Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Prosecutors were right to bring William Roache, DLT and Nigel Evans sex crime cases

Cleared: Nigel Evans

How fickle is public opinion – how disquieting the present aura of disbelief and fury against those who allege abuse by men in high places.

Do we think it was all much better when Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and other famous villains expected to get away with sexual crimes – and did? Or when predatory politicians believed they had free licence to paw, molest, make lewd remarks and sometimes assault women and men at will?

Actor William Roache, DJ Dave Lee Travis and now MP Nigel Evans were properly tried in a court of law and the jury found them not guilty. The evidence did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accusations were true. Even though I have previously written about rich and eminent violators, I realise now that I knew nothing really about the systematic cover-ups.

A new biography of the late Rochdale Lib Dem MP Cyril Smith reveals him as a tyrannical, habitual paedophile. He was governor of 29 schools, set up youth charities and used these positions to prowl from classroom to classroom, youth club to youth club, choosing his prey.

The Lib Dem hierarchy did nothing. When police tried repeatedly to investigate Smith, officers were told they would be sacked and were gagged by the Official Secrets Act.

Another example – as with Savile – of how most of those abused by well-known figures all those years ago would not have dared to complain – and the few who did were doubly punished for not keeping their secrets.

People are shocked and angry at the way Asian "grooming" gangs are protected by their own communities. Do they ever see how the community of white power also protects their own? Or is that normal life, the way it just is?

When Stuart Hall was convicted (for crimes that only came to light after a letter was passed to police from a woman who had been violated by him when she was a schoolgirl) there were shrill protests about "witch-hunts against old men".

Those who protested obviously regarded these crimes as low-level misdemeanours – a case of doing what was "perfectly acceptable" back in the old days. But, rightly, Hall's initial 15-month sentence was doubled by the Court of Appeal.

Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor of the north-west of England, is a Muslim and man of integrity. He initiated prosecutions against Hall and the Rochdale sex-trafficking gang.

He asserts: "We have a duty to listen to those who make complaints of serious offences ... and assess the evidence against the same evidential standards we use for all criminal cases, no matter who makes the complaints."

But the police and crown lawyers are only human and, in recent months, must have felt tremendous pressure to back off. Just as they did when they tried to get Cyril Smith.

Since the Roache, Travis and now Evans acquittals, the police and CPS are being mocked or attacked – by MPs, peers and pundits. Support groups for rape and abuse victims – End Violence Against Women, for example – are right to be concerned that this mood of scepticism and blame will deter victims from coming forward and may make the police and CPS more cautious, even afraid, of moving against alleged high-profile perpetrators.

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