The exposure of Jimmy Savile has shone a light on the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and their handling of allegations of sexual abuse, particularly allegations made against the powerful and famous.
The closing paragraph of ‘Giving Victims a Voice’ says:
“Perhaps the most important learning from this appalling case is in relation to the children and adults who spoke out about Jimmy Savile at the time. Too often they were not taken seriously. We must not allow this to happen again – those who come forward must be given a voice and swift action taken to verify accounts of abuse.”
This is an incontestable statement of intent.
The message of Operation Yewtree from the start has been that all allegations against the famous must be immediately treated as true. The claimants have been automatically accepted as victims of crime. The police and the CPS will ‘give the victims a voice’ which cannot legitimately be questioned.
In doing so they have become institutionally passive aggressive. They have extended the principle of giving victims a voice beyond its natural meaning. The accused are now guilty until they can prove their innocence. The accusation is everything.
This modus operandii offends against the laws of justice. Accusations aren’t de facto truth: an accusation is only an accusation. Once an accusation has been made there is work done to establish whether it’s true, that is, whether it’s supported by evidence.
Operation Yewtree has been described by many commentators and newspapers as a witch hunt. Add to that police trawling for “victims” and the prospect of compensation and we have an unhealthy recipe that, sooner or later, will lead to miscarriages of justice.
The reports from Operation Yewtree “survivors” make grim reading.
Jim Davidson’s book, No Further Action, paints a revealing picture. At one point Davidson’s solicitor told him, ‘They[the police] are acting, it would seem, on any accusation made against celebrities. They are saying: “We messed up with Savile… is this what you want?” They couldn’t stand, nor does the government want, another costly inquiry with women saying, “I went to the police and they didn’t do anything.” …. ‘We must assume that it is likely they will press charges.’ ‘… and say, “We’ve done our bit, let a jury decide.” …’
Later on Davidson says, reporting a conversation with one of the “investigating” officers, “orders from the top said that, no matter how flaky the ‘victims’ version of events, they were to be taken as the truth. The investigating officers could not say to the complainants, ‘I’m afraid that your evidence doesn’t stack up,’ no matter how daft it was.”
Davidson also comments on the operation of the compensation industry. “I called Chris Davis … He told me a law firm had called him to ask if he had any female clients of a certain age. The lawyer said that if they’d worked with Savile and could say he touched them up, he could get them fifty grand each – less his commission, of course ...”
Paul Gambaccini has had the privilege of being taken seriously by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
He said that he was a victim of a “fly paper” investigation, whereby a suspect’s name is hung up in public to see if it attracts further complainants. He also said, ‘You are exposed in the first place so that other people will accuse you because in the mutation of the British justice system that has occurred in the last few years, from the centuries-old, internationally-respected, objective, evidence-based system to the subjective rumour-and-accusation-based system, evidence is no longer required. Only people who agree.’’
Gambaccini gave evidence to the Select Committee on the operation of police bail. ‘It was a completely fictitious case.’ He said that it was ‘astonishing’ because the police knew it was ‘a nothing case’ and ‘indeed had known it was a nothing case because, without my knowing it, they had investigated it for four and a half months and dropped it seven weeks before I was arrested’.
There were also issues about how bailing decisions were used to show Operation Yewtree in a positive light. Gambaccini only learnt he had been rebailed after police leaked it to the media. He was left “in the frame” so that his case could linked to other celebrities facing trial, the DJ believes. “I was rebailed within hours of Rolf Harris being convicted which was infuriating. I was rebailed the same day Max Clifford was sentenced.” Instead of being released, he was rebailed the day after the second Dave Lee Travis groping trial was due to finish. “They didn’t want the jury to know a former Radio 1 DJ could be innocent.”’
Their accounts should be deeply disturbing to everyone. In essence, both Davidson and Gambaccini have stated that from now on if someone makes an accusation then it will be treated as the truth, regardless of whether or not there’s any evidence. This is a travesty of justice.
