News roundup week ending 4 July 2014
By Charlotte Rowles on 03/07/14Share:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Elfyn Llwyd MP questions South Wales Police appointment.
The force said her work on it ended two years before she applied for the post.
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.
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.
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.
'Open and transparent'
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.
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.
"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."
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 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.
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?
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)
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.