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In recent years, the UK has seen a wave of allegations of sex abuse as a result of the BBC scandal which was sparked when floods of allegations were made against Jimmy Savile in 2012, one year after his death. This led to something of a witch hunt, where we saw a number of high-profile celebrities and MPs facing charges and career-crushing allegations of historical sex abuse. As a result, a major nationwide police investigation known as Operation Hydrant was launched uncovering an astonishing number of networks, institutions and individuals linked to systematic abuse of children and vulnerable adults across the country. A national helpline and several media campaigns were launched to encourage victims and anyone with suspicions to come forward.

As a result of Operation Hydrant, over 1,400 individuals have been, or are currently being, investigated for historic sexual abuse. Since the shocking revelations about Jimmy Savile, there have been several other high-profile individuals who have been investigated and prosecuted, including entertainer Gary Glitter, paediatrician Michael Salmon and media mogul Max Clifford.

The campaign and investigations led to an unprecedented rise in charges and accusations, and numerous innocent individuals being wrongly accused or caught up in investigations. The following information might answer a few of the questions surrounding historic sex abuse which may help suspects and their families. If you are facing investigation for historic sexual abuse allegations, it is crucial you speak to a Sexual Offences Defence Solicitor without delay. Early advice from an expert is essential for your defence; it could mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.

How are Suspects Charged with Historic Sex Abuse Offences?

How a person will be charged will depend on when the abuse is alleged to have taken place. Most of those charged with historic sexual abuse offences will be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, while incidents alleged to have occurred after 1 May 2004 will be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. If it is not possible to determine whether the incident occurred before or after 1 May 2004, the old law will apply where it attracts a lesser maximum penalty.

What Evidence is Involved in Cases of Historic Sex Abuse?

There is no time limit to when sexual offences may be prosecuted in the UK. A complaint of sexual abuse, even decades after the alleged incident, will be investigated. The passage of time in no way dilutes how the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will investigate and enforce the law. If sufficient supporting evidence is uncovered, the CPS may prosecute an individual if they consider it in the public interest and they interpret the evidence as presenting a realistic prospect of conviction.

In all criminal cases, the credibility, reliability and consistency of witnesses and evidence are paramount when establishing the truth. This is particularly challenging in historic sexual abuse cases when evidence can be many years old. Due to the long period of time between when the alleged incident occurred and when it is reported to the police, there is unlikely to be any physical or scientific evidence. The most common types of evidence therefore include:

  • Witness statements – these usually come from the complainant, accused and police officers who conducted interviews, as well as family, friends and other individuals that may be able to shed light on the alleged incident.
  • Third party disclosure – this is an equally important factor in historic sexual abuse cases and includes documents from social services, psychologists, educational and medical records. These can be sought by requests in the defence statement and by applications made after material is initially disclosed.

This can mean complex disclosure issues that require forensic examination and analysis of vast amounts of material which, when viewed by the prosecution, may lead them to accept that there are no longer reasonable prospects of successfully prosecuting the case to the conviction stage. This means that the CPS will offer no evidence before the trial begins, and a formal not guilty verdict is likely to be entered by the judge.

What are the Penalties Following a Historic Sex Abuse Conviction?

Because of the gravity of the offence, you can expect heavy penalties if you are convicted for historic sexual offences. As the basic position is when an offender is sentenced it should be according to the law at the time the offence was committed, prison sentences will vary. Sentence levels have been increasing over the past few decades for sexual offences. For example, the offence of indecent assault on a person under the age of consent has changed from a maximum of two years imprisonment in 1957, increasing to a maximum of five years if the victim was under 13 years old in 1961, and by 1985 the prison sentence was a maximum of 10 years. In 2003, it changed again, remaining at 10 years and increasing to 14 years where the victim was under 13, and a maximum sentence of life for assault by penetration.

Defending Allegations of Historic Sex Abuse

Because of the severity of the crime, it is paramount that a thorough defence statement is prepared in all historic sexual abuse cases. Any issues concerning the consistency and reliability of evidence must be thoroughly addressed. Incidents that are alleged to have occurred several times or over an uncertain period of time can often lead to “course of conduct” counts alleging unfounded multiple offending. Because of the potential to cause misleading impressions about the assumed extent of the abuse, scrupulous preparation and an extremely detailed defence statement must counteract it.

Contact Our Sexual Offences Defence Lawyers(London, Birmingham, Manchester)

Our robust defence preparation, attention to detail and professional representation makes us the first choice for criminal defence. These key traits are essential to safeguarding the rights of our clients from allegations of criminal activity. We discuss all the available options in order to find and implement the best course of action.

Our expert sexual offence solicitors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ready to advise and assist. For more information, please contact Stuart Sutton on 07798 753 720 or get in touch via our online contact form.

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