Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions wrote to the Times and apologised for a prosecution failure in an individual case. Such an apology is extremely rare and it means something went seriously wrong.
This followed the judge in the case demanding a review of disclosure of evidence by the Metropolitan Police and calling for an inquiry at the “very highest level” of the Crown Prosecution Service.
In her response to a report in the Times, Ms. Saunders said:
“Further to your report Judge slams police after man cleared in rape trial, the prosecution decision to offer no evidence in a rape case against Liam Allan was taken after new material emerged after an additional disclosure to the defence. It is regrettable that this disclosure happened at a late stage and I would like to apologise to all parties involved in this.”
Perhaps it would have been more appropriate if she would have written to the young man, Liam Allan, who was wrongly accused of rape, whose name was dragged through the mud, who instead of enjoying his early 20s has spent two years on bail. Maybe even a visit to apologise in person.
So what went wrong in the case of Liam Allan?
Mr Allan was a criminology and criminal psychology course at Greenwich University and was charged with accusations of rape and sexual assault. On the face of it, it was a case which deserved the careful consideration of a jury and would have presented them with challenges and required the application of the combined experience and common sense.
The complainant alleged that she was a victim of serious sexual crimes. The Defendant strenuously denied the allegations and maintained that it was all consensual.
As most sexual encounters happen in private, we often face cases where mostly it is one word against another. There is often some supporting evidence to the Prosecution case; complaints to friends or family shortly after the incident or messages.
However the case should never have got to Court. The police had the answer in front of them but failed miserably to look at the information properly or to disclose it to the Defence.
After the alleged crime, the complainant sent a series of text messages to Mr Allan asking for more sex. In fact, she wanted violent sex and spoke about rape fantasies and of wanting to be choked during sex. In text messages to a friend, she made it clear that no crime had been committed.
This is the type of evidence which would hole a case below the water line and end a prosecution, and it did. But, only after two years. Two years of a ‘living hell’ for Mr Allan. He is not the first to go through it and will not be the last. I have written about the effect of being accused of sex offences has on clients ( http://3d-regulatory.co.uk/blog/accused-of-a-sexual-offence-the-day-when-your-life-changes-forever ). DJ Paul Gambaccini wrote about his life being devastated by accusations which were found to be wholly false in his excellent book ‘Love’, as did former teacher and journalist Simon Warr after being acquitted of alleged historic offences against former pupils. I stood with my client Nigel Evans MP outside Court when he made it clear that despite his unanimous acquittal, there were no winners.
The sadness in this case, is that it could have been avoided.
Mr Allan raised the issue of text messages in his police interview, but he was ignored. The officer in the case ignored clear guidelines on disclosure and did not bring them to the attention of the prosecuting barrister. The Defence had made clear on more than one occasion that there were text messages and these could undermine the case of the Prosecution or support the case for the Defence and as such, they were entitled to them.
It was only a very late intervention, three days into the trial, that uncovered what the police had known all along, that Mr Allan was innocent.
For Mr Allan, it will be a long time for the scars to heal, if ever.
Sadly Liam Allan’s case is not a ‘one-off’. Disclosure has been a fault line in criminal justice for decades, as illustrated by dozens of high profile miscarriage of justice cases. Indeed Ms. Saunders accepted that in her letter to the Times, saying:
“There are systemic disclosure issues across the entire criminal justice system, and it will take a collective effort from all participants in order for improvements to be made.”
It is simply not good enough. The police and the CPS have a responsibility to people under investigation or standing trial. The police are supposed to be investigators of truth. Liberty is put at risk due to disclosure failures and innocent people can go to prison. This undermines the entire premise of our Justice System.
Defence lawyers must keep battling on. Early disclosure requests, clearly set out and regular file review to check what remains outstanding. If the CPS and police are not responsive – list it in Court. Section 8 of the CPIA 1996 is there for this very reason. While you are at it, make an application for wasted costs. The more the CPS realise that we will not give up, the more chance of them improving.
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