The Dave Lee Travis (DLT) case is no less troubling. DLT was charged with 14 sexual offences, cleared of 12, with a divided jury on the other two. The two split decisions went to a second trial, along with an additional third charge. The subsequent outcome was one acquittal, one split decision, and one guilty verdict.
At least one of his anonymous accusers lied blatantly, claiming he had assaulted her when he visited a hospital. A member of the public contacted his legal team to tell him he had videoed Travis who had turned up with his wife on the day.
He was given a three month sentence suspended for two years. The judge said the prosecution’s case that Travis had “a propensity to commit indecent assaults” had “not been made out”. Travis said that the case should never have been brought against him. “With millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, thousands of hours of police resources, the judge accepted today that the Crown had failed to prove their case against me – namely that I was a sexual predator,” he said.
DLT has been financially ruined. He was forced to sell his home to pay for legal costs. His barrister acted pro bono in the second trial. By the end of the second trial he had not worked since his arrest.
Paul Gambaccini and Jim Davidson both report being left considerably out of pocket because of loss of earning while they were under suspicion and then the cost of legal advice while they were simply deflecting allegations.
Others accused under the umbrella of Operation Yewtree were Freddie Star, who’s now clearly not in the best of health and has lost a defamation case against one of his accusers; and heterosexual Jimmy Tarbuck, who was accused of indecently assaulting an underage boy sometime in the 1970s. He was also cleared without trial.
Rolf Harris’s conviction – a miscarriage of justice
Rolf Harris was convicted on 30 June 2014 of 12 historic offences of indecent assault to 4 victims, variously aged between 8 and 19 at the time. The offences were alleged to have taken place between 1969 and 1986. At the time of conviction Mr Harris was 84 years old, with an elderly, disabled wife.
Mr Harris was refused permission to appeal against his conviction and subsequently decided not to appeal to the Court of Appeal in order to avoid further anguish for his wife and daughter.
At that time Yewtree needed another conviction. On the day of Rolf Harris’s convictions the headlines in the Guardian and the Telegraph were “The Rolf Harris conviction is a vindication of Operation Yewtree” and “‘Witch-hunt’ Operation Yewtree vindicated by Rolf Harris case”
Justice has paid a high price for the conviction of Mr Harris. Other blogs provide more detail about the problems with the case. The key points about the evidence are summarised here.
The prosecution was built around the testimony of four key witnesses:
Complainant 1 accused Harris of touching her inappropriately when she was just seven or eight while he was signing autographs at Leigh Park Community Centre, Havant, Hampshire. The complainant, Wendy Wild, has waived her right to anonymity.
The main difficulty is that Mr Harris has never been to the Leigh Park Community Centre. The police trawled newspapers, searched local record centres and dropped hundreds of leaflets in the neighbourhood. The police found no evidence that Harris had ever been to Leigh Park. 12 months later there is still no evidence that he was ever there, let alone any witnesses.
She said it happened in 1969 ’round about the time of the first moon landing’ (20 July 1969). She also said that it took place somewhere around her eighth birthday (October 1969). She says that he sang ‘Two Little Boys’ on stage, to ‘a packed out audience’ and that she knew the song because it was in the charts. Two Little Boys was released in early November 1969 and reached No.1 on 18 December 1969 and remained at No.1 for six weeks. These jigsaw pieces don’t fit together.
She also said that he had “big hairy hands”. Look for yourself, google Rolf Harris or search YouTube. He doesn’t.
The accusation doesn’t stand up, but Ms Wild must be believed, because she has made an allegation.
Ms Wild was asked by prosecution counsel what she had to gain by lying. She said: “Nothing to gain whatsoever except for closure on the incident that happened to me.” ….”
Far from closure, since the trial Ms Wild has waived her right to anonymity. She’s given interviews at every opportunity, and those interviews have been syndicated nationally and internationally. It’s also been reported, alongside her interviews, that she’s seeking compensation.
Complainant 2 said she’d been working as a waitress, at the age of 13 or 14 at a charity event in Cambridge in 1975. She said that Mr Harris was playing with a dog outside a marquee and she went to watch along with a crowd of other people. It is alleged that Mr Harris put his arm around her shoulder and then groped her bottom, squeezing her left buttock a number of times.
