In support of the presumption of innocence
1 March 2016
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Head of the Metropolitan Police, recently questioned the policy of automatically believing alleged victims of child abuse stating: “There is a grave danger at the moment with the advice that (there is) a tendency to always believe any complaint that is made and that’s not wise for any good investigator.”
His comments have been condemned by the NSPCC and Vera Baird, PCC for Northumbria, who argue that many thousands of sexual abuse victims have been denied justice as a result of the attitude advocated by Sir Bernard.
According to Tony Blockley and Angie Neville, both former police officers and now senior lecturers at the University of Derby’s International Policing & Justice Institute, Sir Bernard’s statement has been misinterpreted.
Through recent legislation, including the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and the Criminal Procedure & Investigations Act 1996 (CPIA) the process of undertaking formal investigations has been written in to law to help prevent miscarriages of justice and aid transparency of investigations.
Through the CPIA the Secretary of State was directed to ensure that: ‘Where a criminal investigation is conducted all reasonable steps are taken for the purposes of the investigation and, in particular, all reasonable lines of inquiry are pursued’ to ascertain whether a ‘person should be charged with an offence’ or ‘whether a person charged with an offence is guilty of it.’
For Angie Neville the guidance developed by the police and others - the Core Investigative Doctrine - “introduced a number of principles to ensure that effective investigations are undertaken. The most important attribute of an investigating officer is to keep an open mind, impartially evaluate all the evidence and question everyone involved.”
In Tony Blockley’s opinion Sir Bernard is only re-stating a process that should happen with every case: “When accusations of a sexual assault - or any other crime - are made it is absolutely right not to disbelieve a victim or witness, but to support and encourage them, and to listen to their story, but it is essential that the investigators should have an open mind.
“Not accepting evidence at face value, which has happened in the past, will ensure that the best investigations are conducted for the victim and that reliable evidence is available to convict the abuser. This does not mean you do not believe their word, but it is vital that the police test and validate all the evidence in support of the victim’s accusations. Otherwise, we’re on the slippery slope of having to prove our innocence not our guilt.”