08 February 2018
Convictions For Rape
Levelling the playing field.
By John Watson
Clang, the sound of an iron door closing. Clang, another rapist goes down for ten years. Did he do it? Well, maybe or maybe not. We can’t really be sure, because the defence may not have had access to all the evidence. Of course, in the great scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. For many of the stakeholders in the rape conviction industry, guilt or innocence are of little importance. What matters are statistics: better figures for convictions which will show that the authorities are doing something to compensate for years of failing to follow up allegations; better figures for the activists whose reputations will be boosted if they can show that they have brought about change. Against these important interests, what do the rights of those charged matter? After all, life isn’t very fair anyway. Some die young of cancer. Some are convicted for rapes which they didn’t commit. That’s just how the cookie crumbles.
And now some wretched barrister has upset the apple cart. He was instructed by the Crown too, his mission to convict that chap Liam Allan; but when he saw that relevant emails had been squirrelled away by the police he insisted on disclosing them to the defence. Result: one less conviction for the statistics and all sorts of other people will have their convictions reviewed too. Worse than that, the fuss will make the authorities chary of prosecuting those who may not have committed a crime and that will mess up the numbers still further. Even guilty people may escape due to that ridiculous “beyond reasonable doubt” test. What a mess that bloody man has caused with his scruples. Hasn’t experience taught him to stifle them in the interests of social progress? What was it Robespierre is rumoured to have said? “On ne peut pas faire d’omelette sans casser des oeufs.” That is how real progressives think!
Yes, it is a mess with cherries on top, and rather than being diverted by slick self-serving apologies from the DPP, it is worth looking at why it occurred, because messes like this happen a bit too often. What do I mean by “like this”? I refer to those messes which result from an attempt by the authorities to cover previous failings by all-too-vigorous corrective action, like someone who, having slopped water out of a pail by swinging it one way, tries to rectify the position by a bigger swing the other.
Throw your mind back to the Stephen Lawrence enquiry and the report by retired High Court Judge Sir William MacPherson. The background to that was failure by the police in their investigation of the murder of a black teenager by white racist thugs. Disturbing material emerged regarding the conduct of the investigation but also, even more importantly, regarding a culture of institutional racism amongst the police. Emotions ran high and the police were seen to have lost the confidence of the immigrant community. A central conclusion of Sir William’s report was that it should be a priority for the police “to increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities”. That seemed a good idea and a lot of rules and training were no doubt put in place. Now fast forward to the abuse of white girls by Pakistani gangs in the Midlands and the failure by police to take action because of concerns that it might jeopardise their relationship with the Pakistani community. Rules brought in, perfectly sensibly, to rectify one mess, create another. By now it will hardly be necessary for me to point out how something similar has occurred in relation to prosecutions for rape.
Most of us meet police officers from time to time and it is hard to do so without coming to the conclusion that by and large they are principled decent citizens who have the courage to stand up and be counted in the interests of the community. How is it, then, that they derail so badly? After all, a number of people must have been aware that the email chains were not being disclosed in the Allen case and that an unfair conviction was likely to result. How can they possibly not have blown the whistle?
I suppose that the problem must be that in a close communities such as the police, initiatives, targets and rules (particularly when brought in to deal with things that have gone wrong in the past) can get too deeply embedded in the culture and become, along with practices deriving from them, unchallengeable.
How should we deal with that? What should the police do now about the evidence in rape cases? Is the answer to overlay yet more rules, announced by the politicians to an eager public with the reassuring words “something has been done”? Or is something else required? Something which would have prevented the pressure for more convictions being accepted so blindly?
It takes confident and knowledgeable people to see past rules, targets and practices, particularly where they have been put in place to deal with past abuses. Sometimes that sort of confidence is natural to an individual; sometimes it is the result of a good education, or of social position. Either way young people who are less economically dependent on their success in a particular career path will generally find it easier to challenge the status quo than their less privileged counterparts.
How many top graduates or middle-class children become policemen? Well, in my experience, very few, largely because policing is seen as a lifetime career rather than something which you do for a period and then move on. The key to independent thought within the police is to have, alongside the others, a leavening of officers who can afford to stand up to the norms because they know that, if it comes to it, they can thrive outside the force. That means increasing the intake of those with degrees, other than in policing. It means being relaxed about recruits regarding policing as one step in their career. After all, the military do that with the short service commission and, although a separate officer class would not fit the police where decisions have to be made by the constable on the spot, emulating the short term element would help align perspectives with those outside the service. An opening up of the police would help to reduce the amount of “silo” thinking.
What then should be the target? A set proportion of policemen to have read Greats at Oxford? A sprinkle of the aristocracy among the ranks? No, that sort of thing belongs in detective fiction. Let’s try a different test. When we see good universities suggesting to their graduates that a period in the police would be a good step before moving on to the professions or business, then we will have a police force better equipped to use discretion in applying the rules, targets and regulations which politicians are so swift to set for it.