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Fighting for Justice – Our Story by A and A

'When you’re accused of a sex crime, even before being found guilty, the people willing to help you or even listen to you diminishes.'

A Rude Awakening

Early morning on a summer’s day in 2019, our lives were changed forever when our doorbell rang. My husband answered and found a squad of police wanting to seize computer equipment they said was linked to the downloading of indecent images of children using our IP address.

He was taken to the station by two officers while the rest turned our house upside down to locate over 20 digital devices. He was advised to do a “no comment” interview. I was told that Social Services would be in contact because of concerns for our daughter’s safety, which was outrageous. My husband returned after a few hours, released without bail but under investigation.

The next day, and over the next few weeks, we had meetings with a social worker who told our daughter that her father was going to prison for a long time. The social worker also said that the police told her there were “hundreds and hundreds” of images and specified the ethnicity and ages of the children in them. This was a big step-up from my husband’s interview when the intelligence mentioned only three images and was a big shock because we didn’t think they had access to the devices yet. My husband denied it and I knew this wasn’t like him.

The Officer in Charge (OIC) contacted my husband by phone a few times asking for the password for a particular Windows laptop but he wouldn’t release them unless it was in a documentable way (and he was proven wise later on). Eventually, we found a way to email the passwords into the OIC who acknowledged their receipt. Some of the seized devices were sent to the National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC), including the one for which we had provided a password.

About a month later came the utter shock of being phoned by the OIC who said that indecent images were found on one of the computers. During the second interview, the new OIC said that the devices were broken into by NTAC and images were found. He was advised by his lawyer to give a no comment interview and took the advice.

Questions and no answers

Late in the evening before the hearing at Magistrates’ Court the next year, we finally received the bundle of evidence from the prosecution. With just over 12 hours to prepare, we examined and found anomalies. The police claimed my husband provided no passwords at all and was given a formal s49 RIPA warning, neither of which were true. NTAC only give permission for these warnings when a machine cannot be broken into - which never happened, and he had emailed the passwords in, all acknowledged by the OIC.

But these were not the only oddities: how did the police know what images to find when they had no access to that machine until a year later? And how did the images get there because the police expert found nothing - no downloads, no browser history, no cache. Deleted? Harder to do so and leave no trace whatsoever. And why did the prosecution case make a vague reference to intelligence when the warrant was specific about the downloading of three files only? Were they hiding the IP address thing now?

Later on, in the Crown Court to which the case was sent, we discovered all the other devices were clean of indecent images, so they weren’t copied from a dodgy digital storage device at all – at least, not one of his because we found out there that all the rest were clean. So whose storage device was it?

The prosecution said instead that TOR was installed on his computer and was used to download the images. My husband replied that it was for a job application at the TOR Project some years before, but had no evidence to back him up. Prosecution called him a liar and accused him of making up a cover story. The expert witness produced no evidence whatsoever that TOR was even used, but the speculation was allowed to stand even though expert opinion is supposed to be evidence-led and not a “bare ipse dixit”.

Our defence mentioned nothing about the fabricated s49 warning (possibly because the judge found an excuse to save the prosecution from owning up), the lie of him giving no passwords and the speculation by the witness. In the end, the jury believed the prosecution’s argument, my husband was found guilty and given 16 months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

The Appeal Labyrinth

We finally got the remaining devices back after the trial only to find one of the laptops had the job application letter, incomplete and not sent because my husband eventually realised he had no chance, but there nevertheless. TOR was also installed on that laptop, and two phones, but none of these devices had any indecent images. Proof, or at least compelling evidence that he was telling the truth all along: that TOR was there for a job application and that it was not installed for browsing indecent images.

Our application for leave to appeal was rejected when the response argued that a technical expert was needed to verify the job application letter. The deciding judge also said that the s49 warning was made, was issued to my husband, and was mentioned to the jury, none of which actually happened (we have the entire transcript as proof). Why would a judge invent something to make an appeal fail if the conviction is safe? Something smelled bad.

Since then, we’ve had another police visit with another mass seizure of devices and my husband was re-arrested again. This time, he answered every question thrown at him. We presume it was a second bite of the cherry to find the storage device with those images on but they won’t find it because my husband never had it. It is under investigation by the police.

And next...

It’s been a very hard few years for all three of us. My husband cannot find work because an article published in a local paper by a journalist - who wasn’t at the trial - discusses his conviction and erroneously says he cannot use computers which he uses for work. Potential employers won’t email or phone him in case they are breaking some kind of law. Because of his unique name, it takes seconds for anyone to find the article and who questions the press? We rent and were asked to leave and now we cannot find anywhere else to live.

My daughter and I will leave this country and we’re hoping that the Probation Service will allow him to join us. He did his unpaid work hours like a lamb and has complied with everything required of him. If refused, he will be alone in a country where he cannot work and cannot find accommodation.

When you’re accused of a sex crime, even before being found guilty, the people willing to help you or even listen to you diminishes. Few want to be involved and scepticism often turns quickly into wilful cynicism when looking for help. For now, our appeal continues but with depleted savings, it will be a hard and long road.

By A and A

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