and he was declared persona non grata on the school premises, cut out, he says, like a cancerous tumour. Two complainants also went to the police – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the police came to them – with seemingly corroborative complaints, although in he end they proved to be as much contradictory as corroborative.

It is a story that, in its general outline, is all too familiar to criminal lawyers these days. Historic sexual allegations form the bread and butter – and jam too – of many a criminal practice, and Crown Court judges – once they receive the not particularly coveted “sex ticket” – try such cases in grim procession. The strength of Mr Warr’s book is that he is able to articulate the impotent fury of someone falsely accused who has his life all but destroyed while the legal system grinds, with all its predictable delays and adjournments, to its conclusion. Without work to occupy his time, shunned by many former friends and all the time living under the shadow of possible imprisonment and the complete destruction of his reputation, it is unsurprising that – like others in his position – Mr Warr contemplated killing himself.

He is eloquent on the modern addition to this psychological torture: the monstering on social media, a little of which he reproduces in the book, just so we can get a flavour:

You fucking paedo, go to an underground sewer and kill yourself.”

I trusted you with my son and was taken in by your supposed professionalism and, all along, you were a pervert. You disgust me.”

If Warr ever kills himself, it’ll be the best Christmas prezzie ever.”

Another commented that people like Warr should be

… hung upside down by there (sic) balls till they fall or maybe slowly boiled with mmmm a bit of salt and pepper.”

He quotes Nietzsche; I’ve never felt handicapped by not knowing many of the Prussian Professor’s aphorisms, but his injunction to “distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is strong,” seems a good rule of thumb.

Social media, of course, is not just an additional means of inflicting anguish on suspects, it is also an increasingly common medium through which supposedly independent complainants can communicate and influence each other and potentially, of course, jurors. Teachers seem to be peculiarly vulnerable to angry Facebook groups and the like: in an unrelated but particularly egregious example of the phenomenon, the 97 year old former headmaster Jack Mount (eventually cleared last year after a series of trials, to the fury of his internet adversaries) was hounded by a relentless and seemingly orchestrated Facebook campaign for years. In his case, and to a lesser extent in Mr Warr’s, the existence of an internet campaign was at least obvious. In other cases, the internet provides a potential method for witnesses to communicate privately about a suspect, while preserving the appearance of independence.

Particularly unpleasant too, were the friends who dropped him as soon as the allegations were made; and even they were not as bad as the “friend” who had the gall to ring and leave a voicemail offering moral support, but failed to disconnect the call before telling someone “there’s no smoke without fire.” Fortunately there were real friends – including the Times writer Libby Purves – who helped him through the ordeal. There was even one stranger who comforted him after seeing him at a particularly low ebb on a tube train. He probably has no idea how much his small gesture meant to a man on the edge of self-destruction.

Not everyone will warm to Mr Warr. He sketches out his teaching career without understating his achievements. He points out that during his long teaching career he never caned or struck a single boy: “I ran a boarding house for many years with little more than my forceful personality and loud voice as a support in resolving the myriad disciplinary issues I had to deal with. I doubt this could be applied to many boarding school teachers of the 1980s.” I think he’s almost certainly wrong on the last point – by the 1980s corporal punishment was firmly on the way out. My own father, who also ran a boarding house for 17 years up till 1979, certainly never caned anyone while he did so, and he was not alone. But this is perhaps a quibble.

Slightly more unfortunately there are parts of Warr’s account that do not altogether ring true, perhaps because an effort has been made to rush the book out. He describes his arrest, for example, and quotes the police officer cautioning him with the words of a caution that have long since been superseded. His description of the trial itself is gripping. He describes the humiliating, prejudicial and wholly unnecessary glass cage in which he had to sit, while his false accusers were able to shield themselves from his gaze with screens. Unfortunately he also gets details wrong (although in fairness he includes the disclaimer that he had to rely on his memory because obtaining a full transcript of the trial would have been prohibitively expensive). There is no way, for example, that when he gave evidence he would have been “interrogated first” by the prosecution barrister. Nor is it at all likely that (as he remembers it) the officer in the case would have been called as part of the defence case. I also find it improbable that Mr Warr’s barrister Matthew Gowen (who receives a great deal of obviously well-deserved praise) would have said to him while the jury was out:

If there are any [convictions] because of the length of time you’ve been on bail and on account of the weakness of the allegations anyway, there’ll be no custodial sentence.”

