TV Drama 'The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies' hammers home the important message that not all of those arrested for a crime are guilty: Yes, even the strange looking ones.
I'm a television critic by trade and was sitting down with the preview copies of ITV's drama about the tribulations of wrongly accused Christopher Jefferies last week with a bit of a heavy heart. False allegations of crime and the effect it has on families and communities hit a certain chord with me; I, like a surprisingly high quantity of people have been there, in a position where members of authority are terrifyingly trying to pin something on you that you know for a fact that you did not do.
The murder of Joanna Yeates was a national tragedy and equally, the treatment of her landlord Mr Jefferies, who was vilified by the police and press alike, mostly on the basis that he appeared to be slightly different to the norm, was utterly abhorrent and brought shame on a country which is supposed to live by the mantra: innocent until proven guilty.
We pride ourselves on being a forward thinking nation; liberal, accepting and non judgemental and yet, it only took a few words from the gutter press to have millions convinced that Christopher Jefferies must have murdered Jo Yeates. The evidence we were presented with? He was a little effeminate (as I am; I am most definitely the campest straight man you are likely to meet), his haircut was strange and, most shockingly of all, he lived alone.
Apparently, not conforming to well known popularised styles and not having a regular sexual partner makes one a sitting duck for allegations of impropriety. Christopher Jefferies was a highly publicised but not an isolated case. This happens all over the place on a scarily regular basis. False accusations, arrests and even convictions are a growing epidemic in a world where police forces are facing cuts simultaneous with being forced to adhere to strict targets.
If a certain amount of people are not brought to justice in a set time frame, the force is seen to be failing. It's little wonder then that if a conviction opportunity presents itself, that securing the conviction becomes more important than getting to the truth.
The scenes in ITV's drama of a bewildered Mr Jefferies being arrested, locked in a cell, humiliated, intimidated and interviewed in a biased manner were gut wrenchingly familiar to me. I remember sitting opposite an ambitious trainee DC who was absolutely determined that my face and my story should fit with what I sat accused of. Realising that the person sat before them is innocent is a crippling disappointment to many police officers, who see people's lives, futures, health and reputation as secondary to their own ambitions of grandeur at having captured a villain.
Questions are posed in ways designed to try and trip you up, alibis are disregarded and only certain witnesses are spoken to in the quest to build a case over a quest to get to the heart of the matter. This is a process that is staggeringly unfair to the suspect and it's high time that it was pointed out more forcefully that an arrest does not equal guilt.
We are humans; we bend the truth, it is in our very nature. But this isn't just true of the accused; it can be true of the accuser too. Sometimes the accuser IS the criminal. Every accusation should be investigated and every accuser should be treated as if they are legitimate and believed. However, every suspect too, should feel that they are investigated thoroughly and fairly, without bias and without regard to their appearance, their irrelevant aspects of lifestyle and their manner.
Too many cases rely heavily on gossip, hearsay, slurs and not enough on facts. The police and the media often do a fantastic job and I by no means seek to criticise the hard work of the vast majority of officers and journalists who operate without corruption. However, dig a little and there is an underbelly to our justice system and our reporting system that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and can lead to life destroying miscarriages of truth. This is both a travesty to the wrongly accused suspect and the genuine victims of the crime being investigated.
The true scale of the problem will never hit you until it happens to you. And it can happen to anyone. The pressures on the police forces and the needs of the media to come up with salacious headlines mean that this will continue to happen and you could be next.
With that in mind; withhold judgement when you don't hold facts. Sometimes, there IS smoke without fire.
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