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News roundup week ending 4 July 2014

Charlotte Rowles

By Charlotte Rowles on 03/07/14

News roundup week ending 4 July 2014
30 June 2014

Joan Smith writes in the Guardian about the Rolf Harris verdict. 

The Rolf Harris conviction is a vindication of Operation Yewtree. 

The police investigation into historic sexual abuse was labelled a witch-hunt. But now, thankfully, the message is clear: no one is above the law. 

It would have been unthinkable just two years ago. That lovable TV personality Rolf Harris, epitome of the amiable Aussie entertainer, exposed as a serial sex offender? Yet that has just happened at Southwark crown court, where Harris has been convicted on 12 counts of indecent assault. During his trial, the 84-year-old was described by the prosecutor as a "sinister pervert" who targeted his own daughter's best friend. Harris will now join two other public figures, the TV presenter Stuart Hall and the publicist Max Clifford, in prison.

The Clifford and Harris verdicts are a vindication of Operation Yewtree, the Metropolitan police inquiry launched in October 2012 when the crimes of Jimmy Savile came to light. The trials and convictions of Hall, 84, were not part of Yewtree although one of his victims decided to contact a journalist after she read about Savile's attacks on girls. Only last week, a damning series of reports revealed the extent of Savile's predation on vulnerable people in hospitals.

Savile's criminal career emerged in an ITV documentary in 2012, just under a year after his death at the age of 84. He never had to face his accusers in court but the scale of his abuse – the final Yewtree report on Savile identified 450 victims – has had a seismic effect on the way victims, senior police officers and prosecutors think about sexual violence. Across the country, rape crisis centres and refuges report big increases in the number of calls from women and girls who have experienced sexual assault or rape. And while the rape conviction rate dropped last year after showing a steady increase for five years, it is striking that senior police officers and prosecutors are now prepared to go after men like Clifford, 71, who previously considered themselves untouchable.

Senior officers talk privately about the impact of interviewing hundreds of Savile's victims, which has challenged many of their pre-existing ideas about sexual violence. Hundreds of women (and some men) who didn't know each other told remarkably similar stories of abuse by the TV presenter, exposing the way in which a confident criminal was able to operate virtually in plain sight. They came forward not to see their abuser in court, given that Savile was dead, but because they wanted to tell their stories and be believed. Senior officers say these are lessons they have taken to heart, pointing to a 19% rise in rape prosecutions in London last year.

Operation Yewtree is still carrying out inquiries. To date, 17 people have been arrested in all; five have been charged; several are on police bail; and the rest will face no further action. Another former Radio 1 DJ, Dave Lee Travis, 68, was cleared of 12 charges of indecent assault in February, while the jury was unable to agree on two more; he has since been charged with another count of indecent assault and faces a second trial later this year.

These developments have not been universally popular. When Yewtree was set up, there was an immediate attempt to characterise it as a witch-hunt of elderly celebrities. First out of the traps was Clifford, who claimed he was getting anxious phone calls from men who feared their reputations would be damaged merely because they knew Savile in the 1960s. Clifford insisted that the entertainers in question were innocent but he then indulged in a classic piece of victim-blaming, talking about teenage girls bursting into stars' dressing rooms. "It was the girls who were coming on to them," he insisted.

The witch-hunt accusation was also levelled at Yewtree by the film-maker Terry Gilliam, the TV presenter Chris Tarrant (who have never been suspects) and the comedian Freddie Starr. Starr, 71, who was arrested four times in relation to historical allegations before being told he would face no further action, raged against police and prosecutors and vowed to bring Operation Yewtree "down on its knees".

Although not directly connected, the Yewtree arrests have been linked in the public mind with the trials of two Coronation Street stars, Michael Le Vell and William Roache, who were both cleared of sexual offences. For a time, it looked as if public opinion, initially outraged by the Savile revelations, was swinging in the opposite direction.

