A Word on the Cliff Richard Case

A Word on the Cliff Richard Case
James Norwood

I see that the popular singer Cliff Richard has been told by the police there will be no further investigation into the claims made against him of sexual abuse of boys. Since this is an issue that invites misunderstanding and even smears, I will, for the avoidance of doubt, say that people who commit sexual assaults on persons under the age of consent should be punished, and the severity of punishment should be related to the victim’s age. This being said, Mr Richard has been accused of “historic sex abuse,” and this should be seen as different from ordinary cases of abuse.

According to the BBC report, Mr Richard was accused of assaulting four males between 1958 and 1983. These dates alone would, in most times and places, raise suspicion. Let us suppose the man allegedly assaulted in 1958 was sixteen at the time. He would now be 74. Let us also assume that the male allegedly assaulted in 1983 was sixteen at the time. He would now be 49. Or let us assume what is unlikely, that both were six at the time of the alleged assaults. The elder would still be in his sixties, and the younger pushing 40.

What were these men doing in all the time since the alleged assaults? Why did they not complain at the time? If perhaps they were terrorised into silence, what has changed now to stop them from being afraid? Were they not concerned that others might be in danger? I suggest that they are inherently unreliable complainants. What is more likely – that they have been brooding for decades, and in at least one case since before I was born – on a series of horrific rapes that the passing of time cannot efface, or that they are of unsound mind, or are guided by motives that may not involve a strict regard for justice?

I have followed a number of similar cases to this one. In all of them, I regard the evidence as unsatisfactory. In some cases, it has fallen apart in the witness box. In others, it has been accepted for reasons that I find incomprehensible.

I note also Mr Richard’s naming by the police before any charges were laid. The BBC report justifies this as follows:

The concern is that if they hadn’t been named in the media at an early stage, thereby emboldening other victims to come forward, some recently convicted celebrities would have got away with it.

In effect, the authorities should be at liberty to publish the name of anyone they dislike, and wait for complainants to come forward with allegations of whatever quality. This is an obvious abuse of the criminal law. Certainly, it shows a police force out of control. Two years ago, the police searched Mr Richard’s house. They searched it 31 years after the last alleged offence. The house they searched was not his at the time of the last alleged offence. They knew that he was out of the country when they carried out the search. They told the BBC about the search, and the BBC filmed the search from a helicopter. Nothing was found. Would you like this done to you? Are you happy that the police, with full media collaboration, can do it to someone else – no matter how infamous the alleged offence may have been?

For the avoidance of doubt, I repeat that there should be laws against having sex with persons under the age of consent. These should be strictly enforced. But there should be a reasonable time after which complaints based only on oral testimony will not be accepted. I suggest three years from the date of the alleged offence, or one year after a complainant reaches the age of eighteen, whichever is longer. I am open here to counter-suggestions. There may have been cases where politicians and other powerful men were able to stop complaints from being made or investigated until many years after my proposed limitation. It may be necessary to take this into account. At the same time, the system we presently have is unjust in itself, and tends to bring the criminal law into disrepute.

Having sex with persons under the age of consent is a wicked crime – but, however wicked, it is a crime; and the prosecution of crime should be subject to reasonable limitations. To say otherwise is to degrade the criminal law into an inquisition, dangerous to those it attacks, and a standing danger to all of us. What are we to have next? Reversing the burden of proof? Compelled self-incrimination? Special juries of “child abuse experts”? And why stop with child abuse cases? Why not rape, or terrorism? Special exceptions have a tendency to become a new general rule.

Cliff Richard is obviously innocent: the faintest show of plausibility in the complaints would have led to a prosecution. William Roache was obviously innocent. The complaints against Harvey Proctor collapsed in ridicule. I am disturbed by most of the convictions I have seen. How many more of these cases before even the authorities grow ashamed?

