25 Jul 2019 Posted in Criminal Law 

A Pack of Lies - Teacher Accused

Matthew Graham Posted by Matthew Graham, Partner & Head of Criminal Law & Mental Health

A Pack of Lies - Teacher Accused

How do 12 people who have nothing in common save for the fate that has thrown them together in the jury room make a decision?  An apparently decent, sensible, intelligent man has repeatedly throughout his adult life told people that he was sexually abused as a schoolchild by his teacher. He told a 6th form friend at the time.  A few years later he told the school. He told his parents. He told the police. Now, 40 years later, he is telling us, all of us in the courtroom. Telling us again and again. Dirty, vile, abuse.  The crumbling, peeling walls of the court with the faded wood paneling, all older even than the law that deals with such historic allegations, have heard so many tales. But how will those 12 decide if what this man is saying, again and again, is the truth?

Why would he lie? Why would he possibly make this up? Why would he blame this most inspirational and respected of teachers? A teacher, now retired, of the very best character. And what was he really blaming?  The man, or the public school system that fostered an environment rich in opportunity for the predatory sex offender, and then covered up the miserable reality time and time again? The old boys network.  What demons is he confronting here? Where does reality end and fantasy begin in our bleached memories of childhood school years?

Many sexual allegations are essentially uncorroborated.  Sex mostly happens in private, in dark spaces, unrecorded and unnoticed. Police Investigators and Crown Prosecutors well know this, and repeatedly rely on this simple premise to justify charging and prosecuting weak allegations. It’s bound to be essentially one word against another. But there’s no reason they would lie about being sexually abused, so it must be true. We believe the victim. Any defence is just pandering to myths and stereotypes.

How can an innocent man ever answer that? If you’re that man, in this case that former teacher, you desperately need an answer. More than anything in your whole life, a life of hard work, success, respect, family, love, death, friendships and faith, you need to answer that.

And the answer lies not in the impossible speculation of what might be in the mind of a false accuser, but going back to the minds of the 12 people sat in that jury room, charged with deciding your fate. How will they make their decision?

Lawyer, suspects, philosophers and writers have endlessly pondered this question, but the stark reality of a Crown trial for historic sex offending need not be over complicated by pontificating over endless theories.  Just concentrate on the facts. Work out what happened. What are the facts? What checks out? What can you be sure about? Because it’s only when you know what happened, when and where that you can decide a true verdict.

So, as this former teacher, now in his early 70’s, stared across that imposing courtroom at his accuser, we started to get control of the facts. We began the painstaking process of taking those 12 fateful jurors back to the facts of the case. Looking carefully at what checks out. And in each instance, going to the best, most reliable source of evidence possible. Nothing clever. No twisting words or minds. Just basic evidence, basic facts, taking nothing for granted, nothing as read, but checking and checking and putting each fact, bit by bit, in front of that court. In any historic case, the chronology will be key. The Prosecutor will beg every forgiveness for the vagueness and inaccuracy that passing years bring. The Judge will give their pro forma direction about the tricks of time and memory. But if it’s your job to decide the facts, then you need to know what checks out. The old diaries come out. The faded photos. The markers of time - birthdays, special events, performances, trips, deaths, births, weddings. It’s an endless list, but if you try hard you will find good evidence of all of them. The quality of the evidence is everything.  Want to know when a certain school event happened? Ask the school archivist. Want to know what happened in the particular school play? Ask the lead. Want to know what is was like in the master’s study. Find every student from the class list and fly them from wherever they may be in the world to that dusty old courtroom and ask them. They were there after all. And if you keep checking and checking then eventually you get to the facts.

In the textbooks of our great British Justice System the police investigate these allegations. They check out the facts. They are the investigators after all, duty bound to investigate all reasonable lines of enquiry. Now there is a fantasy.

Because as this jury of 12 ordinary men and women came to hear, the facts didn’t check out. “The abuse started in my third year”. No, you had never met the defendant before the middle of your fourth year.  “I never saw the defendant after I left school”. Except when you came back to see him in a play, sought him out and spoke with him at length, or when you phoned him up and asked for a lift to Bristol. “I told a close teacher about the abuse”. Except you didn’t. He resigned on the spot. Except he carried on working his notice as normal. And on and on we went. Supposed fact after supposed fact. Nothing checked out. The world accordingly to the complainant never existed.

And if you’re interested in the facts, rather than just what one person says happened all those years ago, it’s interesting what you might turn up, when you look carefully.  “I never had anything to do with the defendant after he resigned in disgrace”. Except you did. You really did. You were in a play together. A play by Hugh Whitemore - “A Pack of Lies”. You couldn’t make it up.

 

Matthew Graham represented this defendant throughout this case, the trial of which was heard over 8 days in the Crown Court.  After three and a half years of apparent police investigation the jury took barely half an hour to unanimously find the defendant not guilty of all charges. Some facts have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved, but this is a true story.

To contact Matthew Graham please call 01225 485700 or email confidential@mowbraywoodwards.co.uk 

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Matthew Graham

Matthew Graham

Partner & Head of Criminal Law & Mental Health

01225 485700

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