The prosecution completely changed the basis of the allegation part way through the trial:
- The television programme changed from “Celebrity It’s a Knock Out” to “Star Games”, and therefore the programme maker changed from BBC to ITV.
- The date of the alleged incident changed from 1975 to 1978 and the venue changed from Parker’s Piece in the centre of Cambridge to Jesus Green, which is about a 6 minute drive north. The locations are very distinctive – some careful police interviewing should have revealed whether she was at one place or the other.
- The age at the key witness changed from 13/14 to 16/17.
In short, the witness couldn’t remember when it happened, which programme it was, how old she was when it happened or where it happened, but she said that she could remember the incident clearly “in her mind’s eye”.
The witness statements, her cross examination and the case was built around Celebrity It’s a Knockout filmed in Cambridge in 1975, which Mr Harris didn’t appear in. At no point during the trial did the prosecution demonstrate that the witness was at either the original or the revised event.
Mr Harris was branded a liar for not remembering that he’d been to Cambridge, despite supporting evidence from Sue Cook; the witness’s own memory is to be forgiven – she has made an accusation, so it must be true.
Witness 3 was a childhood friend of Mr Harris’ daughter. She said he repeatedly indecently assaulted her between the ages of 13 and 19, including once when his daughter was asleep in the same room. He admitted a relationship with the woman, but said it began after she turned 18
The only evidence is the statement of his accuser, which contradicts her own diary of the time, her previous statement to the police and the evidence of the two other witnesses (Mr Harris and his daughter). Some of the claims also contradict common sense (appearing in a locked hotel bedroom as she was getting out of the shower, and sunbathing in the shade).
Despite the alleged assaults and her purported fear of Mr Harris, the witness undertook long journeys, of her own volition in order to visit the Harris family, including Mr Harris. The adult affair comprised some eight to ten meetings (or trysts as they might more properly be termed) over an eleven year period. For at least some of their trysts she went out of her way to meet him, even inviting him into her own home. After their affair finished she asked Mr Harris for £25,000 – £30,000 as a donation to a bird sanctuary run by her boyfriend, who was in financial difficulty. When he refused to pay she threatened to tell her story to the press.
Without corroborative evidence it cannot be beyond reasonable doubt that this isn’t a vindictive attack by an ex-partner, or a confabulated tale from an alcoholic, or an attempt to gain financial advantage from somebody who admits previously asking the Mr Harris for money.
However, the witness has made allegations, so the rules of Operation Yewtree say that they must be true.
Witness 4 was Tonya Lee, who waived her right to anonymity. She alleged that Mr Harris assaulted her at the start of her theatre group’s six-week visit to the UK in a party for the group in a London pub. She also said she that following the assault that she lost between 9lb and 13lb after she “stopped eating” and would “throw up” during the six-week trip.
Ms Lee’s story was made public in May 2013 through interviews with Channel 9 and the Australian magazine, Womans Day. She received $66,000 for her interviews some 12 months before the case came to court.
During the trial it emerged that, in fact, Ms Lee didn’t meet Mr Harris on the first day of her 6 week tour as she originally stated (which also meant that she couldn’t have met him again later on in the tour as she says in her media interviews). The group met him six days before she left the country, towards the end of the tour. She then had to admit that her weight loss on tour (nearly a stone) must have been due to some other reason, such as homesickness. The defence also discovered Ms Lee had been under medical supervision for anorexia some four years before she’d ever met Mr Harris, although she denied this in Court, saying the counsellor had ‘misunderstood.
In Court Ms Lee also admitted to telling a ‘bare-faced lie’ to Operation Yew Tree detectives about the fact that she’d already lined up an agent and interviews, but didn’t disclose it to the police.