Prosecuting offences which are alleged to have taken place 30 or 40 years ago is not easy. These are cases where there is no physical evidence, while memories of dates and times are bound to be imperfect in some instances. The risks associated with charging men such as Clifford were always apparent, even if his hubris – mocking a TV journalist who was reporting on the case outside the court – worked against him. So did the fact that the prosecution in each case was able to show a pattern of behaviour, turning the defendants' modus operandi against


When Clifford was sent to prison for eight years, the judge said he had groomed and degraded his victims, aged 15 to 19; he observed that some of the offences were so serious that they would be charged as rape if they happened today. Harris's victims were even younger, with two counts relating to girls aged 14 and either seven or eight at the time they were assaulted. The Clifford verdict sent shockwaves through the ranks of his famous clients, not to mention the tabloid journalists who had used him as a source of celebrity gossip for many years. Harris's conviction is just as startling, but it is also a reminder that Yewtree is not just a fishing expedition. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has warned perpetrators that they should not consider themselves beyond the reach of the criminal justice system: "Nobody is immune, nobody is above the law and it doesn't matter when things happened, we will prosecute when we have the evidence to do so."

The Harris conviction is undeniably a blow against impunity for sex offenders, no matter how famous or elderly they happen to be. But the furore over Operation Yewtree suggests that the criminal justice system may be ahead of public opinion on the question of sexual abuse and rape.

2 July 2014 

BBC Wales’ Paul Martin reports on the controversy over the new recruit to a senior position in South Wales Police Force. 

Elfyn Llwyd MP questions South Wales Police appointment.

A senior Welsh MP is to write to the Home Secretary questioning South Wales Police's choice of assistant chief constable.
Elfyn Llwyd asks if it was appropriate that Nikki Holland was given the job while a report into an investigation she led has not yet been published.
It looked at South Wales Police's role in one of Britain's worst miscarriages of justice.

The force said her work on it ended two years before she applied for the post.

Three men from Cardiff spent a decade in jail after being wrongly convicted of killing newsagent Phillip Saunders in the Canton area of the city in 1987.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) set-up Operation Resolute in 2010 in response to claims from one of the wrongly convicted men that evidence was fabricated by a South Wales Police officer.

A year later, Nikki Holland, then a detective superintendent with Merseyside Police, was selected by the IPCC to take over the investigation, which has now been completed.

Control over publication of the operation's report lies with South Wales Police.
In February, the force said it would publish the report "in as much detail as possible" once it had been signed off by the IPCC.
It will be submitted for sign-off in the next few weeks.

'Something odd'

Plaid Cymru MP Mr Llwyd said appointing Ms Holland as assistant chief constable before publishing the report was a "curious situation" that requires explanation.
He says he is writing to the Home Secretary to ask whether Ms Holland's appointment was appropriate.

He said there was "something odd" that a person who led a very far-reaching and important report into a miscarriage of justice by South Wales Police suddenly becomes one of its most senior officers before its publication.

"Secondly, I've asked the Home Secretary...to ensure the report is published fully and urgently or alternatively that she can explain fully and urgently what is the true reason for any further delay," he said.
In 2009, Ms Holland was promoted to superintendent at Merseyside Police and later began working on overseeing the operation.
South Wales Police deputy chief constable Matt Jukes said: "Following a thorough and robust investigation, this work was completed in April 2012 around two years before Ms Holland applied for her current position".

Philip Saunders died after being robbed of his takings from his city centre newsagents.

Three men - Michael O'Brien who was then 20, and Ellis Sherwood and Darren Hall who were 19 - were convicted of his murder in 1988.

They spent 11 years in prison until their convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal. Appeal judges ruled that a confession by Darren Hall was unreliable because he suffered from a personality disorder.

'Open and transparent'

Mr O'Brien has always insisted the prosecution was malicious and claimed that evidence was fabricated by a police officer, who is now retired.
South Wales Police has always insisted that all officers on the investigation acted in good faith.

Following requests from BBC Wales to see the Operation Resolute report, South Wales Police Chief Constable Peter Vaughan said in February it was essential there was transparency.

"South Wales Police prides itself on being an open and transparent organisation and it remains our intention to publish this report in as much detail as possible," he said.

