Dave Lee Travis & the CPS blog – overstepping the mark?

Introduction

Last week (10th August 2013) I wrote an opinion piece for Criminal Law & Justice Weekly (vol 177, No 32) with the title “Should the CPS give press conferences?” which I answered in the negative. The gist of it is in the title – after Stuart Hall got (rightly) criticised by the Court of Appeal for his theatricals on the steps of the Court, should we look again at the practice of the CPS in giving press releases, and sometimes press conferences, when someone is charged?

CPS Press Release

Just a few days later one of the problems highlighted came into focus with the news that Dave Lee Travis has been charged with 12 offences of indecent and sexual assault. The CPS issued a statement saying :

Having completed our review, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest for Mr Griffin to be charged with 11 counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault …

Ms Saunders said: “The decision to prosecute has been taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the DPP’s interim guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse. We have determined that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that a prosecution is in the public interest.

We have also decided that no further action should be taken in relation to seven separate allegations against Mr Griffin as we determined that there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.” (emphasis added)

Questions for the CPS

Whilst I have doubts over the need to mention matters such as the test for a prosecution (I am concerned that this reads as if the CPS ‘know’ that he’s guilty), a bigger concern is the last paragraph. A couple of questions :

  • Why do the CPS feel the need to mention that they will not be pursuing seven separate allegations?
  • How is this anything other than mud-slinging?
  • Isn’t there a real danger that jurors at the trial will remember that?
  • Consequently, isn’t there a risk that this could prejudice a future trial?

What can you do about it?

If you agree (and I know I’m not the only one) then you can complain to the CPS about it. The first point of contact would be the CPS Press Office (email – cps.pressoffice@cps.gsi.gov.uk). Here is a (edited) letter sent be a fellow tweeter that you could do worse than adopting :

Subject: Dave Lee Travis

Sirs,

I am not alone in thinking that telling the public about charges NOT brought against a man who will in due course be tried for serious offences does little other than prejudice his right to a fair trial.

Please can you explain why it was felt appropriate to do this and assure us that it will not happen again?

Yours,

Conclusion

Feel free to copy and use. But if you do email them and get a response, can you let me know what they say?

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27 thoughts on “Dave Lee Travis & the CPS blog – overstepping the mark?

  1. I added this into the middle…

    The Crown Prosecution Service exists to serve in the Public Interest – it does not exist to assist in “Trial By Media” or to serve the agendas of that corrupt – and indeed criminal – media.
    The statement made by both yourselves and the solicitors in question demonstrated a contempt for judicial process beyond that of any criminal. The subversion of The Rule Of Law is this manner is completely unacceptable and, in my opinion, amount to an Abuse Of Process.

  2. Thank you for your email to the Crown Prosecution Service regarding the CPS statement made in the case of David Patrick Griffin.

    We do not agree that this statement risks prejudicing the trial. CPS statements are made in the interests of transparency and accountability and our intention is to be as open as possible without adversely affecting live proceedings. With that in mind we always consider very carefully what, if anything, can be said about a case. Ensuring that there is a fair trial is of the utmost importance in any public statement that the CPS issues.

    I attach a copy of our Feedback and Complaints leaflet for your information and I thank you once again for taking the time to write to us.”

  3. I’ve got the same reply as well… I’ve written back pointing out the specific problem relating to the statement of allegations that are not going to be proceeded with. I will put in an official complaint to see if I can get a complete answer.

  4. He is a good man, I hope he is completely vindicated. His apparent behaviour was no different to hundreds of other men who were perceived to have ‘power’ all those years ago, including senior officers of large City firms who, quite unfairly, will be allowed to keep their secrets until the bitter end. The question still remains: ‘why on earth complain now and yet keep silent at the time and for all the years in-between?’ Pound signs.

  5. It’s quite clear that by their interpretation of “transparency” is not mine, and that “accountability” equates to the CPS’s relationship with the police force and the media, and not accountability with the judicial process and Rule Of Law

  6. I don’t know how it affects the case if it is tried by magistrates. If it is tried by jury, the fact they have heard matters in the press could be a serious issue. They must reach a verdict “according to the evidence” i.e. what is presented in court, yet they will “know” there were further cases that are not being presented in court and thus no “evidence” from these facts. This could lead to a prejudiced verdict.

