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FACT: A 25th Anniversary – Congratulations or Commiserations?


Can anyone remember what they were doing 25 years ago in late 1999? I can. That time that year, I was planning to marry for the second time and was full of hope, love and wonder for a new beginning in my years of middle age.

 

Having been at school in the late 50’s/early 60’s, I have vivid memories still of that inspirational teacher who filled me with a love of literature that still fires me today, along with the teacher who thought it appropriate to humiliate me in front of the whole class because I was the only one who failed to complete an exam paper. Likewise, I had the joy of a special friend who invited me to sleepovers at her home – very unusual and exciting in my world – and the distress of being teased mercilessly, (we didn’t call it bullying then), because I ‘talked posh’, also known as ‘being the new girl’ and ‘not fitting in’.

 

Life is rough-and-tumble, nurturing and harming by turns, and I’m sure we all have comparable memories that turn us into, (hopefully), resilient human beings.  However, no-one expects the harm of a false accusation or is prepared for it, and never in a million years did I imagine I would be in the place I am in my life now, and I suspect that goes for many if not most of us. Likewise FACT, and all its members past and present. 

 

Late in 1999, FACT was a newly-minted organisation dedicated to helping carers and teachers deal with the fallout from a false allegation. Goodness knows help was needed. Care homes and schools of all types have long been a breeding ground for false allegations, bullying and wrong-doing of all sorts, both from residents/students and staff. There is no need for me to sugar-coat the knowledge that children and adults alike indulge in all sorts of wrongdoing against each other alongside all the wonderful, loving, caring and inspirational work that goes on with little comment every single day.

 

Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, in the 70’s and 80’s there was a rightful and growing interest in the issue of abuse by adults in former children’s homes and residential schools and several police forces decided to undertake historical investigations. The first to do so was North Wales Police Force in 1991, and the fall out was so great that in 1992, the first support group was set up in North Wales. Unsurprisingly, given the fact that there is no Statute of Limitations and people who had hitherto been silent were encouraged to come forward, it can be of no real surprise that the numbers who came forward were large and the police forces concerned patted themselves on the back for their great investigative work.

 

Unfortunately, where there are people there are bandwagons and various ‘panics’, such as The Cleveland Child Abuse Scandal in 1987 and The Orkney Child Abuse Scandal of 1991. FACT at its inception was sorely needed, but the bandwagons rolled on. There was the Savile Scandal which began in 2012, still hotly debated in some quarters, which had Sir Jimmy Savile branded as a serial abuser after his death in 2012, with hundreds of victims across his many-decades-long career of charity work and fundraising. Such was the concern of the police and CPS that such a person should not have been identified and stopped much sooner, the whole of the justice system went into overdrive in the efforts to make sure that no-one should suffer abuse and their abuser go unpunished. ‘Believe the Victim’, a policy promoted by Sir Kier Starmer in 2013 during his tenure as DPP, and endorsed by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Tom Winsor in 2014, heralded another huge increase in the number of reports of rape and sexual assault. None of this stopped the Hereford Hoax relating to Satanic Abuse promoted by Sabine McNeill in 2014 though, and she served 4 years of a 9-year jail sentence for harassment. The disastrous Operation Midland, which saw government establishment figures falsely accused, and their accuser Carl Beech eventually jailed for 18 years for his provable fantasy left the MET with egg on its face for considering Carl Beech’s accusations ‘credible and true’. The highly publicised prosecutions of him and other serial abusers such as Gemma Beale and Eleanor Williamson remain the exception rather than the rule.

 

While prosecutions for Perverting the Course of Justice do occur, they remain largely invisible to the public eye, being published in only local news media, if at all, and women’s groups and government alike insist that the paucity of prosecutions ‘proves’ that false allegations are rare, rather than proving that only prosecutions are rare. Many investigations and trials have collapsed one way or another, celebrities and ‘the common man’ alike. The collapse of the trial of Liam Allen in 2017 prompted a review of all then-current rape cases and 916 were dropped because of disclosure failures in that year compared to 537 in 2014-15, but the accused at the centre of them all only command public interest for the length of time it takes to eat a poke of chips in newspaper, it seems.

 

All this time, from 1999 to the present day, (the most recent false accusations of crime coming to light with any great fanfare being those of Andrew Malkinson, whose conviction was quashed in July 2023, and Brian Buckle, who served 5 years of a 15 year sentence and was acquitted after a retrial in October 2023), FACT has been working quietly and diligently. Year on year it has held conferences, supported those claiming that they have been wrongfully convicted, supported those going through the legal process of being accused of a crime they say they did not commit, and supported their families too. Alongside all that, in England and Wales reports to the police of rape and sexual assault have risen to an all-time high of 195,135 in 2023. Having remained stable between 2002/3 and 2012/13, there can then be seen a dramatic increase, arguably because of a combination of an increased confidence in reporting and a rise in false allegations encouraged by things such as, (ironically), an increased confidence in reporting, the ‘believe the victim’ policy or the effects of police trawling, or a combination of all three.

