Historical sex charges are problematic. These types of antique sexual allegations are awfully easy to make, awfully serious, and awfully hard to refute.
There always are metaphorical torches carried in the streets (in the middle of the day) for those charged. People write with relish at the thought of a show trial; they say they have always known the truth about the accused, whom, while ladled with qualifications that “X denies the charges, which are yet to be proven,” nevertheless are pinned with labels such as “paedophile” and “monster.”
These witch hunts (“Gee, a high-placed religioso is charged, so let’s throw him in a pond to see if he floats”), lynch mobs, trolls en masse, often led by those of Celtic nomenclature who comprise the noisiest members of the posse, savour of a carnal, anti-clerical rapture, engineered by lapsed believers.
They may be true and correct. But this has to be established. She who asserts must prove, as every schoolgirl knows. And that can be hard, especially when we’re dealing with allegations of events decades old. Memories fade. Memories may select, confuse identity, dismiss matters as trivial, get the chronology wrong. Robert Richter QC, speaking at a 2011 Criminal Law Conference, pointed out the dilemma of these sorts of tragic cases, in which “allegations generally come through the sieve of an adult witness who is almost invariably a truly damaged person and one has to try and trawl through what it was that produced that damage…The complainant…will be shattered by an acquittal. The accused and his unsuspecting family will be broken by a conviction…These cases are truly instances of extremes in justice with an outcome which will produce irreparable harm either way.”
The invective hurled at people who are presumed innocent, whilst perhaps mitigated by the obvious depth for feeling displayed by those casting stones, is simply unacceptable, particularly in a matter that is sub judice, thus tending to interfere with the administration of justice. For those lounging in the shade of the gallows, knitting and waiting for an accused’s rattling tumbril to draw up, we say: watch it – if you keep carelessly sounding-off before a court does its work, you’ll undermine the painstaking edifice built by the prosecution, of which you so obviously approve; debile fundamentum fallit opus.*[*a weak foundation destroys the work built thereon.]