Stuart Waiton: Labelling accusers as “victims” is distorting the justice system


A FEW years ago, I attended a meeting to discuss what some academics called a moral crusade about historical cases of child abuse. I raised an objection about the new police policy of calling anyone who claimed to have been abused, a victim. At the time, police forces were keen to encourage people to come forward and were telling alleged victims they would be believed.

My concern was that by accepting the victim status of anyone who made an allegation the police were losing their neutral role as investigators and potentially encouraging false allegations.

In the audience sat Kenny MacAskill, the then ex-Cabinet Secretary for Justice, who, on hearing my remarks defended this policy. I was tempted at the time, in jest, to stand up and proclaim that I was a victim of such abuse at the hands of Mr MacAskill. I laughed to myself at the thought of how Mr MacAskill would react, as following his own logic he would, I assumed, have to accept that I should indeed be recognised as a victim of abuse.

In fairness, Mr MacAskill was simply taking the ‘caring’, right-thinking approach at the time, an approach that was empathetic, not wanting to doubly traumatise, as the argument went, people who had been abused. But, as we have seen in the case of the paedophile fantasist Carl Beech, such an approach has destructive consequences for justice.

Beech’s allegations about the abuse and murder of children by people like Edward Heath were so utterly ridiculous and easy to disprove. Beech claimed that not only was he abused but that he witnessed the murder of three young boys. But who were these boys? Why were there no missing persons reports about them? That the police bought into any of this and put 20 investigators on the case gives a sense of the hysteria that surrounded and still surrounds the issue of child sexual abuse.

Driven on by the political opportunism of Labour’s Tom Watson, the police spent 16 months and around £2million sullying the names of old or deceased establishment figures. Mr Watson even used his parliamentary privilege to raise Beech’s allegations in parliament, while Beech wallowed in the limelight.

Beech is now in prison and the police are changing their approach but there is a lesson in all of this about by-passing correct criminal justice processes. The point being that until someone is convicted of a crime there is no victim only an alleged victim.

It may appear caring to give someone the victim label, but it distorts justice, distorts the police force and most importantly it tears to ribbons the fundamental principle that there should be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.


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