The description of the assaults themselves are also questionable. In her media interviews she mentions table cloths on pub tables (really?), sitting astride Mr Harris’s lap in a crowded bar and she suggests that no one in a pub full of people noticed the internationally famous Mr Harris walking through and coming out of a door clearly marked ‘Ladies’, or waiting for an indeterminate time outside of the Ladies toilets in a narrow and busy service corridor so that he could assault her. Still, Ms Lee has made her allegations. She’s even been paid for them, and so they must be true.
Then there’s the policeman on the jury. The juror was a serving office with the metropolitan police, the very force that have led Operation Yewtree and that needed of a conviction in order to vindicate the operation. How can this be seen as anything other than a conflict of interest? Mr Justice Sweeney might perhaps have been more mindful of the old adage that justice should not only be done, but it should be seen to be done.
Certainly the jury didn’t go to the jury room with a clear idea that Mr Harris was guilty. It took them nearly 38 hours to come to a verdict.
On the Thursday before they came to their conclusions they asked the judge a number of questions, which suggests that they were concerned about the credibility of the ‘evidence’ on some counts and about the extent to which alleged similar facts (or rather, similar allegations in this case) might be used to stereotype. Seemingly one juror wanted to find similarities between the counts to point to a guilty verdict and this argument was pushed so forcefully that the other jurors began to doubt their ‘common sense’ . Jurors also asked for letters to be sent to their employers if they did not reach a verdict by the end of the Friday.
The lingering doubt is whether any reasonable jury, properly directed, could have reached the same verdict? And, of course the presence of a serving Metropolitan police officer adds to the lingering doubt.
There were also the charges of four offences of making indecent images of a child, announced by the CPS in August 2013. The charges weren’t part of the trial and they have been widely discredited since the conviction. However, the presence of these “not in the public interest” charges ensured that Mr Harris could not have a fair trial.
Putting right the wrong
One of the great difficulties with the Rolf Harris case is that with the circus created in the aftermath of Savile, Yewtree and the compensation lawyers, it’s difficult to even speak about the Harris case as a miscarriage of justice without being branded as some sort of paedophile sympathiser, or being accused of taking the side of the perpetrators of sexual offences. I know I’m not. I simply believe very strongly in justice – that no one should be convicted unless there is evidence on which to convict them.
Despite the lack of any evidence that could convince beyond reasonable doubt, Mr Harris was found guilty by a jury. How and on what basis simply beggars belief.
The modus operandii of Operation Yewtree has been clearly articulated by the “Yewtree Survivors”: “no matter how flaky the ‘victims’ version of events, they [are] to be taken as the truth.”
It might be a good thing for those who brand Mr Harris as a paedophile to review the evidence and ask themselves if they could really be sure, if they would be able to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that he is guilty of the accusations?
To paraphrase the closing paragraph of ‘Giving Victims a Voice’, those who have been subjected to a miscarriage of justice must be allowed to come forward, given a voice and swift action should be taken.
Nothing is ever new under the sun. An article from 1999 about trawling for evidence says:
“In these circumstances, in which both magistrates and judges have in effect relinquished their traditional responsibility to protect the public against ill-founded and dangerous prosecutions, it should scarcely be surprising that juries, misled by the court into believing that the evidence being presented to them is safe, should use this evidence as the basis for convicting the defendant. For juries, too, are susceptible to terror. And they, too, are liable to reach a verdict of guilty not on the evidence but in response to the fear that they might acquit a guilty man. If recent rulings are any guide, even some appeal court judges appear to have succumbed to the terror.
“When you are faced by an unspeakable evil, the safest course is always to convict, whatever reasonable doubts there may be about whether the defendant has actually committed the crimes of which he or she is accused. We saw that again and again in the cases brought after the IRA terror bombings.”
 ‘Giving Victims a Voice’, A joint MPS and NSPCC report into allegations of sexual abuse made against Jimmy Savile under Operation Yewtree January 2013: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/yewtree-report-giving-victims-voice-jimmy-savile.pdf, located on 14 July 2015
 How the police trawl the innocent, RICHARD WEBSTER , New Statesman special report , 19 July 1999. http://www.richardwebster.net/howthepolicetrawltheinnocent.html Accessed on 14 July 2015