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News Round-Up Week Ending 18.9.15

(Posted on 18/09/15)

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News Round-Up Week Ending 18.9.15

‘Beware Narcissists and Fantasists' Met told.

Lord Ken Macdonald QC, a former director of public prosecutions, has warned detectives investigating historical child abuse allegations not to indulge “narcissists and fantasists”, according to the Guardian.

His comments came as pressure mounted on the Metropolitan Police to shelve Operation Midland, the inquiry into an alleged Westminster paedophile ring, after doubts were raised about the key witness.

The broadcaster Paul Gambaccini also renewed his attack on Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service for failing to apologise over their handling of sexual abuse allegations made against him.

“An understandable modern concern for victims’ rights is now in real danger of morphing into a medieval contempt for the accused and a shocking disinterest in the basic norms of justice,” Macdonald said. “Child sex abuse is an appalling crime and we shouldn’t do anything to discourage people who have suffered it from coming forward, but it is the job of the police to conduct impartial, objective investigations, not to indulge narcissists and fantasists, and certainly not to hand over the right to determine the truth to people on the sole basis that they claim to be the victims of crime.”

Live investigations across the UK include Operation Yewtree, launched in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, Operation Athabasca, looking at claims of abuse at Elm Guest House in south-west London, and Operation Midland, which is examining claims that politicians, intelligence officials and senior military figures abused and murdered children.

Operation Midland is based on the allegations of one witness, known only as “Nick”, who senior detectives described as “credible and true”. Nigel Evans MP, the former Commons deputy speaker who was acquitted of rape and sexual assault charges last year, criticised police on Tuesday for playing “judge and jury” over Nick’s allegations before the investigation had concluded.

“[The police] really do need to get off this position whereby anybody who comes to them with an allegation is immediately believed and their evidence is seen as compelling,” Evans said. “It should be treated as an allegation which needs to be tested. It shouldn’t be ‘we believe you’ straight away because they don’t believe the person who didn’t do it.

“What they fail to recognise is that in an investigation which either leads to no further action – or indeed in an investigation that leads to trial and acquittal – the real victim is the person who has to stand trial and be a defendant in the full glare of publicity. There’s no recognition in the police or Crown Prosecution Service that that is the case.”

Forensic Review of Sex Cases

Dr Gill Tully, the forensic science regulator, is reviewing a series of sexual assault cases to examine whether poor evidence gathering at crime scenes may be compromising criminal justice in the UK.

“I am aiming to find out whether there are occasional examples of poor practice or whether there are more systematic issues,” Tully told the Guardian.

The forensic review, which is expected to take nine months, will look at decision-making at every stage of the investigation in order to examine the quality of the forensic strategy. The focus is on complex and often under-resourced sexual assault cases.

Forensic scientists have warned the over-reliance on cheap DNA techniques and the loss of expertise, for example in fibre analysis, following privatisation of the Forensic Science Service, may have already led to miscarriages of justice in the UK.

“We are in an era where everyone’s budget is under tremendous pressure,” said Tully. “But if there is a real skill shortage, that would obviously be a quality concern. I would be concerned if these evidence types were to die out completely.”

Mike Penning, minister for policing and crime, disputed claims of a crisis.
“We continue to ensure forces have access to the best possible forensic services, while protecting taxpayers from the £2m losses that were made by the Forensic Science Service each month before its closure in 2012,” Penning said. “We monitor the market closely to make sure it remains competitive and continues to provide forces with what they need.” 

Birmingham Six Reunion

BBC Radio 4’s The Reunion today remembered the release of the Birmingham Six in 1991.

Breda Power, whose father Billy was one of the men convicted, told Sue MacGregor that at first no-one wanted to listen.

Ann Farrell, daughter of Richard McIlkenny, another of the Six, said: "When you know that someone you love is in prison for something they haven't done, you never give up, no matter how hard it is".

Paddy Hill, one of the most vocal of the Six in protesting his innocence, eventually had one of his letters published in the left wing journal, Tribune. Chris Mullin, then a journalist, and later an MP, told Sue MacGregor why he published the letter, and how he went on to investigate the case.

Also in the programme was Brian Hambleton whose sister Maxine was killed in the Birmingham bombs and who is still campaigning to bring the real bombers to justice.