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Due to the intense media coverage of high-profile historic sex offence cases in recent years, there has been a significant increase in investigations and prosecutions into such crimes. This is due to “the Savile effect”, which relates to the rise in the number of historic sex offence crimes recorded by police in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. In situations like this, where the public interest and media attention is strong, it is especially important for criminal defence lawyers to take a robust approach when presenting the defendant’s version of events and to ensure their rights are protected.

Historic sexual offences legal advice - seek representation at the earliest stage possible

Historic sexual offence cases are treated very seriously by the police and courts. They are inevitably complex, due to the sensitive nature of the acts complained of and because often a considerable amount of time has passed since they occurred.  

If you are under suspicion for a historic sexual crime, it is important that you seek expert legal advice and representation from the earliest stage possible. It is much easier to secure a successful outcome when you have the right support at the initial stages of any investigation, rather than much later in the process or on appeal.

Stuart Sutton at Sutton Defence is a specialist sexual offence defence lawyer in Manchester with over three decades of experience representing clients accused of sexual crimes. Stuart knows how stressful and upsetting these cases can be and understands what it takes to provide a robust defence to such accusations. If you have been questioned about a historic sex offence, contact Stuart today for immediate, expert advice.

What is a historic sexual offence?

Historic sexual offences are any sexual crimes, such as rape, sexual assault or child sex abuse, that took place before 1 May 2004. The law that was in force at the time the acts complained of are said to have taken place will be applied, and this can mean referring to legislation from as far back as 1957. In contrast, all current sexual offences are dealt with under the current law, set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

How are historic sexual offences investigated?

Allegations of historic sexual offences are treated seriously by the investigation authorities, regardless of the amount of time that has passed from when the alleged incident(s) took place to the matter being reported. No time limit applies to the reporting of sexual offences. However, where a considerable amount of time has passed and we believe this means it is no longer possible for you to have a fair trial, we are likely to make an application to the court for the case to be dropped.sutton-defence-historic-sexual-offence-lawyer

When a historical sex offence accusation is made, the police and prosecution service will aim to look for evidence to corroborate the complainant’s account. This might involve searching through files from schools and local authorities to find relevant information. They will also contact and speak with potential witnesses and find out if there are any other possible victims.

If you are under investigation, your home could be searched and you will be asked to attend the police station for an interview. You are entitled to have a solicitor present with you when being questioned by the police, and it is essential that you do to ensure you are made fully aware of your rights.

What are the penalties for a conviction of historic sexual abuse?

The penalty will depend on when the crime was committed and its nature. In many cases, long-term prison sentences are given. Those convicted of historic sexual abuse will be sentenced according to the maximum sentence prescribed by the law in force at the time the crime was committed. If the maximum sentence at the time of the offence has since been reduced, the lower sentence will apply. Judges can take into account current sentencing guidelines when deciding the most appropriate penalty but are not permitted to go above the maximum sentence available at the time of the crime. Offenders are also likely to be included in the sex offenders register.

Why do I need a historic sexual offence defence solicitor?

A lawyer with expertise in defending historic sexual crimes will have an in-depth knowledge of the law that applies and an extensive understanding of the approach used by the investigating and prosecuting authorities in these cases. These bodies are often under pressure to secure convictions and so it is essential that your lawyer aggressively defends your corner.

Stuart Sutton is well-versed in defending clients against historic sex crime allegations. Stuart does everything necessary to secure the best possible outcome for his clients, including identifying inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case, finding evidence, such as work emails or attendance sheets, that casts doubt on the complainant’s version of events, and presenting strong evidence to support the client’s good character.

Guidance note from our historic sex abuse defence lawyers regarding defending allegations of sexual abuse in the UK. Need urgent advice? Contact our specialist historic sex offences defence solicitor Stuart Sutton on 07798 753 720 or 07798 753 720.

In the criminal justice system in the UK, historic sexual abuse cases can be the most difficult. For both the accused and the complainant, as well as their families, the experience is distressing and can have life-changing consequences. Historic sexual abuse cases are also challenging for the courts and juries tasked with analysing and assessing the evidence, which is usually scant and comes down to the memories of the complainant and the accused.

As the potential for miscarriages of justice is high in historic abuse cases, the right to a fair trial has particular significance. Unfounded allegations must be robustly defended, with considerable attention given to the accuracy and veracity of evidence and how a case is presented.

The mass media may not report on acquittals and successful defence cases as often as successful prosecutions in historic sexual abuse cases, but that does not mean they are less frequent. Historic sexual abuse is an unsettled and complicated area of law, raising many issues for accused and complainer alike. A particular difficulty is the passage of time, which can create hurdles when seeking to establish the truth and ensure a fair trial.

