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article imageOp-Ed: Why there should be a statute of limitations for sex crimes

By Alexander Baron     Jan 23, 2013 in Crime
Yesterday, the 83 year old broadcaster Stuart Hall was charged with a number of ‘historic’ sex offences, including the rape of a woman in 1976. There are compelling reasons most such crimes should never be charged.
There are, very sensibly, statutes of limitations for bringing civil actions in the UK and in most if not all other countries. With criminal actions, such limitations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. No one should get away with murder simply because the trail has gone cold, or because the body was discovered twenty years after the event. The British police have been known to investigate murders for which no one can be brought to book. Police in Lanarkshire, Scotland, are currently investigating a murder from 1957, even though no body has been found and the man believed to be responsible for it is long dead. They are doing this because, they said, they have a duty to the family of a young girl who vanished without trace. If a crime is committed and covered up, if there is real evidence, not necessarily compelling evidence, but real evidence that could result in a successful prosecution, then a case should be brought. This has happened in the past, although it will surprise no one who is au fait with the privilege money can't buy that when the police and their chums in the Clown Prosecution Service are involved, every effort will be made not only to cover up the crime but to protect the evildoers from prosecution.
No one was brought to book for what is still arguably the most tragic miscarriage of justice in the UK within living memory. Stefan Kiszko was the classic vulnerable adult. Although not an imbecile, he was someone who was easily duped. Back in the 1970s he was convicted of the sex murder of a young girl. His car or a car like his had been seen in the area where the body of Lesley Molseed was found, but there was no meaningful evidence against him. The police obtained a confession by promising him that if he admitted to the crime he could go home to his mother, that's how trusting he was.
The really shocking thing about this case is not that he was convicted on such a ludicrous confession (the case of Michael Stone is even worse in this respect) but that at the time of the trial the police, the prosecuting barrister, and at least one forensic scientist knew he was innocent, and kept this evidence from the jury, evidence which if it had been revealed would not have resulted simply in a not guilty verdict but in the case being dropped.
Years later the real murderer, Ronald Castree, was brought to book, but before that, a half-hearted attempt was made to prosecute the thoroughly evil men who had robbed Stefan Kiszko of the best years of his life and nearly driven him mad into the bargain.
To compound the tragedy, Stefan Kiszko died in December 1993 at the young age of 41, though a criminal prosecution was mounted against his tormentors. But...the May 3, 1995 issue of the Rochdale Observer reported on its front page TEARS FOLLOW SHOCK 'NO TRIAL' RULING. According to the paper, Stipendiary Magistrate Jane Hayward stayed the prosecution against former Chief Superintendent Dick Holland and forensic scientist Alan Outteridge after a two day hearing on April 13-4.
The grounds for dismissal were the length of time since the trial of Stefan Kiszko - 1976 - the deaths of a number of witnesses and people who took part in the trial, and "The loss of a number of documents vital to the trial". Loss indeed. Reporting restrictions had remained in force to give the prosecution time to mount an appeal - if it so desired.
That is truly classic, commit a crime - false imprisonment - cover it up for the best part of two decades, and then argue that due to the delay in bringing legal proceedings, a fair trial is impossible for the remaining defendants.
That being said, the argument does have some merit, even in this case. What then of the case of Stuart Hall who in the wake of the Savile inquiry has now, yesterday, been charged with indecent assaults on no less than ten underage girls between 1967 and 1986, and with the rape of a 22 year old woman in 1976?
Because of the ludicrous veil of secrecy that surrounds all such prosecutions, especially those involving the young, no details will be released until the trial, if there is a trial, but if this case or any part of it does go ahead, the big question is, how can Stuart Hall or any man receive a fair trial for alleged offences that are so ancient?
If a woman is raped or otherwise attacked by a stranger, and reports said attack promptly or fairly promptly, and there is real evidence: semen, DNA, or merely torn clothing or bruising, then an historic prosecution can be justified, as in the case of Antoni Imiela, who was convicted last year of the rape of a woman in 1987, even though the victim had died six years earlier.
If the evidence against Stuart Hall - or anyone else - were of this quality, then a prosecution would be in the public interest in spite of the passage of over three decades, but if these alleged victims have all come forward as the result of the Savile inquiry, which means in all probability since last October, what evidence can be adduced against the accused? The mere fact that there are ten or eleven such complaints means nothing because they have clearly arisen from a trawl. (See previous article to understand why this sort of thing is so unreliable).
The bottom line is that any man - or any woman for that matter - could be facing an allegation that he touched a girl's breast or put his hand up her skirt thirty and more years ago and told: "Prove you didn't".
One would hope and expect that for a charge of rape to be filed, there would be some compelling, contemporaneous evidence to present in court, but don't count on it.
It would not be proper to comment further on this specific case, but clearly this is an issue that needs to be raised at the highest level, ie Parliament, and some sort of mechanism put in place to prevent allegations of this nature from progressing unless they were reported at the time, or credible evidence - more than mere words - comes to light at some point so that any resultant trial becomes a proper trial of fact, rather than merely a case of he said/she said.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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