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Innocent until proven guilty - Shirley Dent [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Shirley Dent

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Innocent until proven guilty [Jun. 19th, 2009|05:08 pm]
Shirley Dent
Vanessa George – the Plymouth nursery nurse charged with sexually abusing the children in her care – is innocent.

So are the three people arrested this week in Nottingham in relation with the case. They may eventually be proven guilty. But the presumption here and now must be that they are innocent.

However, this basic principle is being eroded by both the hack media and a police force far too ready to speculate and spin.

One of the most worrying aspects of trial-by-tabloid is that the little matter of guilt-proven-by-evidence becomes guilt-inferred-by-oddity. And when hacks go to town the definition of aberrant behaviour is very loose indeed. ‘Ghoulish past of teacher in child porn quiz’ screamed the People last weekend. What was George’s ‘ghoulish past’? She was a member of the Haunted Devon ghost hunting group. If you were accused of such ghastly crimes as George, could you hand-on-heart say that there are no 'oddities' in your past that the press couldn't dig up and turn into something else? Your teenage death-metal band obsession? Simply keeping yourself to yourself?

Despite the bad behaviour of the press, this is not about restricting the media. The freedom of the press is important. The bigger problem is a wider climate of rabid supposition and intemperate reaction, particularly around children and sexual abuse. And the police are increasingly among the most intemperate peddlers of near-hysterical speculation in these cases.

Remember the dreadful headlines around the Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey, a house of horrors where children in care were alleged to have been raped, tortured and murdered over decades? Throughout 2008 the Jersey police very publicly insisted that they not only had found the remains of a child but that they would find more. By November, it was clear that there was no evidence of murders at the home and the ‘remain’ was most likely a shaving of coconut shell. The damage done in the Orkney child abuse cases, with children removed from families innocent of any abuse, should not be quickly forgotten.

No-one doubts the severity of the charges against George nor the anguish of parents whose children attended the nursery. But given the seriousness of cases involving child abuse, would it not be better for the police to be quiet rather than indulge in the sort of public speculation that so spectacularly backfired in the Jersey case? When the officer leading the George investigation told the press some of the children in seized photographs may never be identified, who does this help? It would seem only to increase general fear and confusion, reinforcing the idea that child abuse is everywhere, undetected.

Following yesterday’s arrests and the suggestion of an organized pedophile ring, we need cool heads more than ever. Justice demands this. To be judged on evidence by a jury of our peers goes to the heart of a democratic society. It is trust in the rationality of the majority to fairly judge each other. The danger is that when the press and the police lead the way with reckless speculation, the pitchfork-waving fringe has a green light. 'Vanessa George' groups on facebook are a sobering experience. 'Burn the bitch' is the general sentiment and the very few facebook members suggesting that George is innocent until proven guilty are given short shrift. 'Chop them up and cook them as roasties' is one reaction. And believe me, that is mild to what such posters would do to the woman herself.

George may well be convicted in a court of law. But any future conviction is not the point. The point is that her guilt can only be established through evidence of her actions presented to and considered by a jury. God help us all if we loose sight of this.
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Comments:
From: ancientoneuk
2009-06-19 05:53 pm (UTC)

Playing a long game...

It has been seen by the police in some cases that they play a long game in distorting public opinion and in that hope, make a conviction easier to attain through the press knowing that a juror would have to be pretty isolated not to pick up on the news and hype.

And remember what happened in the aftermath of Stockwell, the police leaked on purpose that the man they killed was a former suspect in a rape case but done it in such a way and worded in such a way that it came across that they thought he was a rapist.

And then to the Muslim shot in the chest because of bogus and malicious allegations in Forest Gate, then the police leaked again on purpose that they thought he was a peddler of child porn in a very dirty means to try and turn public outcry and opinion against the victim and to indemnifying the police for their atrocious actions.

I remember too the police chief constable that refused to resign, that within a fortnight was smeared by Blunkett, who also wanted to put his own man in place who was more sympathetic to nuLabour's rather fascist policing policies that we all now know and abhor.
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From: damshot
2009-06-20 01:30 am (UTC)

Let's be very clear:

It's innocent UNLESS proven guilty, not innocent UNTIL proven guilty. The latter assumes a finding of guilt is only a matter of time. The former assumes innocence.
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From: borrowed_din
2009-06-20 09:15 am (UTC)

he said, she said...