If this advice was given, it was pretty reckless and almost certainly wrong (a judge cannot lawfully take into account the weakness of allegations when deciding on the sentence), but I suspect that quite understandably, Mr Warr has not remembered it with complete accuracy.

Such errors – not that they are especially important in themselves – do slightly detract from the absolute reliance one would like to place on Mr Warr’s memory. They also demonstrate that human memory is far less reliable than we often realise; a problem that creates great potential difficulty for the criminal justice system, which at present deals with it by pretending it does not exist.

The final section of the book is an argument for changes that Mr Warr would like to see introduced to protect innocent people from false allegations. Amongst his more radical proposals are an “immediate end to the handing out of large sums of compensation payouts … in all but the most heinous crimes,” and a “statute of limitation in all but the most heinous crimes.” There is an argument to be made here although (apart from many other problems) I can see an immediate difficulty in defining the term “most heinous.” Personally, I think there is more to be said for reinvigorating the emasculated doctrine of “abuse of process” which at one time promised to provide a measure of judicial control over the prosecution of very stale cases, but which has since (in this area at least) largely withered into desuetude.

Unfortunately, the tide is not running in favour of those who worry about wrongful convictions. Over the last forty years numerous changes in criminal evidence and procedure have been introduced, and (with the notable and very important exception of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984), almost all of them have favoured the prosecution. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list but here, in no particular order, goes:

Introduction of majority verdicts, abolition of defence right to challenge jurors without cause, abolition of unsworn statements from the dock, introduction of prosecution right to comment on no-comment interviews, abolition of rule that similar fact evidence should show “striking similarity”, introduction of evidence of bad character or propensity, restriction on duty of prosecution to disclose all relevant material, introduction of duty to serve defence statement, restriction of judge’s ability to stop cases proceeding after the passage of long periods of time, introduction of “special measures” (screens, pre-recorded evidence etc) for prosecution witnesses (but not defendants), abolition of defence right to anonymity in sexual cases, restrictions on right to cross-examine on previous sexual history, restrictions on cross-examination of “vulnerable” witnesses, restrictions on legal aid eligibility, restrictions on defence costs recoverable after acquittal;

I could go on. Oh alright then, I will:

Introduction of glass cages to replace old fashioned “open” docks, abolition of corroboration rule in sexual allegations, introduction of the right to draw “adverse inferences” from a defendant’s silence in court, tightening of the law of “consent” in sexual cases, abolition of rule against double jeopardy, introduction of prosecution right to appeal against “terminatory rulings”, introduction of prosecution right to appeal against unduly lenient sentences, abolition of right of Court of Appeal to quash “unsatisfactory” convictions.

Taken individually there was a case for many of these changes; taken together, and especially when applied to historic sexual allegations in an age of internet connectivity, there is every reason to believe that the cumulative effect has been to convict and imprison more innocent people.

Mr Warr’s book is an important reminder that in some cases the real victims are those who are falsely accused, and of the human price that is paid when that happens. Anyone interested in today’s criminal justice system should buy it.

Presumed Guilty by Simon Warr is published by Biteback Publishing. RRP £20.00 or available from Amazon

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

15 thoughts on “Presumed Guilty by Simon Warr: A Review”

  1. Thank you for your excellent imput, all you said is very true, the Justice system is out of hand!
    My Son was sentenced for 14 years in 2008 for a crime he never did.(historical rape on his 9 year old stepdaughter) no proof, no DNA, no videos,dvd, nothing on my daughter and my computers, Rory never used a computer, he was into ” off roading with his friends in his Jeep and committed to his building business)
    He came home to us last August after 8 years, a broken man, very poorly and still is, PTSS etc.

  2. I have great sympathy for Simon Warr and the persecution he has suffered. I’ve been there and I know the gut-crunching fear, helplessness and loneliness which besets anyone who is falsely accused, with people who one once considered friends deserting one in droves and a feeling that all one’s rights have been taken away so that one becomes in the eyes of most people ‘untermensch’. Sub human.

    These false-allegations are now commonplace and cause great evil. The reason why they continue is because of the hypocrisy of people who should know better but who rarely learn what it all means and know even less of the torture they cause. It therefore behoves me, as a member of the SAFF to illustrate it by referring to your special mention of Libby Purves remaining loyal and coming to the aid of Simon when many others had ditched him.

