As the Operation Yewtree train chugs along we see another 'celeb' in the dock this week for multiple alleged historic sex offences. Max Clifford one of the most high-profile publicists around; has found himself on trial for a number of sexual assaults, which are said to have occurred during the 1960s and 1970s.
The first prosecution witness has given evidence that one assault took place in a car. The lady now in her sixties claimed Max Clifford offered her a lift home which she accepted and was where the assault took place. It was put to her by Clifford's counsel that he in fact had no access to a vehicle on the date she says the assault occurred. This prompted a response from the witness that perhaps the assault happened a year later.
This case has striking similarities to an allegation made in the trial of Bill Roach (Coronation Street's Ken Barlow) a few weeks ago. In his trial, one complainant alluded to a car that the defence proved Roach didn't own until much later.
This situation is very damaging to the credibility of the witness. Indeed Roach was acquitted of all charges. Why then was the account of the complainant not challenged and scrutinised by police before the decision to prosecute was made, or at least before the trial started?
The police would have recorded an 'achieving best evidence' (ABE) video at the beginning of the case. Although specially trained officers conduct these interviews, I find they are often lacking in detail. Officers seem scared to probe accounts of witnesses for fear of them saying something unhelpful. However, it is much worse and harder to rectify when these unhelpful comments are first revealed in the trial.
The ABE is used at the trial as the complainant's account of what happened. Witnesses in sex cases like these only give live evidence to be cross examined. They often have no opportunity to expand on the ABE and it is torn apart by experienced Defence Counsel.
The traditional roles of the police investigating and preparing cases for the Prosecution to present in court on behalf of the Crown are not working. The Prosecution should be involved in the investigation at an early stage i.e. as soon as the not guilty plea is entered. They should be encouraging police to challenge and investigate the account of the complainant. The solicitors and Counsel for the Defence will be going over every detail of the defendant's account with a fine tooth comb and it is about time the Prosecution did the same.