26 June 2014

The Belfast Telegraph reports on a review of 'undercover' convictions.
A major review of criminal convictions in cases involving undercover police officers has been launched in a bid to flag up potential miscarriages of justice.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the review will look at whether convictions are safe in cases where undercover activity was not revealed to the prosecutor and therefore not considered by the court.

If the review, which will be led by Mark Ellison QC, who previously carried out the Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, identifies a potential miscarriage of justice, the case may be referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission for consideration over whether it should be referred to the appeal courts.

The Home Secretary said: " Undercover police operations are vital in the fight against crime.
"But we expect the highest standards of professionalism in all aspects of policing. If allegations of wrongdoing are made, it is important they are investigated thoroughly.

"Where Mark Ellison's review identifies a potential miscarriage of justice, the case may be referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission for consideration whether it should be referred to the appeal courts."

The review comes in the wake of findings of Mr Ellison's probe into the handling of the Stephen Lawrence investigation.
Police moles fell under the glare of the inquiry after former SDS officer Peter Francis claimed he had been deployed undercover from September 1993 and tasked to ''smear'' the Lawrence family campaign.

Mr Ellison found that an SDS "spy" was working within the "Lawrence family camp" during the judicial inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson into Stephen's death in the late 1990s.

The review will initially focus on the undercover police activity of the Metropolitan Police's Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).
It will also look at the actions of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit which, while not part of the Met, worked to similar objectives.
The terms of the review include identifying how many police, prosecution and court case files still survive, as well as finding out what sort of undercover policing was carried out and the potential for this activity to have been relevant to a prosecution but kept secret.

The review will also seek to identify any convictions which might be unsafe due to unrevealed undercover police activity, as well as ensuring these cases are referred to the relevant authority to be evaluated and action taken.

Earlier this year, Mrs May also announced a judge-led public inquiry into the work of covert police and Scotland Yard's Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) - the top secret unit that was up and running for nearly 40 years.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: " So much for 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear'.

"Magistrates' warrants are needed to search homes and the Home Secretary's approval required to tap phones - why then are police allowed to put spies in the heart of families for years without proper oversight?

"Only prior judicial authorisation and continuing review will clean up the dark, corrupting practices of undercover policing."

2 July 2014 

BBC News online reports on the new drama and accompanying documentary on joint enterprise.  

Jimmy McGovern: 'I tried to make people angry'. 

Scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern has tackled the controversial law of joint enterprise in his latest BBC One drama, Common.

The law means that more than one person can be charged with the same crime if it can be proved that they were in some way 'in it together'.

The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, has acknowledged that it can produce injustice but the current director of public prosecutions insists it is a vital prosecuting tool.

McGovern, whose previous works include Hillsborough and Sunday, about the events of Bloody Sunday, told the BBC's Huw Edwards that he had "a duty to tell the truth" and that he hoped the film would "make people angry".

Guilty by Association. (docuementary)

Alex has been charged with a murder committed by a friend in a spontaneous fight; Wayne has been convicted of possessing a firearm he never touched; Joseph is serving a life sentence for a murder he didn't even see. All of them have been convicted using the law of joint enterprise, under which a person in a group or gang can be held responsible for the criminal acts of others.

Joint enterprise is a 300-year-old law which has been increasingly used in recent years to combat the rise in gang violence. Its supporters argue that it ensures that those who encourage violent crimes are held responsible for their actions and that it deters further violence. It has been used to secure convictions in a number of high-profile murder cases, including two of the killers of Stephen Lawrence and the three murderers of Ben Kinsella. Others argue that it is leading to wrongful convictions of people who were only on the periphery of a crime, but who will, nevertheless, be sentenced to mandatory life sentences.

This documentary follows the story of Alex's family after his arrest and during his trial for murder at the Old Bailey and also examines the cases of Wayne and Joseph. We speak to defence lawyers, prosecutors and also to the families of victims, including the Kinsellas, who believe that without joint enterprise their children's killers would have walked free. The programme raises questions about how we deal with group violence, what makes a murderer and whether we are locking young people away on life sentences for crimes they did not commit.

Common is broadcast on BBC One on 6 July 2014 at 21.00.
Guilty by Association is broadcast on BBC One on 7 July at 22.35.