Saturday, 28 July 2018

Police Show-Boating Diced and Sliced

An Important Victory

I hate his cheesy hits, but I’ve just joined the Cliff Richard fan club after his court victory

Peter Hitchens

My congratulations to Sir Cliff Richard. By taking the BBC and the police to court over their shocking treatment of an unproven allegation against him, he has struck a mighty blow for justice. I wish all my journalistic colleagues would recognise this and stop carping about a mythical threat to press freedom.

I sympathise with Sir Cliff because I have spent quite a lot of the past few years trying to restore the reputation of a great Englishman, Bishop George Bell, unfairly besmirched after the Church of England publicly revealed ancient and uncorroborated allegations of child sex abuse against him, and appeared to have accepted them.

George Bell has nothing to do with the modern Bishop Peter Ball, by the way, who is a convicted abuser and whose disgusting acts I condemn. By contrast, George Bell (who died in 1958) was never tried, and had no chance to defend himself. Accusations made more than six decades after the alleged offence were lazily accepted by various prelates and apparatchiks, after a sloppy and prejudiced apology for an investigation.

Many otherwise intelligent people assumed his guilt, largely due to an incorrect claim that he would, if alive, have been arrested by the police, who were dragged into the matter by the Church. This would not have been proof of guilt even if true, but it did what it was intended to do, and poisoned many minds against him.

It also helped that several supposedly responsible newspapers, and the BBC, proclaimed prominently that his guilt was established, when it was not. Only the BBC have ever admitted that they were wrong. A dead man has no rights.

My small role in getting justice for Bishop Bell (a battle that is still not over) taught me a lot about the tattered, decrepit state of justice in this country. And here is what I learned. Hardly anyone understands British justice any more, especially the vital presumption that all of us are innocent until proven guilty.

Police actions can prejudice fair trials. Well-publicised arrests and spectacular raids (often, absurdly, at dawn) on homes serve no serious purpose except to shatter the morale of the target and to prejudice the public mind.

Can anyone tell me what South Yorkshire Police actually hoped to find when they searched Sir Cliff’s home in conditions of total publicity in 2014?
  The accusation, since dismissed, was that the singer had abused someone at a Billy Graham rally in 1985. I am shocked that any magistrate with any self-respect could have granted a warrant for such a grotesque invasion of a man’s privacy, on such evidence.

I cannot imagine such a thing would have happened 50 years ago, when more people were properly educated and understood what freedom is. But the state has recently gained extraordinary and uncontrolled powers to punish people without proving anything against them.

An allegation, especially of abuse, will ruin the accused person’s reputation forever because millions of people wrongly believe the silly old saying that there is no smoke without fire. He will probably have to spend his entire life savings to fight it. Even if a jury throws out the charges, he will not get a penny of that back. How can this possibly be just? It cannot be, yet we permit it.

I am told that if we are not allowed to report this sort of thing, it will allow the state to persecute people in secret. A simple provision, that such searches may be made public only if the accused person gives written permission, solves that in a second. I believe that the police, deprived of the oxygen of publicity, will simply stop behaving like this.

What is the point of turning up at dawn with a dozen cars with flashing lights if it can’t be shown on TV? You might as well do what you should have done in the first place, and ask the accused to come round to the station.

AS FOR the argument that these actions cause ‘other victims’ to come forward, the claim itself is an example of the ignorant prejudice of our times. Not all accusations are true, as we have learned quite a few times lately.

They are not ‘victims’ but ‘alleged victims’, until the case is proven beyond reasonable doubt in a fair court of law. And why can they not come forward when the accused is formally charged and arrested?

I may in the past have wondered whether Sir Cliff was worth the fantastic amounts of money he has earned from his long career. Now I don’t begrudge him a penny. It was only thanks to his huge wealth that he was able to fight and win a battle that badly needed to be fought.

Now everyone who cares for liberty and justice must see that his efforts are not wasted.

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