Below we provide an overview of the law relating to historic sexual abuse and some of the ways the challenges to launching a defence to an unfounded allegation may be overcome. Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ready to deliver expert legal advice and assistance. For more information, please contact our Special Casework Team, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Stuart Sutton on 07798 753 720 or 07798 753 720.

“Thank you very much for the superb help you gave me throughout one of the most difficult periods I have had to deal with. I know how busy you were, so I really appreciated the time and effort you spent with me. The support from yourself was the only thing keeping me sane and feeling upbeat, and, as you know, I had a very hard time understanding and remembering the concepts you were installing into my mind before the court case, but in hindsight, these were superb grounding processes that made me feel at ease.”

Thanks to you I will be able to continue working once more with my head held high and feeling totally vindicated that my innocence was never in question. You are the kind of unique individual that makes a difficult career choice seem simplistic, and your professional supportive style helps keep the individual you are representing level-headed, for this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

If you need someone to come into your life and fight your corner, who meticulously understands you professionally and personally you need Stuart Sutton an Advocate with an edge due to his criminal law work. You will be in safe hands. I highly recommend Stuart.”

The law on historic sexual abuse cases in the UK


Unlike other areas of law, such as personal injury or debt recovery, there is no time limit to when sexual offences may be prosecuted in the UK. Delay in making a formal complaint of sexual abuse, even decades after the alleged incident, in no way dilutes how the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will investigate and enforce the law – a complaint about an incident or multiple incidents alleged to have occurred many years ago will be investigated by the police. 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.

The crime or crimes an accused person will be charged with depends on the time 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 any incident alleged to have occurred after 1 May 2004 will be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. If it isn’t possible to determine whether the incident occurred before or after 1 May 2004, the old law will apply if it attracts a lesser maximum penalty.

Fairness and the presumption of innocence are fundamental principles that underpin the criminal justice system. The burden of proving an offence therefore falls on the prosecution. However, in historic sexual abuse cases, their potential complexity and lack of corroborating evidence require that the defence take particular care to ensure the fundamental principles are given focus.

Our expert Special Casework Team have the expertise and knowledge to ensure our clients are treated fairly when they come into contact with the criminal justice system. Below we highlight some of the issues that require due consideration when commencing a defence against an allegation of historic sexual abuse.

  • Defending against allegations of historic sexual abuse

The heavily reported Sir Cliff Richard investigation brought the defence of historic sexual abuse into the spotlight. Since the BBC first broadcast images of South Yorkshire police searching his £3m Berkshire mansion, the investigation has rarely escaped the public’s attention. Accused of sexually abusing four young boys more than thirty years ago, it was announced earlier this month that Richard will not face charges over the allegations.

As part of Operation Hydrant, over 1,400 individuals have been, or are currently being, investigated in relation to 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 the likes of Gary Glitter and paediatrician Michael Salmon.

Hydrant continues to expand its database of sexual abuse cases, with more and more people coming forward about abuse in their childhood years. The attention has shifted from high-profile individuals, labelled as an unnecessary distraction from the reality of sexual abuse, to adult victims of child sexual abuse, with the perpetrators commonly being family members or people close to the victim. It was reported last month that around 100 new cases a month were being referred to Operation Hydrant, a figure that is expected only to increase.

Where this obviously demonstrates a very positive step in the crusade against historic sexual abuse, Cliff Richard himself stated that it was simultaneously tarnishing many innocent people’s reputations.

  • Police involved in BBC deal

Richard described his position amongst the media frenzy as “being hung out like live bait”. Following the search of his home in August 2014, Richard attended a number of police interviews in 2014 and 2015 over allegations that he abused a number of young boys. In the meantime, it was revealed that the police had been involved in a deal with the BBC over the search of Richard’s home.

Blaming not only the media, several headlines came off the back of a decision made by home affairs select committee chair, Keith Vaz, in February of last year. Vaz decided to publish a letter addressed to the committee from David Crompton, the then chief constable of South Yorkshire Police.

The letter contained information about the police inquiry extending to include Cliff Richard. A later inquiry into the reasoning behind the publicity of the police search made the point that the BBC being informed about the investigation in August 2014 “certainly inferred with his privacy and may well have caused unnecessary distress.”

Of the nine allegations against Sir Cliff Richard, five failed to meet a standard that would enable them to be passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). In May of this year, the police passed a file of evidence to the prosecutors that took only a matter of weeks for lawyers to destroy.