5 thoughts on “A Word on the Cliff Richard Case

  1. I largely agree with you, and I think your idea for a restoration of a statute of limitations in these cases is sound. The exception should be where it can be shown, to the satisfaction of a circuit-level judge, that a witness or the alleged victim has come under pressure not to disclose the allegations.

    There are two specific points where I am in disagreement. However these are tangents – they don’t detract from your overall arguments.

    1. First, I disagree with you about media coverage. I think the police and BBC have been criticised unfairly on this point. I take the view that all criminal suspects should be publicly-named and mentioned in the press and media where the allegations are of broader public interest (subject of course to editorial discretion). The formulation ‘broader public interest’ is my own, and would probably cover just about everything, from stealing a bike to premeditated murder.

    This openness and relative transparency is necessary to maintain a criminal justice system in a form that we English (and other Anglophones) would recognise. We don’t generally have in this country the concept of ‘judicial secrecy’ that exists in many Continental jurisdictions. Where secrecy has crept in ad hoc – in the family courts system, in concessions for so-called ‘vulnerable witnesses’ – I think it needs to be severely curtailed and rolled-back. And I don’t want to see its more extreme institutional manifestations – ‘secret police’, ‘secret courts’, etc. Everything needs to be public, and other than circumstances when the police need to be discreet for investigative reasons, we need to know what crimes are thought to have been committed, who is being investigated, who is suspected, who is helping the police, who has been charged, who is to be tried and where the trial will take place, and who has been found guilty or acquitted, and who has been punished and in what way.

    I don’t pretend that this is anything other than rough on individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, and I don’t like what happened to Cliff Richard. I think flying a helicopter over his house while it was subject to a police search was vulgar, but that’s the worst I can say about it. He would still have received a fair trial, had the allegations gone further (though I agree that questions must be asked about the way evidence is treated now). As it is, the allegations have been dropped. His reputation is damaged, and I realise that’s very unfair, but life is unfair. The justice system isn’t really meant to be ‘fair’ in some abstract sense. It’s there to do a job. It’s rough on him, but that’s just the way it goes.

    2. Second, and here I admit I am merely taking issue with a form of words you used – so the root of my concern is more of a quibble than anything else – but I would question what seems to be your assumption that having sex with somebody who is underage is always a “wicked crime”. I think it depends on the maturity of the victim.

    Sexual activity with a prepubescent child (in so far as that can be ‘sex’ at all) is a very serious matter. It is exploitative, physically abusive, robs the child of their innocence, and each incidence undermines the relationship of trust between adults and children generally, and thus is harms society. It is, in short, a textbook definition of a ‘crime’.

    But older children might be sexually mature and, though I accept that the behaviour is unseemly, I regard this as a grey area in moral and ethical terms. I also don’t regard the age gap as very important in such cases, and looking at these celebrity ‘paedophile’ cases in particular, very few of them seem to involve any allegations of actual paedophilia. In most cases, it’s just celebrity men using their status to enjoy younger women.

    Perhaps I should stress that I do not speak from personal experience here, but unless I am seriously missing something, isn’t this what virtually all normal, healthy, heterosexual men do, or would like to do? I’m personally a bit restrained, so I wouldn’t behave in that way, but I would expect it from most men – and I am not an angel anyway, since I would still have the same urges as other men, it’s just that I probably wouldn’t act on them, frankly out of plain shyness.

    Men are men. Isn’t the broader issue here that the legal system is being used as a means to sexually terrorise men, just for being men?

    • That might have worked in his favour, had the case proceeded.

      “Harry Rodger Webb, you have been found guilty of some of the most appalling and shocking crimes I have had the misfortune to hear in all my time on the bench. However, on due reflection, both I and my wife did enjoy We’re All Going On A Summer Holiday. And furthermore, if I may say so, you do carry off that wig rather well.”

  2. I am now 42 and when I was a lad, all the good looking girls over the age of about 13; seemed to be fornicating with men in the 20s, with cars. In many cases it looked like it was the females doing the manipulating.

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