This has been a time of much media focus on policing, there have been stories about police integrity, the IPCC and diversity; specific to GMP has been the investigation at Chetham’s School of Music school, the Cregan murder trial and other ongoing investigations.
The suicide of Frances Andrade in the Chetham’s abuse trial was a dreadful tragedy but again shows how very difficult these sorts of cases are and the sometimes conflicting issues investigating officers have to balance.
These cases often involve events many years ago. They have a profound impact on the victim. It is often one person’s word against another because the abuser makes sure there are no witnesses, the abuser is used to using their power to intimidate their victim. A finding of guilt will be disastrous for the accused and their reputation. The nature of allegations against a person in such a position of trust means there will be a high level of press interest and the more salacious the details the more detailed the reporting will be.
We have an adversarial court process which means the prosecution has to prove the case. The defence are expected to test the evidence from the prosecution and challenge the testimony of the witnesses. There are measures which can be taken to mitigate the experience of the witness such as giving evidence by way of video link but this does not avoid the witness having to describe intimate details of the lives to a large group of strangers. The fact is that the defence will exploit any perceived weakness in character and uncertainty over the detail.
Police officers will do all they can to find additional corroborating evidence and to support the victim. We work with Victim Support and other charities and support organisations to help victims through the process. We will advise victims to seek therapy but this can be brought up in the court case and questions asked whether the account has changed as a result of that therapy.
It is crucial that abusers are brought to justice and that they are prevented from abusing others. For that to happen we need victims and other witnesses to see the process through to the end. At the same time we have to be honest with victims as to what they will go through and leave the final decision with them. Of course investigating officers and prosecutors have to make a decision as to whether a victim will be believed or not knowing that it will be devastating for them if their abuser is found not guilty.
Some commentators have been quick to criticise the police, the court system and the CPS for failings in these investigations, for the fact that some cases are not taken forward and for the way victims are treated. Some have called for the accused in rape cases to have anonymity in the same way that victims have their identity protected. I don’t think there are any easy answers; the aim is to balance the rights of the victim and the accused and ensure that justice is achieved. GMP will continue to do all it can to ensure victims are encouraged to come forward and report abuse, that allegations are thoroughly investigated and that we work with Victim Support and other agencies to ensure that victims are supported through the court process.