In our post yesterday, outlining a debate which took place in the House of Lords aiming to encourage the creation of guidelines for future investigations into child sexual abuse alleged to have happened a long time ago, we promised to publish the transcript of this discussion as soon as it was available.
The details of this meeting have now been published, and the discussion is shocking.
The debate focuses on those who have been wrongly accused of child abuse, which is not in and of itself a bad thing as being falsely accused, research suggests often through mistaken identity and factors like mental illness, is a real and important phenomenon that should be addressed. But this is not what puts the Lords to shame in this debate. It is their outright disregard for due process, personal bias and shameless protectionism that is embarrassing, and more than a little nauseating.
Lord Lexden, who proposed the debate, calls ‘Nick’, the man who made allegations in relation to Dolphin Square a “fantasist”, and the subsequent police investigation looking into the matter, “ludicrous”. He minimises current concerning child abuse allegations about Bishop George Bell by suggesting that a book written in his honour and Lord Lexden’s own involvement with Bell as a member of the George Bell Support Group to clear his name somehow confirm Bell’s innocence – and at the same time criticises the lack of due process in abuse investigations. Lexden then suggests that the media should not be allowed to report on cases, alluding to allegations involving the church.
Contributions from other attending peers are just as woefully biased.
Some express shock that Lord Bramall was not given an apology from the police – we have yet to hear of members of the public who are investigated and then cleared of wrongdoing receiving apologies from the police… and like Lord Lexden, minimise the allegations against Bishop Bell with little thought as to how this might impact the survivor at the centre of this new claim. Some also go on to show support for other high profile figures accused of abuse despite having no solid evidence to support their views and call various child sex abuse investigations nothing more than ‘fishing expeditions’.
Not all of the thoughts in this debate, though, were poor quality. Lord Judge offered some interesting solutions to modernising the justice system, including making the investigation process faster and more pro-active, the need to remain balanced when looking at both the accuser and the accused’s point of view and improving the way in which evidence from children is taken, to minimise discomfort for them and make the process more streamlined. He also looks at ways in which children who have been abused can go on to get treatment. His contribution is worth reading. The Bishop of Chelmsford’s speech is progressive and open minded, and subsequent peers who speak offer positive ideas too.
This debate was intended to look at the British presumption of ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ and to find a way to incorporate that sensitively into the child sexual abuse narrative. Whilst some peers struck this balance with dignity, Lord Lexden and others, did not, and as a result have lowered the tone in the House and set back efforts to bring the criminal justice system into the 21st century.
A long debate, but worth a read if you have time.