I agree completely. More than any other crime, allegations of pedophilia seem to provoke instant condemnation in today's society. By the time innocence is established (as it often is), the press - and the attentions of the public - have moved on to the next celebrity scandal. The victim is left with their life in tatters, fighting for recognition of the simple fact that they're not the monsters they've been accused of being. It's a return to the playground morality of our childhood, and it's both frightening and depressing.
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From: jerryinmadrid
2009-06-20 09:44 am (UTC)

innocent unless....

I agree 100%. Here in Spain it's quite usual to have close-ups of the accused being arrested (particularly in the more dramatic domestic cases) followed by interviews with neighbours or friends- "Oh, we knew it would happen. He's mad and violent", etc etc. And when eventually a case comes to trial there seems to be nothing to prevent interviews with defence or prosecution lawyers, families, witnesses, friends and so on. We don't very often have juries, but they'd no doubt be interviewed too, given half a chance.
Here it's trial by press- to be fair, in most cases the police are usually quite discreet, unlike in the UK. But the effect is the same.
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From: swiftlady13
2009-06-20 11:42 pm (UTC)
"To be judged on evidence by a jury of our peers goes to the heart of a democratic society."

Yes. Absolutely.
But there's precious little of that stuff around Child Protection.

It'd be a start if Child Protection operated on evidence rather than the personal opinion of one person. That person may be exhausted, overworked, not well trained, and as subject to the prejudices and jealousies of humanity as anyone else.

In Child Protection there is NO "innocent unless proven guilty" or "innocent unless proven guilty."

There's just guilty until proved innocent.
Even then, if a family pushes allegations into court and gets an innocent verdict against all the odds, it's often too late. The child was adopted long ago, midway through the case. Then as Social Workers say with a triumphant smirk, the child is "settled" and cannot be moved.

In years to come we are going to hear from these children. Often they are lied to and told their parents didn't want them, or committed offences against them.

Like the lost children of 60s single mothers, adopted and not told till they were adult their true parentage, these children now being torn out of innocent healthy families, will rise up in accusation, grief, and rage, against those who are being paid to wreck their lives.

Child Protection is a rule of terror gone way out of control. even a small brush with them ruins families for years. No one is safe unless wealthy and well connected. That is something these people do understand. But innocence, and healthy families - and EVIDENCE - no.
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From: imperspicuous
2009-10-07 10:48 am (UTC)

Innocence or Ignorance

Reading Ms Dent's advisory on the innocence of Vanessa George at this point of time raises a difficult question. Was the woman completely innocent back in June? Would Ms Dent like to revise her opinion in the light of the conviction? Obviously not since that would undermine her epistemological position on legally established guilt. But that creates the curious paradox that Ms Dent would have to say that whilst today Vanessa George is guilty of committing heinous crime,in the past she was nevertheless, completely innocent. So whilst the woman is safely locked up, incapable of repeating her crime and, who knows? - perhaps utterly repentant of her misdeeds, she is guilty. However, when Vanessa George was a practising paedophile Ms Dent would have it that she was innocent.
Presumably after George has served her sentence she once again becomes innocent.
This daft conundrum is the product of confusion between two ontologies, one being the social system of justice, a man-made institution designed, however imperfectly,to establish objective truth. The other what we might call experiential truth, which for all its problems of subjectivity at least has the status of reality, unlike Ms Dent's legal truth which is mere artifice. A kind of truth contingent upon nationality, the decade and even wealth.
If Ms Dent saw her partner shot by a mugger she would presumably have no difficulty in pronouncing that a crime had been committed. And if the perpetrator escaped conviction thanks to witness intimidation, she would equally find it distasteful to have the 'innocent' man round for dinner.
Personally I knew nothing of this case until the convictions as I don't follow popular news journalism. But I detect in Ms Dent's criticisms of this media and its readers a kind of smug elitism, a distaste for the hoi polloi dressed up as speaking up for the weak. Every generation has its middle class voice of reason, its quasi-scientific moralisers who pronounce equally on the habits of the poor and the powerful. It is not the likes of the scabrous Littlejohn who represents the mainstream, but Ms Dent and her ilk.
The challenge for modern liberal idealists is always reality. Their inconvenient truth is that the world really is full of murderers, perverts, swingers, road-ragers and yes expenses fiddlers, tax dodgers and benefits cheats. That's us, humanity, and what keeps us in tow is not Ms Dent's legal guilt but the very social constraints she condemns.
I would like to reverse Ms Dent's conclusion. God help us if we ever loose (sic) sight that guilt and innocence are created by human actions not human laws.
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