Anne Diamond: The justice in naming people never charged with crimes
PUBLISHED: 17:10 18 May 2016 | UPDATED: 17:10 18 May 2016
Anne ponders the justice in naming people never charged with crimes, discussing the matter with the Commissioner for Thames Valley Police
We’ve had a fair few of those awful ‘historical abuse allegations’ affect people in our area, and it’s sent many communities in so-called leafy, peaceful commuter belt villages reeling in disbelief and revulsion. My recent interview with the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley Police brought it all home again, and set more expert minds grappling with the question of how to fairly and reasonably investigate such alleged crimes, whilst also respecting the precious legal tenet that we are all innocent until proved guilty. The trouble is, with the way some cases have been handled both by media and police (and, I guess wagging tongues) it has seemed that the presumption has gone the other way. At BBC Berkshire, I had broadcast at least two special entertainment programmes where Rolf Harris was the life and soul of the party, and we all laughed, had a great time and posed for chummy photos. The very thought now makes me shudder. Goodness only knows how people in Bray feel about a man they used to think was a bit of a local hero. Please God, we’re all thinking, don’t let this be true of anyone else…and that’s wrong isn’t it? That’s why my chat with Anthony Stansfeld, the PCC for Thames Valley Force became so pertinent. The Commissioner isn’t a policeman himself - he’s an elected politician whose job it is to monitor the efficacy and practices of our force. And I must say, I hadn’t really thought of asking him about historic abuse allegations. Until, that is, we were talking about his own career in the army, where he was flying helicopters in the Falklands as part of the “clear-up” operation. And, he added, as a passing reference, “my very first Commanding Officer was Lord Bramall”. So here I had a PCC who knew and highly respected the man at the centre of unfounded historic abuse allegations that had been so (according to many) badly handled by the Met. To a journalist like me, that’s a green light to obvious questions: “As a Police Commissioner - do you think Lord Bramall was badly treated? Should the Met’s top cop, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe apologise to him? Oh, and by the way - what about Cliff Richard?” His Berkshire home was sensationally raided right in front of TV cameras.
I was lucky and grateful to have such a forthright and eloquent interviewee that day. Anthony Stansfeld didn’t mince his words. He said the police handling in both cases had been “cack-handed” and that indeed there should be an apology. He said in the case of Cliff Richard, after two years, they should now “put up or shut up”. And he told the story of how officers from South Yorkshire had come unannounced into the Thames Valley, raided Cliff Richard’s home and alerted the national BBC who filmed from a helicopter. “Disgraceful”, he said. “It has dragged on and on with almost a presumption of guilt.” (South Yorkshire Police, by the way, maintain they’re doing their job.)
Yes of course, there have been several, deeply shocking cases of historic abuse which have resulted in men being behind bars. But there have also been many cases now of figures like Paul Gambaccini, who describes his ordeal as Great Britain persecuting him. “Its agents entered my home in the middle of the night, took away my possessions, arrested me on trumped-up allegations, disgraced me in the national media, deprived me of employment and kept me on bail for 12 months even though they knew they had no case against me.” he has said, clearly still deeply scarred.
He’s not the only one who’s suffered. In a sophisticated and reasonable society, we have to find a better way. Anonymity and media blackouts until charges? Specialist trained police units? Whatever, our police should not behave again in what one of their own Commissioners - our man in the Thames Valley - has called “cack-handed, disgraceful and unforgivable.”
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