 

Even if one accepts that false allegations are ‘rare’ – something else hotly disputed – and accept the figure that the women’s organisations insist is ‘tiny and insignificant’ and basically not worthy of consideration, the figures are alarming. In 2011/12 the number of reported offences was 52,760, actually a reduction on 2002/03, the last year I can find figures for and the closest to the inception of FACT. That figure is 56,652. 2-10%, the spurious and undocumented percentage that is promoted by women’s organisations, (Sir Richard Henriques when reporting on Operation Midland estimated a minimum 10% and false accusations in the Family Court are demonstrably higher), gives us figures of 1,133-5,665 for 2002/03 and 1,055-2,776 for 2011/12. The work of FACT and organisations like it SHOULD have been decreasing, but instead it has exploded out of all proportion.

 

The false accusation figures for 2023 based on the number of reports made to the police being 195,135 are 3,902-19,513, an enormous 7-fold increase. And, all these figures, of course, relate only to England and Wales and do not include Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 

What has happened? Are British men on some sort of sexual rampage? Have they become lawless? Do we live in what some women call ’a rape culture’?  Or has something else happened?

 

Since FACT came into being, the way sexual crime has been policed has changed out of all recognition. Few would dispute that in the past, people who reported sexual crime were treated poorly. Something had to change, and change it has, beginning with them being perceived as victims from the start, rather than complainants.

 

From being treated as if they were always lying, those who make a report are now treated as if they are never lying. From potentially being questioned aggressively, they are now barely questioned at all, their story is taken as fact and they have the right to not surrender what some would say is crucial, digital evidence, such as their phone. Their statement is considered evidence, and sometimes it is the only evidence at all, especially in historical cases. Police approach a case from the point of view that ‘the victim must be believed’ which necessarily inverts the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle. Complainants have the right to a review of their case if they do not agree when their complaint is dropped or otherwise fails to progress to trial. They have opportunities to tour the court beforehand to familiarise themselves with the building and room. They have the right to screens at trial so they do not have to see the person they have accused (sometimes, perversely, sitting in a nearby cafe close to the accused during court adjournments). There is, currently, a pilot programme which allows them to give their evidence away from a court and ahead of the trial, so they don’t even have to go to court at all. Though it may have always been the case, disclosure failures now happen on a frequency that could be considered the norm. Complainants have access to a plethora of support groups from the first moment of their report to trial and beyond, regardless of the outcome and this support is targeted overwhelmingly at women. It consumes over 95% of the government money available for ‘victim support’ and many millions more in charitable donations. Additionally, since early 2024, complainants have the right, (in Scotland), to a copy of the transcript of the trial, again regardless of the outcome, if they so wish it, a cost that can prevent a person wrongly convicted from mounting an appeal.

 

The accused, on the other hand, will likely find that the stigma of an accusation is such that they can be removed from the family home and lose a career and income that can never be replaced, regardless of the outcome. They may lose any right to spend time with their children, regardless of their guilt or innocence for a length of time that may make those relationships impossible to repair. Their wives/partners/friends may suffer intolerably for having the strength to stand by them. They will likely be ostracised from friends and family who subscribe to the ‘no smoke without fire’ mentality and may well find themselves having severe and traumatic mental health difficulties. These difficulties can reduce them to isolation and even suicide. All this even before a trial has taken place,. In the event of a wrongful conviction, this can leave them without the resources to fight for an appeal, so condemned to seeing out a sentence and time on the Sexual Offenders Register which may last as long as the rest of their life.

 

With those accused falsely and reported to the police, now reaching the tens of thousands per year at a minimum estimate, (again, women’s groups insist that reported crime is only the tip of a very nasty iceberg), FACT and organisations like it are stretched to their limit and working harder than ever.

 

When Operation Midland was investigated by retired judge, Sir Richard Henriques, his report made a large number of recommendations, none of which have so far been implemented and he was scathing in his assessment of the MET police.

 

It seems as though the compass has turned 180 degrees and all the prejudices and judgements that were once laid at the feet of women who complained of sexual crime are now heaped on the heads of men accused of it – and more. That is not to say that women have an easy time of it. The court process is gruelling for genuine victims and the defendant alike. That said, false accusers should not benefit from the accommodations afforded genuine victims and the falsely accused do not deserve the devastating consequences that the current zeal in prosecuting the guilty can bring. With proper investigation, many if not most false allegations could be weeded out long before a case reaches a charge, never mind the courtroom.

 

So where does FACT go from here? What might it find itself doing over the next 25 years? Where would FACT like to see itself in 25 years time?

 

It goes without saying that it will find itself continuing to support those accused of sexual crimes. It is a hard road to be on whether innocent or guilty and the process, twists and turns are a mystery to the uninitiated. What to do if you are arrested for a crime you didn’t commit is not on any school curriculum and it’s a lesson most of us hope never to learn.

