On a number of occasions during the last few years I have given evidence as an expert witness in trials of men falsely accused of historical sexual abuse.
One cannot fail to be moved by the emotional devastation exhibited by such men when they hear the jury’s verdict acquitting them. These are often men who have had no previous contact with the criminal justice system, and always men whose lives have been virtually destroyed by that contact.
An example from several months back is the case of Sir Cliff Richard. I hasten to say that this is not a case that I have had any professional involvement with, and the only details I know are those that have been reported in the press. Thankfully the false accusations against Sir Cliff Richard were not pursued to trial. In subsequent interviews he made it clear that the effect of the accusations and the way in which those accusations were pursued has been devastating.
I was particularly struck by Sir Cliff’s reference in one interview he gave to his deeply felt sense of violation as a result of the police invading his property and going through his personal effects. This was of course made worse by the public arena illuminated by the glaring media spotlight, in particular the disgraceful collusion by the police and the BBC, in which these events unfolded.
I am put in mind of a professional man many years ago who was also falsely accused of a serious offence (not of a sexual nature) who suffered the invasion of his home in a similar albeit less public way to that experienced by Sir Cliff Richard. A point he made (and one with which I agree) is that having your home invaded in this way by the police is not only akin to being burgled, it is in many ways actually worse.
When we hear that someone has had his or her house burgled, we have a great deal of sympathy for him or her, and we show that person our support. We expect the experience to be psychologically hurtful. We also have a belief with some justification that even the burglars knew that what they were doing was wrong, even though they chose to ignore social morality. In the case of home invasions committed by the police, the victim experiences a group of self-righteous, arrogant oafs with the misplaced backing of a larger society rifling through their belongings. Such a victim is denied immediate support, even often by friends and family, because of the pall of suspicion that hangs over him. When such a victim is exonerated the police cling to the feeble excuse that they were ‘only doing their job’.
Some victims such as Sir Cliff Richard have expressed understanding that the police have to investigate accusations. I would however like to make a clear distinction between an investigation and a witch hunt. An investigation is a process by which people determine the facts, and those facts are intended to lead to a logical conclusion. A witch hunt is a process in which a conclusion has been arbitrarily decided before the ‘investigation’ begins, and the only facts that are ‘investigated’ are those intended to support the arbitrary conclusion. I believe that ‘investigations’ of historical sexual abuse are for this reason more akin to witch hunts.
People heal from psychological trauma in many ways. Some heal as a result of quiet and solitary reflection, some with the support of friends and family, and some by taking comfort in their faith; but others are best helped by effective psychological counselling. I do not suggest that these different ways of healing are in any way mutually exclusive. Sometimes all paths are pursued simultaneously.
I wish all the victims of false accusations well in their journey of healing.