Rassam Ali and Rotherham child abuse scandal: Police’s failures are not over

Rassam Ali. A man who should not have gone to prison. But he did. A man who was not supposed to win an appeal and overturn his conviction. But he did.  A man who was chosen to show an example of what will happen to perpetrators involved in Rotherham child abuse scandal. But now he is just another name to include in miscarriages of justice statistics.

My fears might become reality now. Firstly, a number of innocent people might go to prison in and around Rotherham due to fear of people from BME backgrounds, and secondly, some others, actual offenders, might walk free due to lack of evidence, which would not have been an issue if the local authorities and the police would have acted sooner after receiving claims of sexual abuse.

Mr Ali’s conviction was quashed after the Court of Appeal heard new facts and evidence which was not followed up during the investigation. Mr Ali believes that the Police did not conduct a thorough investigation, but instead developed a tunnel vision, cherry picked evidence against him and did not investigate other possibilities, Chris Burn from the star reported. The investigation was sloppy, unprofessional and unacceptable, but the initial reasons for the Police’s failures are buried far deeper than 2014, when Mr Ali’s investigation was carried out.

It all started in 1997, when Police officers and other authorities failed to act on evidence that children were sexually exploited in Rotherham. As the number of cases piled up throughout the years and three reports addressing the issue were suppressed, people responsible for the cover up realised that it is going to explode into a huge scandal. Rassam Ali is a man who was caught in the scandal, because the authorities had to show they are doing something once the story went public. They had to bring the number of prosecutions up and show that they are taking the issue seriously. And how can they finish more cases and convict more people? By reducing time spent on each case and by cutting corners. They are only getting half of the story on such cases. The situation seems to go down a similar road as it did for some high profile cases during the Troubles, such as Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4.

Another reason why innocent people might be sent to prison is false accusations. Reasons for false accusations of rape include false memories, being ashamed of a person’s actions while being drunk and hopes of getting compensation. Even though many victims were abused when they were children, they are young adults now who will think about financial or moral gain. False accusations combined with a flawed investigation can be even more dangerous, especially if there is a high number of real, related cases.

It might seem bad enough already, but many jurors have seen news articles about the scandal. Many believe that these people are guilty just because the Police and the CPS thinks so, people are angry and they want suspected offenders to pay for what they supposedly did. The Rotherham 12 Defence Campaign claimed that the whole Asian community, including an 81 year-old who was attacked and killed, is suffering for crimes committed by relatively few.

There has probably been no jury which has not been compromised by the news articles to some extent when dealing with such cases. Jurors’ opinions have been compromised before the court proceedings even start. They are biased, the same as the police.

If you are innocent, being investigated by the police is not a big deal, because they usually get to the truth. However, if they believe you are guilty and do not investigate other possibilities, you might end up in court, where a biased jury might be listening to your case. It can happen and it does, especially in large scandals, such as the one in Rotherham.

On the other hand, factually guilty might get away with crimes related to Rotherham child abuse scandal. Many of the cases can now be classed as historical and evidence, which might have been available when the crime occurred, is not available anymore. For example, DNA evidence will not be available anymore, eyewitness testimony might be easily discredited due to memory loss over time and drugs will not have any traces left in victims’ blood.  It, therefore, means that the police have less to work with to secure a conviction. And even if the Police manage to convict somebody, the offenders subsequently have to discredit less evidence in an appeal to have the conviction classed as unsafe.

When it comes to jury, the standard of proof is extremely high in criminal cases. Please do not get me wrong, I believe it should be as high as it is, but when it comes to historical crimes with no evidence from the time the crime was committed, it is extremely hard to convict somebody and subsequently keep them convicted. Falsely Accused of Historic Sexual Assault has posted a story told by a former juror in a historical rape case. The juror said that she was supposed to make an impossible decision based only on evidence from the victim and the defendant. The defendant was convicted, however the juror telling the story believes that there was not enough evidence to put somebody behind bars.

From everything written above, it appears that many flaws related to Rotherham child abuse scandal are related to the amount of time that has passed. For instance, if victims’ cases would have been investigated sooner, the Police would not be in a spotlight desperately trying to prosecute people quickly, more evidence would be available and the scandal would not be in the news, affecting jurors.

I urge the Police force in Rotherham to investigate cases thoroughly in order to reduce chances of miscarriages of justice. Obviously the investigation should be started as soon as the crime is reported, but there should be no rush to finish before all possibilities have been investigated. A quick, flawed investigation can convict a factually innocent person quickly or provide grounds for an appeal for a factually guilty, whereas longer and technically correct investigation will usually see an actual offender convicted with fewer grounds for an appeal. Similarly, judges involved in court proceedings should be absolutely certain that jurors base their decisions on evidence provided in the courtroom.

When it comes to lack of evidence for some cases, there is not a lot anyone can do anymore. The awful truth has to be said – some historical offenders will get away and there is nothing we can do to change that. We can, however, ensure that such things do not happen in the future. We also can ensure that police officers are instructed to investigate thoroughly even when there is pressure from their superiors.

Thank you for reading!

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