 

FACT has grown since those early days and currently provides a wealth of information on its website. It provides a telephone support helpline, offering practical information and support through the court process. It provides support for those in prison through emails, Christmas cards, newsletters and visits, and it supports families too. It produces a bi-annual magazine, and holds 2 conferences a year where people can get together to socialise, exchange information and personal stories. It holds an annual church service, and liaises with other support organisations, keeping abreast of developments, both public and governmental. It responds to media enquiries and promotes relevant media events.

 

It’s very, very busy!!

 

Much is happening, in this its 25th year, nationally, to raise awareness of the issue of false allegations and their impact on innocent people and their families and continued pressure is being put on the justice system to redress some of the imbalance that has built up of the last 25 years.

 

FACT will be working hard to continue to support those caught up in the justice system and their families and to redress some of the imbalance currently affecting the scales of justice.

 

FACT is not a unique organisation and it would be disingenuous to pretend that it is the only group of people working to support the falsely accused, the wrongly convicted and their families. To that end, FACT recognises the value in working with other agencies to come together as a larger group and to develop and share an understanding of all the good work that is being done to raise awareness and increase knowledge.

 

International Falsely Accused Day 2024 demonstrates this perfectly. Begun in honour and memory of FACT member Simon Warr, FAD has grown from its inception in 2021 and now welcomes 18 countries under its banner.

 

FACT understands that while it took a long time for the protections that those accused of sexual offences to be chipped away, it will take time to restore them, but in the interests of justice, they must be restored.

 

It is FACT’s immediate task, as it enters its 26th year, to develop strategies and campaigns to begin to address the current failings in the system, the failings that increase their support workload beyond reason. While remaining on the front line of support for the falsely accused and maintaining and developing links with anyone and everyone with their shared concerns, it is important to remember that the required changes will not come on their own and require concerted and sustained effort and pressure.

 

First, however, is the need to collect the data that the authorities refuse to collect – data relating to false accusations, those who make them and the motivations that cause them. The numbers of cases that are not pursued through the courts, (and the reasons why that is so if possible), and the numbers of people actually prosecuted for Perverting the Course of Justice (which are far higher than the government or any of the victim support groups want known), also need collating and scrutinising. Various organisations keep records of a sort of their own, but they need collecting and collating systematically and accurately so they can challenge the biased data promoted by victims groups such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. Work on this has begun, but it will not be an easy or speedy task.

 

Pressure needs to be brought to bear on the government to record crimes in a more meaningful and statistically useful way. Again, this will not be an easy or a speedy task as neither will any efforts to bring in new law to protect the falsely accused. Currently, the only feasible legal redress is a prosecution for Perverting the Course of Justice which is a crime against the state and not the person. This offers no redress for the falsely accused person, (or their family if the distress has pushed them to suicide), as a civil case is simply out of reach for a variety of reasons. Making a false allegation needs to be a crime against the person so accused as well as a crime against the state, and the ideology that states that this will act against genuine victims with too much force needs to be challenged.

 

Hard data will assist in the efforts to press for reversal of the many chips that have been chiselled away from a fair justice system. The issues are many – anonymity for the accused until charge or even conviction, a Statute of Limitations for all but the most serious of serial sexual offenders, compensation for ‘victims’ solely on the basis of a police report, biased accommodations for the accuser on the route to trial are but a few.

 

There are also arguments to push for specialist judges, trained in ALL aspects of sexual crime so that s/he can protect the complainer and accused from extreme media coverage, be aware of issues such as false and implanted memories and so on; for juries to be required to give account as to how they have reached their verdicts; for compensation for the wrongly convicted to be much more easily accessible, (it is likely to take 2 years+ for Andrew Malkinson to receive compensation for 2 decades wrongfully jailed. He lives in a tent in the meantime while the CICB (Criminal Injuries Compensation Board) pays out in a matter of months if not weeks); for the CCRC to be completely revamped, properly financed and not used as gatekeeper to the Appeal Court; for the Sex Offenders Register  and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) both to be reassessed, as the former is largely punitive and the latter is much too influenced by individual police officers’ personal and often biased input.

 

FACT can pat itself on the back for the good work done over the last 25 years but cannot be complacent. The tasks are enormous and have been decades in the making. They will likely take more decades to achieve but that is not reason not to put in the effort and FACT must and will pick its battles.

 

As we enter FACT’s 26th year, we hope that you will be on the journey with us.


By Felicity Stryjak


Felicity Stryjak is retired having worn many hats in her life so far, teacher and paralegal among them. She was born in Torquay in 1953 and has lived in a variety of interesting places both in the UK and abroad. She intends Scotland to be her final place of abode.


This article was first published in the May 2024 edition of FACT’s magazine at: https://factuk.org


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