Fire & Smoke image

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Malbert

I’ve worked for many years with young people and sexual abuse.
Like lots of my colleagues, I’ve run the gauntlet of possible false accusation. Just by working to help damaged and vulnerable children in such a sensitive area, this risk is present. It happens.
But the greatest dread is not the accusation. My conscience is clear and my practice has been upright. Always.
The dread is this: if I ever were accused, the words, “There’s no smoke without a fire,” could be applied, regardless of my innocence.

Ken Roache’s acquittal has brought this starkly to the fore once again…

It’s one of those phrases that’s entered the language and is tripped out now and again. Usually when someone is thought to have “got off” with some behaviour or another…

There’s no smoke without a fire!

The implication, of course, is that people assume guilt regardless of the verdict. After all, cases like these stir up all sorts of issues:

  • Surely the alleged victims wouldn’t make it all up, would they?
  • They must at least have convinced the CPS for them to bring the case in the first place…
  • We know other showbiz people have been found guilty, so he probably is too…
  • If he/she was really innocent, then why did it take a four week trial to acquit him?
  • He must have got off on a technicality!

And there you have it. By virtue of having lots of questions, uncertainties and other conundrums, there is an assumption of guilt. That’s the killer.
Despite the full rigour of due legal process and an acquittal at the end of it all, the accusation leaves its mark.
It’s unspoken (for the most part), but is assumed nonetheless. “Guilty.”

Unstatisfying outcomes…

It seems to me that the problem here is one of incomplete information.

  • We get the salacious headlines
  • We see another public figure stumble
  • We see the faces of harrowed accusers
  • We hear the charges levelled

But that’s it…
At the end of all that, we just get the announcement of an acquittal. The equation just isn’t balanced. The outcome doesn’t match the expectation.
It’s usually then that someone utters those dreadful words, “There’s no smoke without a fire.”

Here are my concerns about all this…

  • It’s a meaningless statement – it’s a truism. Arguably, it’s a fact. But in the meting out of justice in the Crown Court, it’s irrelevant. It has nothing to add to the complexity of trial by jury. In that context, it’s meaningless.
  • It’s rarely ever backed up – this is not a statement that people usually go on to justify using. It’s spoken and then left hanging in the air. Knowing looks lend it some gravitas in the minds of the unthinking. But it’s not defended.
  • It shores up a myth – that the Court system can be easily duped. That people with enough money and influence can “get away with it.” The number of celebrities, police officers and others already convicted means this just isn’t the case. The law is undiscriminating.
  • It questions people’s integrity without due cause – it turns people into the very people they’d hate to be – false accusers, charlatans. By using this phrase we become false witnesses. We point the finger and make the most appalling accusations. And we do it with impunity.

We ought not to.

We must have faith in something…

Justice statue

Photo courtesy of ©iStock

People do dreadful things to each other:

  • Some people sexual assault and rape others…
  • Some accuse others of such, without cause…

Both are terribly wrong. Both ruin lives.
The current U.K. systems of justice exist to gate-keep and test both kinds of behaviours. The “Court of public opinion” might well play a role in politics. But it has no place in the weighing of guilt. Evidence and due process of law is what matters.
I don’t say our system is perfect in every case. No human endeavour can be. But it’s very good. One might even argue it’s one of the best in the world.

Is there a fire, then?…

I’ve worked with victims of sexual violence for years. I know about the impact it has. I feel dreadfully sorry for anyone in such a position who finds themselves disbelieved by a jury.
So is there a fire lurking underneath it all? For me, this is a nonsensical and irrelevant question. I just don’t know. And my guess work is meaningless too.
So I, for one, am not going to add my voice to those that assume guilt on the basis of their own emotional dissatisfaction and ignorance.
The verdict was not guilty. Enough said.

Call to action?…

What are your views on all this?

  • How do you deal with the questions you’re left with after such cases end in the Courts?
  • How should we respond to comments such as, “There’s no smoke without a fire?”

Please let me know what your thoughts are… Leave a comment below.
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© Jonny Matthew 2014