They found insufficient evidence to prosecute Sir Cliff, with questions now being raised about the speed in which the CPS announced that there would be no charges. The police investigation is now being scrutinised, its proportionality, the testing of allegations and whether any attempts were made to verify the allegations before the public raid of Richard’s home, are all under examination.

The case was closed earlier this month because of the scant evidence and the countless number of police failings involved. Besides no prosecution having taken place, what this investigation did flag up, were several issues in relation to how historic sexual abuse cases are handled in the UK, especially with regards to publicity and subsequent pre-trial culpability.

Sir Cliff Richard – and many others in his position – will spend the remainder of his life with a marked reputation. In a country where one is innocent until proven guilty, the accused in a sexual abuse case seems to slip the net. This article seeks to examine why the defence in a historic sexual abuse case is so important, especially during this time of moral panic and media exploitation.

  • Protecting the accused’s reputation in sexual abuse cases

Historic sexual abuse cases are among the most challenging and complex cases to tackle in the criminal justice system. Limited evidence, which usually relies on the memories of the complainant and accused, increases the potential for a miscarriage of justice. This makes it all the more important that a fair and balanced trial, with robust defence, is presented in court.

MP David Davis said that more should to be done to protect the reputation of the accused in cases such as these. He said that the Cliff Richard case demonstrated that it is time for a “complete review of police procedures surrounding high-profile sex abuse cases and the publicity surrounding these cases.”

Sir Cliff Richard stated that he was relieved to finally be cleared of such horrendous accusations, but did state: “I feel very strongly that no innocent person should be treated in this way. I know the truth and in some people’s eyes the CPS announcement doesn’t go far enough, because it doesn’t expressly state that I am innocent, which of course I am.”

Cold and quick publicity is seeing those accused being branded as guilty, and complainants as victims, before investigations into allegations even commence. This has come off the back of the Jimmy Savile case, with authorities no longer taking time to carefully respond to allegations, but immediately and vigorously searching for evidence. This means of responding to social pressure is in fact dissolving the core principles that underpin the country’s criminal justice system.

Besides this new proactive response approach, the bureaucratic and evidential rules that govern sexual offences are now also being modified. A ‘complainant-centric approach’ is now encouraged, undermining the presumption of innocence before proven guilty and the right to a fair trial. These changes are evidence of a deteriorating objectivity in our justice system, undoubtedly a step in the wrong direction for the handling of sexual abuse cases.

The importance of a robust defence in historic sexual abuse cases

Primarily because of the severity of the crime, and subsequent sentence, 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.

Our expert legal team understands the importance of a robust Defence Statement, and as a result prepares them, and all other court documentation, alongside specialist trial counsel, who ensure that a coherent trial strategy is put in place in the case’s initial stages. The client is involved in every step of the process. Conferences are organised with counsel, often ahead of the delivery of prosecution papers, to ensure that all the correct decisions are made. Our expert team pride themselves on the meticulousness of their preparation, which prevents a fractured case and reduces the possibility of any ambiguity.

Our aim is to build a strong enough defence to prevent the case getting to the conviction stage. By methodically and persistently examining all evidence, whilst working closely with both our clients and specialist criminal barristers, we are able to identify all potential evidence and subsequently ensure that all relevant information is disclosed.

Evidence & defence statements

The distinction between precision and accuracy is particularly acute in historic sexual abuse cases. Although incidents may be remembered in detail, the accuracy of those memories is likely to be diluted by the passage of time. It is therefore essential for evidence to be closely scrutinised and defence statements meticulously presented.

  • Evidence – witness statements and third-party disclosure

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 that has elapsed since an alleged incident 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; and,
  • Third-party disclosure – this is an equally important factor in historic sexual abuse cases and include 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 (as has regularly been the case in matters that our Special Casework Team have been involved in) 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.

  • The importance of a thorough defence statement in historic sexual abuse cases

A thorough Defence Statement is particularly necessary for historic sexual abuse cases. All relevant issues about the reliability of evidence must be raised and addressed. Also, incidents are often alleged to have occurred multiple times over an uncertain period of time, leading to ‘course of conduct’ counts alleging unfounded multiple offending. The potential to cause misleading impressions about the alleged extent of the abuse must be countered by meticulous preparation and a detailed Defence Statement.

Our expert legal team prepare Defence Statements and all court documents in collaboration with specialist trial counsel, who are involved at the initial stage of a case to ensure a coherent trial strategy. Early conferences with counsel and the client are organised so that every appropriate step is taken when preparing for trial (often ahead of the delivery of prosecution papers). All of our team are on board with our thorough approach to preparation, thereby avoiding a disjointed or fractured approach and reducing the possibility of uncertainty.