    In September 1991 Libby Purves wrote a scathing article in the Sunday Express headed:
    PITY THE CHILDREN WHO ARE TELLING THE TRUTH which lambasted society for not believing in Satanic Ritual Child Abuse. She WAS a believer. She was reviewing Tim Tate’s book Children For The Devil (subsequently pulped because of defamatory accusations) in which Tate continued his ‘campaign’ to promote Satanic Abuse. She UNQUESTIONINGLY supported Tate’s assertions; yet he was the co-producer and researcher for the now discredited Cook Report on Satanic Abuse which more or less single-handedly started the Satanic Panic of the 1990s. You can see it in full here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37FlWtg0Kzo&t=66s

    The SAFF wrote a personal letter to Libby Purves explaining that she’d been had and requesting that she put the lies right. Purves did not answer our letter. From time to time the SAFF has prodded her when she made some other hypocritical remarks which reversed her stance at that time. She has assiduously avoided making any public statement that her review was wrong or that her belief in SRA was unfounded.

    In our letter to Purves we said:

    “Yet here you are jumping on the bandwagon again, with the same
    brand of gullibility, falling for their pitch without any real
    in depth knowledge of the situation other than a complicit trust
    in that people who say they are caring and well informed individuals
    are both caring and well-informed. You really do rely upon ‘belief’
    don’t you Ms Purves. What has happened to your professional discernment?”

    I don’t know whether it was SAFF words which changed her mind but I am glad to see that Libby Purves has learned from her mistakes and that she thought twice about supporting Simon Warr and helped to avoid another injustice against an innocent man caused by an extension of the very same scaremongering which she supported in 1991.
    You are an example to us all.

    John Freedom

  3. Matthew

    Although you do not give dates as to each stage, your piece can only strengthen the argument for not publicly naming accused persons in sexual assault cases, at least until they are charged. It also shows why it is necessary to now have limits on police bail. The online abuse Warr suffered was disgusting.

    But there is this clip from BBC TV:

    https://youtu.be/-K_ydIi0TXM?t=22s

    Is the man in the above video clip the same Simon Warr? If so, he himself seems rather keen on punishment and physical punishment at that. He appeared to be quite expert at knowing how to inflict pain on a child through injury by beating the buttocks.

    I agree that we should distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is strong.

  4. The real irony, of the final sentence in the article, is that many of us falsely accused are driven into poverty and cannot afford the £20 to read the book, as much as we would like to. It is the same with paying for the anti-depressants the doctor may prescribe, the bus or train rides to attend the therapist appointments (especially in rural areas) to understand why our world was turned upside down and no longer can we afford the window cleaner. Many of us go from being gainfully employed to wholly dependent upon and enslaved by the state and society.

    1. @Mill – you can get it on Amazon for £10.80 inc postage. As for the prescriptions, they will be free if you have less than I think it’s about £15K per year income

      1. Thank you for the info about the book – might wait until it hits the shelves of ‘The Works’. I am not pleading absolute poverty, but here goes. I went from £36,000 a year (in my pocket) to £10,800 a year. Mortgage (interest only) and Council tax (with 25% single person discount) is £589 a month. Applied for hardship discount, but told to “sodensee offy’, as it is discretionary. Adding TV licence (£12.12), Gas (variable av.£50), Electricity (Variable av.£50), Broadband (£22) mobile phone (£7), House Insurance (£11) and water (£29) leaves me about £100 a month. Any other needs are met via ‘begging’ from my elderly father. In 2010 (much to do with my good salary) I moved out of debt – a real ‘yipee’ moment. False accusation and public arrest in front of colleagues (in 2012), lead to a ‘suggested’ resignation. 4 months bail sealed the deal. It is a real sinking feeling when I check the ATM, normally with palpitations. What can give a real cold shake-up is the knowledge of either not knowing when you will get employment or even if you’ll ever get employment.

        Most people engaged with the site will recognise that there are so many destructive and corrosive components, when being falsely accused. The consequences placed on the individual, their family and colleagues is unforgivable. The redress against accusers is seemingly non-existent (other than to take to the courts at a cost they cannot afford). The Police service is very unhelpful and the public has no appetite to counter the ‘no smoke without fire’ peddlers, the press would not sell newspapers without voyeuristic comment and BBC news (needing exclusives) works on rumour and conjecture, to fill their 24 hour rolling news. .

  5. @Mark – after watching that video of Marr on the One show I came across an article detailing his other forays into the entertainment world, his most famous being ‘That’ll teach em’. And then there’s this little gem of a coincidence. In 2007 he was crusading against discarded chewing gum. Six years earlier one Mark Williams Thomas (Savile, Exposure) ran a chewing gum removal company ! How’s about that then ?

