How CCTV rescues rape victims

Robert Whiston  FRSA  28th May 2011

There was an argument not so long ago that our privacy was being invaded by the number of CCTVs festooning every town centre.

Ostensibly there to protect us from criminality there is one small group of alleged criminals for whom they are an unexpected saviour.  These are the innocent men who fall victim to false rape allegations and who are made into criminals (as perhaps Dominique Strauss-Kahn has found to his cost), the moment a falsely based rape claim is made (see Appendix A).  Today, an accusation is enough in itself to convey guilt to the public. No longer is there a presumption of innocence before trial but in rape cases a presumtion of guilt before the case comes to court.

Some among the chattering classes have seen the march of TV into our high streets as fundamentally invasive and anti-libertarian. The UK now has the world’s largest number of street CCTVs and subsequently the greatest degree of surveillance over the private citizen.

However, time and again it transpires that CCTV footage has disproved what a complainant has stated to the police were ‘the facts’ (see Appendix A).

Backfire ?

Paradoxically, we have arrived at this point of a surveillance tyranny  courtesy of appeasing tyranical women’s incessent demands for action to overcome the tyranny of unsafe streets at night and domestic violence. The Home Office has been pressured into investing literally millions of pounds over a 10 year period in this new technology.[1]

The measures Britain has adopted to cope with rape allegations are a copy of those known as Rape Shield Laws in the US. The Home Office has been adamant that:

  • any proceedings must not, as arguably they do now, compromise or imply any degree of guilt during or before the trial
  •  screens, curtains, or CCTV, video link, etc. are all  devices that can be used to hide the identity of the accuser

Screens and curtains are not yet afforded to defendents but CCTV is playing an unexpected role in their behalf. The wish not to compromise or imply any degree of guilt during or before the trial is simply that, a wish, with no intention of applying it to defendents. The actualitie of the situation is that defendants have been systematically stripped of their rights to mount a robust defence.

When caught bang to rights, many false accusers plead in court that it was the drink, they were too drunk to remember properly. When that ploy fails the “I had a troubled childhood” option is their get you out of jail card – literally. None of which excuses or allows them to condemn a man to 5 years of jail time.

False rape allegations are infamously easy to make and notoriously difficult to defeat. A fact accepted by the judiciary since case law was begun:

  • there are those who maintain there are no false rape allegations at all
  • those who believe about 2% of all reported rapes are false
  • those who believe that false allegations account for about 6% to 8% of all rape reports
  • and yet others who believe the true number exceeds 50% of all rapes reported to the police.

So confusing is the picture and so bereft of data that the Stern Report (2010), among others, has called for more research into false rape allegations.

But where is the research ? Who has been brave enough to take on the task ? Where is the tendering document, when was it issued, and who has applied ? More to the point, who is going to risk their reputation ?

Examples of CCTV biting back

In the absence of any information and good quality research a trawl through newspaper reports shows thatfalse allegations are more than exceptional rarities. Given that newspaper reports do not list every case we must assume that they areatleast indicative of the minimum total involved nationally – many must go unreported.

However, before diverting into that aspect, the role of mobile phones must be added to CCTV as among the modern methods of rescuing an innocent man from false allegations of rape

For instance, on 18th Sept 2006 a report on the BBC website relays how a mobile phone had been used to catch Cinzia Sannino, aged 18, in a lie that she had been raped by 4 men. [2] When police showed the lap dancer the mobile phone footage she immediately withdrew her complaint and the men werereleased after 36 hours in police custody.

  • Sentencing her, Judge Roderick Evans, KT, told Sannino he had “no doubt” she had had voluntary, consensual intercourse with the four.

Successfully countering false claims in the modern era more or less began in 1996 when chemist Mrs Lynn Walker, who had falsely accused her male colleague of rape, was sued in a civil court. The damages awarded in February 2000 against her amounted to £400,000. Lynn Walker needlessly jeopardised a man’s home, his marriage and his career and he was lucky that the company’s CCTV proved the rape had not occurred.

It was CCTV that led to the arrest of a 16 year old girl, Toni Blankson, for murder of a male student (aged 24) in June 1999. As part of a boy gang she also received a life sentence. [3]

The Police and the public were perhaps in the late 1990s not alive to the potential that CCTV offered. However, the Police were smart enough (or incompetent enough?) to withhold footage that proved the innocence of an accused man in Nottinghamshire. A judge at Nottingham Crown Court demanded to know why police had  failed to reveal a video that conclusively proved a man’s innocence (Daily Telegraph 20/5/99). The 16 year old claimant told police that she had been “forcibly dragged out of the club and raped” but footage showed her happily walking out arm-in-arm with her alleged assailant.

CCTV came to the rescue of Andrew Bond in 2002, when CCTV footage was discovered which showed his accuser had fabricated evidence against him. Rape charges against him were dropped but his false accuser was not named. 

The irony – the injustice – is that to identify these cases we have always to use the name of the innocent party and are not allowed to identify the guilty, ie the woman making the false claim. Even when a prosecution takes place – which is a rarity – for ‘perverting the course of justice’ the full details of the woman are not always presented in newspaper reports (Appendix A). Merete Underwood (below) is the exception to that general rule. probably because it involved her husband and his details could be published

Merete Underwood, 32, told police she “had been brutally raped” but by June 2005 the court was shown CCTV pictures of her having a drink after the attack supposedly took place. Smiling and chatting, it was clear there was no attack said the judge.

Merete Underwood is a fantasist – a sub-set of those who falsely claim they have been raped. It has since emerged has claimed to have been raped by 4 other men according to a TV programme (Sky 1 documentary). Her husband, Mr Underwood, described his wife as “vindictive and deceitful.”

END

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Appensdix A

A few instances of where CCTV has been shown to prevent an innocent man being jailed (2008 – 2011 only).

 The following Table shows 19 men who could have faced a minimum jail sentence of 5 years (and far more than that if the Gillam Guidelines had applied). Assuming an average sentence of 8 years these 19 innocent men would have served a collective 152 years in jail.

[ NB. Because the Table is long it has, of necessity, had to be broken up into more manageable lengths . The name of the accused has been deliberately ommitted from the Table ].

Footnotes:

[1] See various “Crime Reduction Programme: Reducing Violence Against Women Initiative” (2000) schemes

[2] Mobile video clears rape accused http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/5355966.stm

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