Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A Fair Trial

Here in Britain we're used to the notion that our legal system has long ensured that everyone is entitled to a 'fair' trial, ultimately being judged by 12 other citizens. This jury is instructed to only come to a guilty verdict that is 'beyond reasonable doubt' and for that to happen the evidence has to be closely examined and tested in an adversarial manner. 

This system has served us reasonably well, but in cases such as rape or sexual abuse it's long been recognised that 'special measures' are required in relation to how the victim is treated by the process. All this has been brought into sharp focus recently by the absolutely tragic case of Frances Andrade who it appears took her own life shortly after giving evidence against Michael Brewer, now convicted of several historic counts of indecent assault upon her.

Quite understandably everyone involved in the case will be in the process of reflecting upon their actions and naturally observers in some quarters are wishing to apportion blame. As the Defence Brief says in his post on the subject today:- 

"Why do we use this system?  Because, only through challenging a witness can you test their evidence, assess the reliability of their account and judge their honesty.  This is because sometimes their evidence may be completely honest and accurate from their point of view but it may not stand up to scrutiny because they made a mistake.  Sometimes the witness may be actively lying.  Sometimes they may have been forced to give evidence in court.  We just don't know... until and unless we test the evidence!"

Obviously it has to be done with care, and I'm sure it was, but sadly it seems as if in this case the victim found it unbearable that she felt that she wasn't being believed. Some counts against Brewer were dismissed and she clearly took this as the court feeling that she had been lying. It's understandable, but so sad. With hindsight I suspect more care could possibly have been taken in preparing this woman for the cold, often bruising court process, together with de-briefing and reassurance following the dismissal of some charges.

I understand this complainant had been waiting two years for the case to come to court and during that time had been showing considerable signs of distress. I have to say that I find it shocking that it appears the advice from the police was not to seek professional counselling until after the trial.

There is bound to be an inquiry following this sad case, not least because the Home Secretary Theresa May is concerned that it will adversely affect the willingness of complainants to come forward in the future. I entirely agree and I sincerely hope that the misguided police advice was given over a concern that the victim's evidence might somehow be 'tainted', rather than the shocking and cynical thought that conviction would be more likely if the jury saw a more distraught complainant. 

In the end though the blame must lie fairly and squarely upon the perpetrator. If ever there was a  case that confirms beyond doubt the potentially devastating effect sex offending can have upon a person's life, this it.      


  1. Mike Brewer was my music teacher (at a different school) when I was a similar age to that at which these women had involvement with him. He was 'interested' in his female pupils at the time, and these feeling were reciprocated in many cases.
    He wasn't a paedophile, but possibly was an ephebophile, but the only difference between the relationships girls of that age were having with boys in the Sixth Form and those they may have had with him was a few years...we looked and acted older than we were, and many of the teachers were only just out of college themselves.
    At least one of the teachers went on to marry a (former) pupil, living happily ever after, and we all 'suffered' from the break up of relationships as a matter of course. Many of us were inconsolable when they ended, but most of us survived, and went on to become successful in careers and relationships, in varying degrees. I too have suffered from depression, anxiety, alcohol dependence and relationship problems...I'm not sure I know anyone who hasn't had some problems at least.
    The school crossing man at my Infant School exposed himself to me, and placed my hand on his penis (in the swimming pool) when I was 5 when I didn't know clearly what a willy was, much less an erect one, as his was. I lost my virginity aged 14 to a boy/man of 18 (willingly, with pre-planning and a condom) I was date-raped when I was 22 by a work colleague (no, I wasn't a virgin; I just made a mental note to avoid such circumstances in the future), but I believe the problems I have had were despite these instances, not because of them....unless of course, someone now offered me money to tell my story......... Incidents in the cited article took place 20-30 years ago; the teachers involved should have the right to put the weaknesses of their youth behind them
    Enough said?

    (I also managed to be reasonably promiscuous by the standards of the mid-70s, so probably not quite as prolific 'young people' these days, but by using contraception and common-sense, as well as being a little selective in my choice of sexual partner, but did not become pregnant (or contract any STDs) until I became pregnant by choice at the age of 25. Another way in which things are different now I guess.)

    1. Alcantara,

      Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. As you know Mike Brewer is now convicted and I'm not aware of the exact nature of the offences - they may well be of a very different nature to what you describe. We know that some allegations were dismissed.

      Of course we are all individuals and respond to situations very differently. All probation officers will be aware of instances where childhood sexual abuse has had a devastating effect upon both men and women, to the extent that they cannot function well emotionally into adult life. Many turn to self harm, drink and drugs. In extremis suicide is not uncommon.

      This will not be the situation in all cases, and if that is so, we should all be thankful. However, that cannot in any way excuse such behaviour as the perpetrator cannot be sure what effect their actions will have. I'm also concerned lest such a viewpoint will be taken by some people as distorted justification for inappropriate and illegal sexual behaviour with minors.

      I cannot accept that the passage of time is an argument for not initiating prosecutions for any offence should evidence come to light, or victims now feel able to come forward.

      On the issue of vexatious compensation claims or the embellishment of memoirs, I've not come across the former and the latter must always remain a matter of conscience for the author.

      Thanks again for responding - I appreciate you taking the trouble.



  2. Jim,
    I know childhood sexual abuse affects people; this wasn't childhood, it was adolescent. Still can't say if it was abuse.
    As to the passage of time, it appears that the alleged victim confided the information to a friend, who then broke the confidence and informed the police. The victim herself hadn't intended this as far as I can make out. I have confided in people in the past as part of the story of my life, but been careful to mention no names (both men in my case are now known to be dead).
    It's possible that part of the feeling which led to her suicide may have been that her actions had harmed the alleged perpetrator. After the initial period where the events took place, she voluntarily returned at a later date to stay with the Brewer family when she visited the area.
    Is that common if someone feels they have been abused?
    Your thoughts are welcome.

  3. Alcantara,

    Thanks for responding.

    Clearly there is a spectrum here ranging from illegal sexual behaviour, through unprofessional conduct and on to the inappropriate and unwise. All can be damaging to the recipient and in recognition of this the instigator leaves themselves open to a range of sanctions, all aimed at protecting the welfare of the young or immature.

    As I said, I don't know the details of the allegations against Martin Brewer, but a prosecution is most unlikely to have been instigated on information from a third party - the complainant must have agreed to make a statement and give evidence. Of course it's possible that the complainant felt pressurised in some way and that would be most unfortunate in my view.

    It strikes me as pure speculation that the complainant in this case became upset at the possible consequences for the perpetrator, but of course it is possible. Sadly we may never know.

    It's also speculation as to what the motive might have been in returning to the Brewer family home, if indeed that is correct. It might have been to extract an apology or acknowledgement of inappropriate or illegal sexual behaviour in the past. Again, we may never know.

    I think to sum up, my observations would be that every case is different - only the individuals involved know all the details, all the feelings and nuances. Typically of course versions will differ considerably and will depend upon which role each person played. There are no simple answers I'm afraid in this.

    Hope this helps,