Accused of Historic Sexual Abuse – What You Need to Know

There has been intense media coverage of high-profile historic sexual abuse cases over recent years. This has led to a significant increase in the investigations and prosecutions of such crimes, as well as changes in related legislation to protect those who've been involved in historical abuse. Most recently, a man named Robert Connor, now 62, from Leeds, was jailed for sexual offences against young girls which took place in the 1970s. In this article, we'll outline what historic sexual abuse is and what to do if you've been accused.

Historic sexual abuse could be any sexual offence, including indecent images offences, sexual assault or rape, which took place some years ago. The incident could be an offence that took place decades ago, such as in Connor's case, or one from the past few years.

As the alleged offences may have happened some time ago, cases surrounding historic sex crimes can be incredibly complex. Incidents taking place before 1st May 2004 fall under the Sexual Offences Act 1956; this means the law from when the crime happened is what's used in court, ensuring fairness. It's a way to make sure people are judged by the legal standards of their time, keeping the process just, even as society's views on these crimes have changed. This approach upholds the principle that actions are accountable under the laws that existed when they occurred.

Facing accusations of historical sexual assault can be harrowing for those involved – speculations surrounding such allegations can quickly and irreparably damage reputations. Recent history has shown that sometimes the innocent can be caught up in fast-moving investigations. Whatever the circumstance, if you are facing a police interview or have been charged with an offence it's crucial to contact an expert Sexual Offence Solicitor immediately if accused.

Due to criticism over the low investigation and conviction rates for historic sexual abuse, police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are now more inclined to believe accusers. This shift, prompted by recent scandals, has made it easier for genuine victims to come forward. However, it also means that units specialising in these investigations may be less vigilant in identifying false allegations. The approach considers the passage of time and the lack of concrete evidence, particularly when the accuser was a child, as reasons to consider allegations reliable despite potential vagueness or lack of prompt reporting.

The complexity of historic sexual offence cases

Historic sexual offence cases are complex due to varying factors: public perception, the complexities of human behaviour and the reliability of memory. The reliability of memories, especially those from childhood or altered by stress or drugs, further complicates these cases. Despite these challenges, it's vital to scrutinise each case equally, recognising the possibility of true allegations. These complexities can significantly impact the fairness of the trial process, emphasising the importance of understanding the criminal justice system to mitigate the profound effects on individuals' lives involved in such cases.

If you're wondering why such crimes aren't always prosecuted when they happen, in many cases, the victim(s) felt at the time they were unable to come forward, or they believed (rightly or wrongly) that no one would believe their claims; maybe younger victims did not fully understand what was happening to them. In certain instances, although the victim may have presented their testimony and evidence to the police promptly, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) might have hesitated to pursue charges if they considered the evidence to be insubstantial and lacking corroboration.

A high-profile example is the Jimmy Savile case – police and the CPS knew about the complaints but did not prosecute due to worries about securing convictions. Similarly, in the instance of Connor's case, in the courtroom, Prosecutor Michael Morley presented that Connor was under a supervision order in 1976 due to a similar offence. Additionally, while still under this order, he attempted to assault another 12-year-old girl in an area adjacent to a bowling green in the same year. Ultimately, the court attributed the delay in prosecuting offences to the perpetrator's threats against victims, sentencing Connor to a total of four years in prison for two counts of attempted rape, to be served consecutively. Additionally, Connor was subjected to a restraining order to protect the victims.

Why you might be facing historic sexual abuse accusations

If you’re being accused of a historic sexual crime, it is likely that you know the accuser personally, which can help us to offer insights into their motives and help formulate a more robust defence strategy. Common reasons behind such allegations include seeking financial compensation, revenge for personal conflicts or acting on weak evidence, influenced by the belief that false claims are seldom prosecuted, so understanding the accuser’s motives is crucial.

Evidence in these cases heavily depends on the accuser’s testimony, making it essential to examine the evidence thoroughly for inconsistencies; this could involve looking for alternative evidence or independent witnesses to challenge the accuser’s narrative. Identifying and leveraging these inconsistencies can weaken the prosecution's case, leading to truth and justice on your behalf. A strategic and evidence-based defence is critical to addressing allegations of historical sex crimes.

How historical abuse claims are investigated and judged

The investigation of historical abuse claims is a meticulous process, starting with the reopening of the case file if the victim reported the crime earlier. Authorities must carefully examine the file for any initial evidence. If the victim had confided in anyone at the time, like relatives, friends or their GP, the police may need to interview them to provide further context and support to the case.

The police also engage with the victim to identify potential witnesses who could confirm the account or offer new insights. Wherever possible, police will attempt to collective forensic evidence despite the challenges posed by time. A sensitive part of the process involves the victim's consent for police to access medical records, which can be crucial for the investigation. If the victim decides to prosecute, this can lead to the arrest of the alleged abuser.

The law also requires defendants to deliver a written Defence Case Statement, a significant feature in which a solicitor and barrister will collaborate to provide a detailed statement. The document will trigger the duty of disclosure upon the CPS, so if poorly drafted, it can create issues for a defendant, making it crucial to prepare a comprehensive statement. This intricacy emphasises the significance of skilled legal representation, especially when the legal proceedings involve sensitive matters such as questioning an accuser's past, where the legal landscape becomes even more complex.

Once the police complete their investigation, which can often take a long time, they will typically pass the file to the CPS, who will determine if there is enough evidence and if it's in the public interest to charge and convict the abuser. If the case goes to court, the victim must give evidence during the trial. Of course, it is very challenging to achieve a prosecution for historical abuse and get a conviction, as there is often a lack of evidence to support the crime.

If the case does go to court, challenges can arise regarding questioning an accuser about their past sexual experiences, as the law restricts this to only the accused. Changing attitudes have led to significant legal changes, though they can be complex. When an accuser has made previous sexual complaints, ensuring a fair trial becomes trickier. Experienced legal counsel can navigate these challenges by advising and making appropriate applications.

In historic sexual abuse trials, expert witnesses are used sparingly, only to clarify issues outside the jury's knowledge, such as memory-related matters. Their role is to support understanding, not to determine guilt. The defence might also gather evidence and witnesses to solidify timelines and facts, which is crucial for building a robust case. While the prosecution must prove guilt, thorough and proactive defence preparation is essential, especially in historical cases.

How the law has changed

Legislation against historical sexual abuse has become stricter over time, reflecting changes in public attitudes and leading to longer sentences, such as indecent assault offences now carrying penalties of up to 15 months or more. In sentencing, a key consideration is whether the offender misused a position of trust. Legal proceedings apply the laws effective at the time of the alleged offence, ensuring cases are judged by the standards of their time.

Have you been accused of historical abuse? Here at Draycott Browne, we have a team of expert Historic Sexual Abuse Solicitors who understand how stressful it can be to face accusations of historical sexual abuse. Our sexual offence solicitors are nationally recognised for consistently delivering positive results; they hold extensive technical expertise spanning the spectrum of considerations relevant to historical sexual abuse inquiries, offering the specialised knowledge required to address these delicate accusations.

If you're facing accusations of historical sexual abuse and require legal representation, contact our expert Criminal Defence Solicitors in Manchester today. If you'd prefer us to call you, fill in our online enquiry form, and one of our team will contact you as soon as possible.

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