Journalism equals perverting the course of justice?

Interviewing vulnerable people, especially those who have suffered trauma, those alleging abuse, is an established skillset. It requires understanding of the way memory works, especially when someone is traumatised. Memory is not that reliable, we reconstruct our memories anyway, everyone reconstructs memories according to their expectations and perspective, people who have been hurt often have memories which are fragile and link to incredibly damaging events. PTSD is fairly well understood.

You have to be careful if the interview is likely to occur before criminal proceedings, to ensure you do not prejudice those proceedings, and you have to be able to reflect. Reflect on the power dynamic between you and the person you are interviewing, reflect on the impact of your questions, your response and on the vulnerability of the person you are interviewing. Make sure you are not leading them.

It is nothing like journalistic enquiry, it is nothing like research interviewing skills. But this is not new. THere are plenty of people with this skillset, many work on agency and can be hired quite cheaply.

There are lots of things to bear in mind when dealing with abuse. Beyond reasonable doubt is a damn near impossible burden of proof to meet, especially in cases of sexual abuse, crimes committed in intimate situations, and in historic cases where memory is not fresh and nor is evidence and where witnesses are lacking.

Adult and child victims of abuse make terrible witnesses, and not guilty for someone accused of abuse, is not the same as guilty for a person making an allegation. Uncertainty is the name of the game here. Child protection proceedings and public law use the balance of probability because often beyond reasonable doubt cannot be met but the incident probably did happen. This is not new.

This is just how the law works around this issue.

No person in history has ever reported a crime knowing that the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt can be met, because the justice system doesnt work like that. That is decided in a courtroom not when the allegation is being made and not in a newspaper or on a documentary.

Inexperience and not being trained in interviewing vulnerable people can lead to a failure to reflect on any of these issues and can substantially impact the outcome of an interview. THis is not new. You can hire lots of people who know this, social workers, police, etc etc

Perverting the course of justice is a common law crime. It is acts which are designed to prevent justice being done, it is a crime that evolved through case law, and carries a very harsh prison sentence. As it should. This is not new.

When there are live investigations into sexual abuse, or any crime, to pursue witnesses, victims, expose them to information which would affect their ability to give evidence in a court of law, unnecessarily harm them to prevent them making allegations, all come under the umbrella of perverting the course of justice.

And so we get to Panorama. Apparently David Aaronovitch doesn’t know any of this. Well, he wouldn’t. He isn’t paid to be knowledgeable. He is paid to spout off and pontificate. And so in the name of ‘journalism’ he worked with Panorama this week to pretty much pervert the course of justice. Apparently proving that an adult trauma victim was confused, and that a newsoutlet which covered sexual abuse was not trained in conducting interviews with vulnerable people, is proving that all victims of sexual abuse are lying. Apparently Exaro being run by a guy who I think criticism of is probably valid, means there is no issue of systemic sexual abuse.

By flashing words like conspiracy round he believes he has done enough to discredit the testimonies of those we have already heard from. Those who revealed the culture which allowed Jimmy Saville, Max Clifford, Rolf Harris and others to behave with impunity for decades. Before the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt was met.

He isn’t aware that the testimonies of serious sexual abuse by children in relation to Elm House and Dolphin Square, are in fact not that unusual and follow a pattern seen whenever there is organised sexual abuse. For instance in the infamous ‘take away gangs’ of Keighley, Bradford and Oxfrd.

He isn’t aware that weaknesses in childrens legislation meant that until fairly recently our only child protection legislation applied to families, and outside very difficult to use criminal law, it has been almost impossible to protect children outside the family.

Apparently contacting witnesses, and using the might of prime time television to make damn sure that anyone alleging sexual abuse, or discussing harm that has come to them, knows that they will have the weight of Panorama come down on them, is not perverting the course of justice it is journalism. He may be in for a rude awakening.

As the MET issue a statement being clear that the BBC have acted in such a way that they are undermining live police investigations(these investigations happenign in many police forces, and in addition to many live IPCC investigations), as the police investigate the leak of an abuse survivors details, and the interference with a witness likely to prejudice fture criminal proceedings, he is shouting about fairness. When I commit a crime I don’t get to claim ignorance. Journalism and perverting the course of justice are not the same thing.

I can understand a man with the ego of David Aaronovitch not being aware of basic facts, of how to deal with trauma nad abuse, but the BBC is paid for by taxpayers. They can afford to hire someone who has sufficient knowledge of how to conduct themselves when dealing with vulnerable people, without perverting the course of justice, and they are paid for by the taxpayer. So I’m absolutely stumped at why they have just used Panorama in this way.


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