Rolf Harris should have been given a retrial

I don’t know whether Rolf Harris is in fact a serial sex offender and last week’s judgment by the Court of Appeal leaves the matter in a thoroughly unsatisfactory state.

Before looking at the judgment in detail let’s put a few misconceptions to bed.

First of all, it gives no support to those who suggest that Rolf Harris is the victim of some sort of police or CPS conspiracy. It would be quite extraordinary if there had been and there is no evidence of it. It is true that there was a failure in the disclosure process. Some very old, and as it turned out rather significant, convictions of an important witness were not disclosed at the trial. They were not disclosed because the police had not found them. That does not suggest a conspiracy, it suggests at most a lack of diligence in seeking out old records. Faults in disclosure are endemic in our creaking justice system. Even today, when criminal records are fully computerised mistakes in criminal records are far from unusual. The relevant records dated from the 1960s, long before computerisation, and were found by the police on microfiche after the trial and before the appeal. It is hardly likely that they would have done so had they been part of a conspiracy to suppress the truth.

There are other criticisms of the police which appear in the judgment, or are at least suggested by it; in particular a certain lack of enthusiasm in looking for exculpatory evidence, but there is certainly nothing to suggest a wilful attempt to stitch up an innocent man. That is not to excuse the police of all blame: a lack of diligence in a case as serious as this is a worrying matter, but it is a great deal less worrying than evidence of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Secondly, the judgment gives no support to some of the unpleasant and unfair comment that has circulated about the original prosecution counsel Sasha Wass QC. There is no criticism of her whatever in the judgment, and no reason to think that she did anything other than a proper and professional job in prosecuting Mr Harris.

Thirdly, anyone searching the internet for information about the case may have come across the information that one of Harris’s jurors was a member of the Metropolitan Police. That is true, but it is not something that featured in the appeal. Opinions differ on whether police officers (or for that matter lawyers and judges) should be able to sit on juries, but the law is clear: they are unless they have some close connection with the investigation. (For what it is worth I have changed my mind on this issue after representing a man at a trial at which the serving police officer (whom I had originally and unsuccessfully asked the judge to exclude) turned out to be the only member of the jury with the wit to notice that the foreman, confused by the judge’s complicated “route to a verdict” direction, had accidentally returned a guilty verdict when they had in fact meant it to be not guilty).

The 12 charges of indecent assault against Mr Harris were based on the evidence of 4 different women. Evidence was also given of alleged criminal behaviour towards a further 5 women or girls which, because it took place abroad, could not form the basis of any charges in this country. The evidence of the 5 “extra-territorial” women was only summarised in the judgment and we have no way of knowing for sure whether the jury believed all or any of them, although given their unanimous verdicts of guilty of every count on the indictment it seems very likely that they were inclined to disbelieve anything Mr Harris said. Continue reading “Rolf Harris should have been given a retrial”

Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath: an empty exercise in self-justification

The heavily “redacted” Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath consists of 109 pages of self-justification and virtually no evidence of any kind. It is a document that is as empty as it is verbose. Its central conclusion, that were he still alive he would be interviewed under caution, tells us almost nothing.

It fails to make any sort of case against the former Prime Minister, but equally fails to lift the miasma of suspicion that will probably now surround him for all time. Speaking last December Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale said he hoped that the inquiry would “contribute to the wider picture of truth seeking and reconciliation.” If that was indeed the purpose, it will certainly not succeed. Those who already believed that Heath was a villain will claim that the Report lends them support. Those who were sceptical will point to the fact that the vast majority of allegations have been judged so weak that they could be dismissed without even troubling to ask Heath about them, had he still been alive. The idea that the truth can be divined from the report, or that its publication will do anything to reconcile anybody to anything is risible. Continue reading “Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath: an empty exercise in self-justification”

Henriques Report: “Deputy Heads Must Roll.”

On Tuesday the retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques published his report into “the investigation of non recent sexual offence investigations alleged against persons of public prominence.” This was mainly – though not exclusively – related to his investigation of the Met’s handling of allegations made by a man going under the pseudonym of “Nick” and given the designation “Operation Midland.”

The terms of reference were set by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and about 90% of the report has not been disclosed. It is hardly surprising – though very much to be expected in an organisation that prides itself on its public relations as much as on its ability to catch criminals – that it should have chosen to “bury” the report on the day of the US elections.

