Jimmy Tarbuck, the popular Liverpool comedian and school friend of John Lennon, has been one of the highest profile victims of the medieval witchhunt against celebrities taking place in the UK since the Savile scandal broke. Here, he breaks down on national tv whilst describing how no less than 18 members of the police broke into his home one morning, without warning, to seize his possesions and arrest him on the basis of a false claim that he had sexually abused a young boy decades ago.
And here’s an excellent editorial that appeared in the Sunday Times the other week over another celebrity victim who had charges dropped after a year of stress and humiliation – Paul Gambaccini :
On October 10 last year the disc jockey and music connoisseur Paul Gambaccini was told he would not be facing charges of child sex abuse. Had the British justice system been working properly he might have greeted this news with unalloyed relief. His reaction has instead been chiefly one of anger, and with good reason. He had by that time been on police bail for 12 months. During that time his name and reputation were dragged through the mud even though police had not interviewed him since the day of his arrest, or produced a shred of evidence against him.
Gambaccini’s ordeal by bail is merely the most egregious of many in which the police and Crown Prosecution Service, caught napping by the Savile scandal, have overcompensated to shameful effect. The basics of due process have been forgotten. Rules intended to help police investigations have been abused to drag them out, and the real victims of child sex abuse are in danger of being overlooked by police forces pursuing celebrities for the sake of being seen to act. The case for reform is clear and urgent.
In an interview today Gambaccini describes being overcome by “rage attacks” while under investigation. He claims police in his case trampled on the principle that the law holds everyone innocent until proven guilty. The personal cost to an innocent man is clearly too high, but what his story says about the trustworthiness of the judicial system is even more troubling.
The presumption of innocence requires that police scrupulously follow the evidence. When there is no evidence there should be no fishing expeditions. It is clear now that Gambaccini’s innocence, and the flimsiness of the allegations against him, could have been established with a few quick checks. They were not made. Instead, the shadow of suspicion hung over him as police invited colleagues and acquaintances to testify against him and renewed his bail every three months without judicial oversight or approval.
Senior figures were responsible but have not been held accountable. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan police commissioner, Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), and her predecessor, Sir Keir Starmer, have all been in a position to stop the prosecutorial pendulum swinging from indifference to the rights of victims to indifference to the rights of the accused. They have failed in this duty, not only in Gambaccini’s case but in others that formed part of Operation Yewtree, into alleged child sex abuse, and Operation Elveden, into alleged bribery of public officials by journalists. There are worrying signs, too, in the investigation into an alleged Westminster paedophile ring, in which the evidence of a single witness has been deemed “credible and true” without corroboration.
Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, the former DPP, has supported Gambaccini’s call for a ban on naming suspects before they have been charged. This is problematic. It would establish a legal framework for secret arrests that would be inimical to justice and free speech. What is clear is that the right balance between protection for accusers and the accused has not been struck. Anonymity is vital for genuine victims of abuse, but those who bring false accusations should know they will be named and potentially prosecuted.
Above all, police bail must be reformed. At present bail can be renewed indefinitely, giving police scant incentive to press ahead with legitimate investigations and drop those for which they have no evidence. Before the election the home secretary proposed limiting police bail to 28 days, renewable only with the approval of a senior officer. After three months it would have to be a judge. This proposal was in the Queen’s Speech but is not yet law. Even in an age of complex cross-border cybercrime, justice delayed is justice denied.