  7. if you think that’s going a bit far, what about the curious case,reported in tabloids last weekend, of the woman who reported that she had had sex at 15 with a now well known actor. Because the act predated change in legislation on such offences, CPS told her it couldn’t be prosecuted as it hadn’t been reported within a year, as the law then required. However, they told her that they believed her complaint and that her allegation could be used as ‘bad character’ evidence in any future proceedings (their letter was extensively quoted in Mirror article).I’m not a legal expert but it seems strange to find the CPS effectively convicting someone without a trial and ruling on admissibility of evidence. Who needs courts? Thanks to a clue from one paper,names have been bandied about on Twitter. If there was any suspicion the actor was a repeat offender, his chances of a fair trial would seem to be zero.

  8. So, today Dave Lee Travis was in court to plead not guilty for various charges. The most recent alleged offense was apparently “A sexual assault on a woman between 1 June 2008 and 30 November 2008” – apparently the alleged victim cannot recall whether it was early summer or early winter at the time of the alleged assault. Some of the charges relating to earlier alleged offenses cover an even broader time-period e.g. “An indecent assault on a woman between 1 January 1981 and 31 December 1983” covering a single event at some point in a 3 year period. I just cannot believe that you can build a sound case on this sort of woolly basis. I guess we will have to wait and see whether the CPS actually has any hard evidence (video, DNA etc.) or whether this is just going to be the vague recollections of several accusers vs. the ability of the defendant to alibi exactly where they were for an entire 3 year period in order to prove that they couldn’t have done it.

    • Paul, this is exactly how these cases are conducted. I tried to help appeal once case where the complainant said something had occurred a few days AFTER the family returned home from a specific holiday. That Count was indicted with a two year time span as I recall, despite the fact they only went on that holiday once, and it was significant as they went to the press afterwards calling it ‘the holiday from hell’.

      Judges will often tell a jury that ‘dates don’t matter’. In some cases I can understand that sentiment but in other cases, for instance the complainant might say “I know it was my 13th birthday because I remember thinking to myself ‘welcome to your teens'”. When evidence is produced that completely refutes what has been said the goalposts are simply moved to allow for the ‘mistake’.

      In one case I was involved with, the complainant said that she had been raped in the same garage from a certain date to a certain date spanning a few years. Evidence was found that showed that the garage wasn’t taken on until a couple of years after the alleged assaults started (and which were indicted as those dates)! The jury was told that ‘dates don’t matter’. Yes they bloody well do in cases like that!!!

      • Whilst I do have sympathy for any real (rather than alleged) victims, if they want justice then they need to make a complaint within a time period which enables hard evidence to be taken. Whilst I still feel sympathetic, the uncorroborated word of someone several years or even decades after the event where the defendent has no ability to provide their own counter-evidence (e.g. of an alibi) is not (in my opinion at least) justice.

        Which is exactly my point – if the justice system now works on the basis of uncorroborated personal memories (that can be false) from several decades ago, then the “justice” system is putting itself into disrepute and creating its own lack of trust. (The police did this some time ago, so (cynically) I guess it was only a matter of time before the rest of the justice system followed.)

      • Paul, I agree 101% I recently read this judgement on BAILII

        http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2013/1592.html

        This is where the appellant was supposed to have started his alleged campaign of abuse back in 1949. Despite the fact that records from that time, and witnesses that could have assisted with the defence, were no longer available, the conviction was deemed to be ‘safe’.

        Had this came come before the CoA a few years back it would have succeeded (as per many other similar although not so old, such as R v Bryan Selwyn Bell et al) but it seems that these days the courts are more interested in keeping these convictions ‘safe’ (as opposed to ‘right’) than actually making sure that justice is being seen to be done. No way did this appellant have a fair trial He will probably die in prison due to the complete lack of common sense, let alone any smidgen of ‘Justice’.

      • Well, I have stated my views about the DLT case, and it would seem that this case was similar in evidential nature.

        I have read the appeal judgement you linked to, however I have to say that I agree with what the judge said i.e. that the broad spread of instances made an alibi defense weak even if the evidence was available, and that the jury should have been fully able to assess whether the defense was impaired by lack of alibi evidence.

        The issue for me is that this case essentially came down to their word vs. his – without any physical evidence to prove or disprove the case. I think that you have to discount the victims’ evidence to some extent due to:

        1. the elapsed time which would have allowed some memories to fade and potentially some false memories to be created due to constant replaying of the memories over time.

