Criminal Bar Association on complainant interviews
The 12-month ordeal a teacher with 40 years’ experience faced as a result of being falsely charged with indecent assault because school children fabricated allegations to get him dismissed illustrates the hardship caused to innocent people when there is a lack of willingness on the part of the Police to properly investigate allegations of sexual abuse. The case is notable because it was established the complainants accounts were untrue and they admitted lying when cross-examined.
Defence lawyers have expressed concern that the normal rule of investigation of offences does not seem to apply where allegations are of a sexual nature and, on the contrary, the complainant’s accounts are not challenged and there seems to be a widespread assumption that such complainants are always telling the truth with little or no further investigation required.
While it is appropriate that victims are properly supported, there can be no excuse for failing to carryout a proper investigation to determine whether there is substance to any allegation that may result in a prosecution. Sexual abuse allegations are easily made and the effects of an allegation are catastrophic on the person who is accused whatever the final verdict.
It is no answer to say the system worked for the teacher because he was found not guilty as it seems clear he would not have been put through the ordeal in the first place if a proper investigation had been carried out.
The falsely charged teacher’s year from hell is a normal experience that any person would face who was charged with a sexual offence. If he or she is successful in obtaining bail then the bail terms are likely to significantly affect his or her life and may even prevent employment. It will be at least 12 months before the evidence can be challenged at trial.
Where there is a child making the allegation, child witness interviewers facilitate the giving of statements on video and it is not their role to challenge the child or his or her recollection. This emphasises the importance of the Police carrying out a proper investigation including a proper examination by the Police of the motives and accounts of complainants instead of uncritically accepting their word that a sexual assault has occurred where the assault is denied by the defendant.
Defence lawyers do not have the resources of the Crown and there is a real risk of a miscarriage of justice where, for example, potential eye witnesses are not interviewed as part of the initial investigation.
The justifiable concern as a result of past failures to accept the nature and extent of sexual abuse should not now act as an impediment to proper investigation of such allegations.