Sir Richard Henriques, the retired High Court judge who is to conduct the review into the allegations about Sir Edward Heath’s conduct, gave an enlightening interview to the BBC last week.
Speaking to the legal correspondent Joshua Rozenberg, Sir Richard issued a caution about the language used when claims of sexual misconduct of any kind are made. Sir Richard holds to the position – of which we should be constantly reminded – that a person is innocent until proved guilty and that a claim of sexual abuse is not proof of a crime having been committed.
Those who claim sexual harassment or abuse, he said, should not be referred to as “victims” until the case has been shown to be true. Until then, they should be called “complainants”.
There are genuine victims of sexual crimes who deserve full access to justice in law. But Sir Richard, who draws on long experience, said there are also individuals who are fantasists or after financial compensation. Unfortunately, in an era of Twitter-storms and accusations being quickly repeated via social media, a younger generation isn’t always aware of the principle that everyone is innocent until proved guilty.
Celebrities and performers have been, metaphorically, falling like ninepins in recent weeks, as reputation after reputation has been destroyed without benefit of trial. The disgraced actor Kevin Spacey has been subjected to the Soviet practice of being airbrushed out of a new movie. And now, one of the most likeable of TV presenters and singers, Aled Jones, has been taken off air because of sexual harassment claims. He says he sometimes behaved in a “juvenile way” 20 years ago, but denies any allegations of harassment or assault.
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal has overturned one of the convictions against the entertainer Rolf Harris – the main witness for the prosecution was found to be a fantasist with convictions for dishonesty.
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