Dave Lee Travis was acquitted yesterday of allegations of historic indecent assault. The result was inevitable, in my view, as soon as the prosecution opened evidence that one of the Chuckle Brothers had witnesses an event. It was very easy to check this assertion and the result was that the Chuckle brothers gave evidence for the defence rebutting that contention. This has nothing to do with suspect anonymity or limitation periods for prosecuting historic cases and everything to do with the state of the evidence. The result is that the jury could not be sure. Criminal cases are not decided on balance. The prosecution have to prove a criminal allegation beyond a reasonable doubt and, in the end, after several days of deliberation, there was reasonable doubt here.
The allegations were of indecent assault, essentially groping women and girls. This appears to have been a culture at the BBC. The alleged victims gave evidence that they were subjected to unwarranted physical sexual assaults. Each witness provides support for the other as multiple complainants in any sex crime trial, taken together can create evidence of a propensity to commit the alleged offences. Defence evidence was that DLT was not the type. The prosecution case was that others had witnessed at least one event. Defence evidence was that this was not true. Everything hung in the balance.
The burden of proving a defendant's guilt in a sex crime trial is on the prosecution throughout the trial (as in all criminal trials). The standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. In modern trials the expression used is that, before convicting, the jury should be satisfied so that they are sure of guilt. Whilst this tends to suggest a greater degree of certainty, it avoids the need to confuse a jury with lengthy explanations as to what is meant by 'beyond a reasonable doubt'. It is a tough ask after 30 to 40 years but not always impossible. The prosecution are caught between a rock and a hard place because failure to prosecute would lead to news that celebrities have a get out of jail free card. In the end, convictions or acquittals are what public trials are all about and the recent spate of historic sex crime trials at least means we are all much better informed.
Calls for a limitation period on prosecutions for historic sex crime are unnecessary - imagine you live next door to a Nazi war criminal or a serial sex offender and you were told that it was too late to prosecute their alleged conduct. Such an arbitrary cut off period would be totally unfair especially when all the research is that it takes time for genuine victims to come forward. You cannot underestimate the trauma for genuine victims of genuine sex offenders and the criminal justice system has to be seen to be dealing with these matters in an open manner rather than sweeping it under the carpet or keeping it behind closed doors. Calls for anonymity of suspects are equally unfounded. The police ought to comply with existing guidelines protecting identity pre-charge but take, for example, paedophile priests, why should they be subject to anonymity and quietly moved on? We cannot pick and choose who is a criminal without a proper process. A criminal trial is the process that we have. Calls for complainants to be named are also a fallacy. Victims need to be encouraged and supported through the trial process. If the evidence is that they appear to be honest and genuine then why should they be subjected to any more than cross examination in an open court process. If that process finds that there is a reasonable doubt that doesn't mean that the individual is any less damaged, it just means that, on the evidence, the prosecution have not proved their case. Of course, if the alleged victim has demonstrably lied then they can be the subject of an investigation for perverting the course of justice and if that is proved the judge is likely to remove anonymity. Small comfort for juries who will worry when they believe the complainants but can find no support for their evidence. In English law there is no requirement for corroboration but in practical terms it still matters. The most that witnesses have is support for each other and here the support for the defendant was such that the verdict of not guilty on all counts was inevitable.