As well as the bowdlerised report and the heavily redacted recommendations, it’s also worth reading the oddly chummy-sounding (although the two men had never previously met) covering letter which Sir Richard wrote to Sir Bernard. Its conclusion puts the best possible slant on Sir Bernard’s responsibility:

I trust that commentators will not lay the blame for the grave mistakes in Operation Midland and Operation Vincente at your door. You have been let down by Officers of high rank ….”

The Times’s Sean O’Neill tweeted this morning: “Deputy heads must roll,” and I’m afraid this commentator, if that’s what I am, does not agree with the learned judge.

deputy-headsNevertheless, there is much good sense in the report and the recommendations.
Continue reading “Henriques Report: “Deputy Heads Must Roll.””

Professor Jay was brave but wrong to agree to chair the child abuse inquiry

I hate to be Cassandra yet again, but Amber Rudd has made the wrong decision in appointing Alexis Jay as the new Chairman (and like it or not, “Chairman” is the word used in the Inquiries Act 2005 under which she has been appointed) of the “independent inquiry into child sexual abuse” (“IICSA”); and Professor Jay was wrong to accept the appointment.

This is not, as some have suggested, because a social worker like Professor Jay is in some way compromised when the Inquiry examines the conduct of other social workers. She has in fact been an inspector of social work since 2005, criticism of other social workers has been her business for some time and she is well qualified to comment on social work failings should she come across any.

Nor is it because of any personal failings. Many of those who have worked with Prof Jay speak highly of her, and her report into sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 has been widely praised. Continue reading “Professor Jay was brave but wrong to agree to chair the child abuse inquiry”

Goddard was right to resign. The child sex inquiry now needs a complete reboot.

Justice Lowell Goddard’s resignation as the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has taken us by surprise, but it should not have done. Over 2 years have now passed since Theresa May announced the inquiry, and so far it has achieved almost nothing tangible at all, except to lurch from crisis to crisis: it has now lost with 3 chairs, various “panel members”, and an unquantifiable tranche of written evidence submitted between 14th September and 2nd October last year which was “instantly and permanently deleted” due to a computer malfunction.

In due course it may become clear whether the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, pushed her, or whether Goddard simply decided enough was enough: the news yesterday that she had spent 70 days of the last year out of the country, suggests that she had little appetite for the job and my hunch is that she simply decided to walk away. Continue reading “Goddard was right to resign. The child sex inquiry now needs a complete reboot.”

The Henriques Report Contains No Evidence Of An “Establishment Conspiracy.”

 

Two days before the publication of the Henriques Report into the CPS and Leicestershire Police inquiries into allegations against Greville Janner, I took part in a BBC Big Questions debate on whether – in the light of the Janner case – a corpse should be put on trial. As it turned out everyone on the panel seemed to accept, some a bit more reluctantly than others, that perhaps that was going a bit far, so that particular debate never really got off the ground.

What was more striking was that, almost nobody in the room expressed the slightest doubt over the proposition that Lord Janner had been “protected by the establishment.” Anyone making that point, or hinting at it, was guaranteed a thunderous round of applause. Continue reading “The Henriques Report Contains No Evidence Of An “Establishment Conspiracy.””

Neil Fox’s character has not been vindicated, it has been assassinated

The disc jockey Neil Fox was yesterday acquitted of ten charges of indecent and sexual assault against women and girls. The accusation was that he had committed the offences between 1988 and 2014.

As these things go, the allegations were not particularly serious. They involved unwanted “French” kissing, bottom and breast grabbing and the allegation that Mr Fox had put his hand up various skirts. The worst was perhaps an allegation that he had engaged in sexual activity with a 15 year old girl.

One of the more unusual aspects of the case is that Mr Fox chose to be tried in the Magistrates Court rather than in the Crown Court. This meant that the verdict would not be decided by a jury, but by a bench of magistrates or a (professional and legally qualified) District Judge. In fact, as things turned out he was tried by the Chief District Judge, Howard Riddle and a pair of lay magistrates. This is the Magistrates Court equivalent of a seven judge Court of Appeal. It is very unusual.

Continue reading “Neil Fox’s character has not been vindicated, it has been assassinated”

Exaro has created nothing but misery and confusion. It’s time for it to shut up.

I had not really wanted to blog yet again about Exaro. There are many other subjects about which I would prefer to write. The subject matter is unpleasant, to express any opinion invites a torrent of abuse, and I would, frankly, like this blog to move away from the rather sterile trench warfare that has now developed between Exaro and its voluble supporters and those, like myself, who think that its influence has been malign.

And yet … Continue reading “Exaro has created nothing but misery and confusion. It’s time for it to shut up.”