        2. their not being any evidence of complaints at the time – I know that due to the culture at the time it may have been more difficult to make allegations then, but considering that there were 4 victims you would have reasonably expected to have been able to get some evidence from others that they had confided in at the time of the assaults – and a lack of any corroburation should have been taken into account

        4. because they had compared their own experiences (when confronting him in Australia) and therefore may (at best) have polluted their own memories or (at worst) deliberately colluded to enhance their evidence and make it more consistent.

        That said, we had several people saying the same thing. And that has to count for something.,

        So, in the end it came down to the skills of the prosecution and defense lawyers and what the jury heard and felt on the day – and we were not there to hear and so cannot really understand why the jury made the decision they did. If a case goes to court on this type of evidence then, rightly or wrongly, this is how the jury system works – the jury needs to make a judgement about whether – on the evidence they heard – they think the defendant was guilty “beyond reasonable doubt”. I would assume that the judge would have made clear in his/her summing up the need for the jury being convinced “beyond reasonable doubt”.

        I am not sure whether it is possible to restrict cases to those where there is clear physical / scientific evidence – whatever rules you came up with, I think you could find a counter example of where they should not apply – so I think we do have to rely on the jury system. That said, I do think that there should be some clear guidelines given to juries by judges (based on scientific studies) about:

        A. the reliability of memories after such lengthy periods of time have elapsed,
        B. the similar reliability of memories where they may have been influenced by discussions with others who would have given positive feedback (encouraging memories to be “enhanced”); and
        C. situations where witnesses have compared their experiences and memories (which might result in alignment of memories).

        And this is just what could happen unwittingly to memories before you consider the possibilities of the victims deliberately changing their stories to support one another.

        If there were clear guidelines, that would then act as a deterrent to the CPS not to attempt prosecution in these types cases where lengthy periods of time had passed and where physical evidence (for both prosecution and defense) is weak.

  9. Yes, remember how Ian Huntley was never was charged with or convicted of sex with under aged girls/young adults despite at least 9 complaints. Their allegations were therefore false and this man was wholly innocent because had this innocent man been locked up, travesty of justice that it is, who knows what might have happened… I know what happened. I can even write the end of the story, two young girls might still be alive today, grown up into young women and possible have now had children of their own. You set up a system that protect rapists and sex offenders from justice this is what happens.

  10. Justice2014: who is it that you are accusing of setting up a system “that protect rapists and sex offenders from justice this is what happens”. Dan hasn’t set up the system. it’s been this way for decades and it’s getting worse.

    Can you even begin to imagine how you would feel if you went to bed one night, happy, and at silly o’clock the next morning you have the police banging on your front door for all the neighbours to hear, you are taken out of the house in handcuffs, in front of your wife and children (if you have them) and dragged off to the police station. All you know if that you have been arrested on suspicion of child sex abuse that allegedly happened over 20, 30, 40 or 50+ years ago.

    If you are innocent you have no idea what they are on about, who has accused you, what the allegations are and where it is all supposed to have happened. You cannot remember what you did last week let alone decades ago.

    You are then locked in a police cell where you might wait hours for a duty solicitor to turn up. You might be given a cup of tea and toast if you are lucky.

    You are then taken into an interview room to be interviewed with a solicitor, probably somebody you have never met before. You are then faced with the most horrendous allegations and – if you are innocent – by this time your brain has completely shut down with the shock and terror of it all.

    Once you get to trial and you mention something during evidence that you didn’t say in interview, this can be used against you. You will be accused (in front of the jury) that you are now making stuff up, throwing red herrings into the mix, to wriggle out of the allegations, when in fact you’ve now had time to remember certain stuff you forgot in interview, because your brain was in meltdown at the time.

    At trial and at Court of Appeal they have absolutely no understanding of how the mind works when faced with such horrendous allegations of sometimes hideous crimes – and if you are innocent – how on earth can you expect to sit in interview, calm and collected, and be able to trot off all sorts of helpful evidence that will help your defence? it is impossible but that is what they expect.

    Yes many people DO commit revolting disgusting crimes. But many people are falsely accused of such crimes too.

    Instead of erring on the side of the complainants, just remember not all of them are telling the truth.

    The above could happen to you. Any time. Any day. Those at trial this week could be guilty – but then they could also be completely innocent. Some people tell the most outrageous lies for money – courtesy of the tax payer – because that is who pays out “compensation”.

  11. Pingback: Garry Glitter charged with child sex offences | UK Criminal Law Blog

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