  6. “Over the last forty years numerous changes in criminal evidence and procedure have been introduced, and (with the notable and very important exception of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984), almost all of them have favoured the prosecution.”

    Ah it’s that Fascist Fatcher, innit?

    Talking of fascists, I assume there’s nothing to be done about Fascbook that wouldn’t be a case of the remedy being worse than the disease. I’m open to persuasion though.

  7. I do appreciate that some of my comments are a bit random, but I hope they do have a relevance and are fractionally diverted from the main boy of the articles. The whole area of false accusation is so invasive and determines so many aspects of our lives (and deaths). I was (and remain) administratively very practical and pragmatic. I reply to letters and emails on a fast turnaround, the Autism tends to leave little clutter or paperwork in my life. I tend to ‘clean as I go’ and adopt the ‘do it now’ approach.

    I came across my will (written in 2004) and determined that it needs to be re-written. My last friend and executor died of cancer in June last year and he was a witness to the document.My suicidal ideation of the last 24 months, because of the arrest and Police action has put me in the hands of the chaotic Mental Health System. I don’t have a CPN, just a litter of ‘5 minute’ wonders workers of the ‘talkers rather than doers’ type. Passed around like the perverbial oversized tombola teddy bear, from the village fete, that no one really wants and cannot accommodate: If won, to parked in the attic and returned to the tombola prize stall, the following year. So no one really knows me. My GP retired 18 months ago and I have seen 5 locums over the last year. A new GP has been apopointed this month.

    There are two elements that stop me (from my knowledge of the law) completing a new will. Subjectively, am I of sound mind? The Mental Health Team might determine that I am not, with so much suicidal ideation. The other area is that of witnesses signing. Not too many people in my life to do that. On my demise I will not be here to contest my wishes, but it is another frustration that keeps the coldness and anger inside of me.

    Just thought I introduce another aspect to this whole madness.

  8. Just goes to highlight just how much harm is being done to peoples lives by historic allegations and the dreadful slatings from social media, particularly Facebook. Surely something can be done to get this under some sort of lkegal control

  9. Convincing the Police of my ‘innocence’ was easy against convincing the 63,000,000 others inhabiting our islands! The midnight call, from a restricted number, with the slow single word ‘Paedo’ left on the answering machine; the attack in the park; the two medical professionals who mis-represented me by recording on my health file that I was ‘tried for paedophilia’ and another that stated ‘I was caught in possession of indecent images’ contorting the truth; ignoring facts that I was ‘arrested on the suspicion’ of being in possession of indecent images, brought into custody, interviewed, released on bail and after four months of criminal and forensic investigation they found absolute zero evidence against me.

    In recovering my life and trying to put it on a new path (albeit it being wonky), it would be nice to be released from the subhuman ‘state benefit trap’. There are jobs out there (away from the black economy) where employers do not want full character or final employer references, but even then I have been quizzed about the gap in my work history. I can lie, but the truth would reveal the tainting of my life. My confidence level is fragile at best. Ageism plays an important part in employment as I am no ’till toddler’ (the preferred choice of worker) and would struggle on zero hours, part-time (for the employer wanting to avoid paying NI contribution) and be given a national min wage rate per hour doing random rotas. I was tempted to remove my degree (and several other qualifications) from my CV. Then there will be a big question: ‘How the heck did I get to the high flyer positions in education without a degree?’

    I’m going to start writing on my website the last two years of (lacking) mental health support. I hope it makes a good read – it will show the complete lack of integration of services, support being a ‘funding issue’, a case of ‘covering arses’, chaos and my favourite judges’ take on some some events as a right ‘buggers muddle’. It’s good that the Royals are getting together a campaign on mental health. In my most humble opinion it will take years, if not decades, to bring together services from the current position, so they are going to have to be ready for a long haul. Must the same long haul as those who are falsely accused and arrested are engaged in. Redress against those alleging, ‘the complainant’, and legal measures are nearly ‘non existent’. (Unless you have shed loads of money). One media adviser told me that “‘the public does not have an appetite to listen to those who are falsely accused”. So doubt is forever there, redress is somewhere out in space and the ‘hoody wearing forty somethings’ will carry on rushing to the likes of ‘Slater and Gordan’, getting more time from the police than the full population of a small town.

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