We also address complex disclosure issues head-on, by continuously examining and analysing vast amounts of evidence. Working closely with specialist criminal barristers and our clients to identify all potential evidence, and then ensuring all relevant information is disclosed, enables us to put together a coherent picture showing that there are no reasonable justifications for taking a case to the conviction stage.

Quality & professional criminal defence

Trials of historic sexual abuse allegations tend to be emotionally charged and extremely stressful for both complainants and defendants, as well as their families and friends.

Regrettably, successful prosecutions of high profile individuals dominate press coverage whilst those who are acquitted rarely make the news. The cornerstone of the law in England and Wales is ‘innocent until proven guilty’, which the defendant will often find turns into ‘guilty until proven innocent’ when it comes to having to defend one’s self.

In those circumstances, it is imperative that a criminal defence lawyer keeps a cool head and that the jury has before it all the relevant material necessary to arrive at a just conclusion. That requires forensic analysis of evidence, potential lines of enquiry and a proactive approach to case preparation. It also requires thoroughness and an expert experienced legal team who know and understand the necessary steps that need to be taken to comply with legislation and rules.

Our specialist unit is a team of highly skilled lawyers which employs a strategy throughout to ensure, insofar as is possible, that there is a level playing field. We have years of experience in dealing with all these issues and handle cases sensitively, whilst ensuring that the accused’s defence is prepared in a fair and forthright manner, in order to achieve a just outcome.

You can now also read our article regarding anonymity in such cases here: Defendant Anonymity in Sexual Offence Cases in the UK.

Expert criminal defence in historic sexual abuse cases

The quality of the defence statements and other documents produced for the court by Stuart Sutton and his colleagues in the Special Casework Team have been positively commented on by both judges and prosecutors. Our attention to detail and careful preparation means we have an outstanding record in defending our clients, with many cases being dealt with before trial.

In R-v-K (Devon), allegations made by three youths of multiple counts of historical sexual abuse did not have to go to trial. Extensive instructions were taken, various witness statements obtained and a detailed defence statement produced, following which the prosecution offered no evidence and a formal not guilty verdict entered.

In R-v-W (Manchester), the judge acknowledged that had it not been for the quality of the defence statement, the defendant could have faced a trial and potential conviction resulting in a miscarriage of justice.

In Crown-v-C (Teesside), a detailed timeline was pieced together in relation to allegations of sexual abuse, supported by an extensive application of third party documents and a variety of witness statements. This was distilled into a comprehensive defence statement. The prosecution offered no evidence, no trial took place and the judge entered a not guilty verdict.

In R-v-B (Hertfordshire), a foster parent was accused by a child formerly in their care of multiple incidents of sexual abuse. Having taking detailed instructions and obtaining witness statements, including those from friends of the complainant, an extensive defence statement requesting the disclosure of large amounts of third-party material was successful. The prosecution offered no evidence, and the accused was formally found not guilty without the need to go to trial.

Our Special Casework Team have over 16 years of experience helping to secure the rights of our clients. We provide a professional and supportive legal service and pride ourselves on handling cases of historic sexual abuse with sensitivity and care.

“Being completely naive of any crown prosecutions R could only have faith in yourself. You have made yourself available, provided empathy and understanding of what impact a guilty verdict would have in relationship to R’s employment and future. After speaking to you on many occasions R was always much happier and felt more at ease.

As the case has been dropped we can now move on with our lives and make future plans and for this we can only thank you. Should anyone require your assistance they can be assured and have peace of mind that their case will be handled proficiently by yourself.”

Contact Stuart Sutton, Expert Historic Sexual Offence Lawyer London and Manchester, UK

If you are accused of a historic sexual offence, you are likely to feel stressed, upset and worried about your future and your reputation. Such allegations can have a huge impact on the lives of those accused and so it is essential you get high-quality legal advice and representation. Stuart Sutton has an outstanding reputation in securing not guilty outcomes for clients involved in a wide range of sexual offence cases. He will use his extensive knowledge and skills to create a watertight defence strategy and minimise any impact such allegations have on your life. For immediate, expert legal advice, contact Stuart Sutton today on 07798 753 720.

Stuart provided an invaluable service in preventing me from being separated from my son. He is only 4 years old but when he’s older I’ll tell him all about Stuart. We will both be forever grateful to Stuart and his team for their professionalism and support during this challenging time. - S Craig
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Why Choose Sutton Defence Lawyers?

  • Specialists in Criminal Defence Law
  • Outstanding record in successfully defending clients charged with Sexual Offences
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  • Secured not guilty verdicts in over 90% of cases
  • Robust defence preparation, attention to detail and professional representation