Michael Turner, otherwise known as Michael Le Vell and famous for having played Kevin Webster in Coronation Street for decades, was acquitted this week of a series of sexual offences against a child, including rape.
In the current climate the case against Le Vell could not be categorised as ‘historical’, as the complainant is only 17 now and her allegations covered the period when she was aged 6 to 14. This is in contrast to the plethora of enquiries, charges and prosecutions variously relating to such celebrities as Stuart Hall, Dave Lee Travis, Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, to name but four (not all of which have children as the complainants, of course, although all have a sexual element). Hall’s offences for example, which he eventually admitted, took place between 1967 and 1985. As such, there isn’t the issue, commonly argued in relation to the ‘historical’ cases, of the lapse of time leading to blurred or otherwise faulty recollections. (In saying this, of course, I start from the premise that the memory of abuse, sexual or otherwise, is often both painful and very clear to the victims.)
This raises a number of crucial points, not least of which is the competence or otherwise of the original decision to prosecute by the Crown Prosecution Service. The defence barrister is reported as claiming that the victim’s allegations against Le Vell were “inconsistent”, “unbelievable” and had an “agonising lack of detail”. Of course, it is the barrister’s job to defend such allegations vigorously, but if those descriptions are even close to being accurate, several concerns arise.
I keep an open mind as to the decision-making within the CPS, which carries an enormous responsibility, but it is in no one’s interests for the CPS to bring weak prosecutions, if that is what has happened here, in cases of the alleged sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
Child sexual abuse has long been something the majority of the public would prefer to ignore. It is known to go on in households up and down the country and in all classes, income brackets or whichever other way of classifying families one cares to utilise, but it is such an unthinkable crime to many that it often produces a ‘bury the head in the sand’ response, in the hope that it might just go away.
Now, it may be that the alleged victim in Le Vell’s case just wasn’t a good witness, or she was lying, or she had other difficulties; I wasn’t there so I cannot pass an opinion on any of the evidence. However, an acquittal on such serious charges means that the complainant was not believed to the required level – the case could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. For all relevant legal purposes Le Vell did not commit any of the alleged crimes.
Failed prosecutions can have two principle concerning consequences. They discourage other victims from coming forward and they reinforce the idea that children lie about such allegations. As a society we have to be satisfied that the CPS makes appropriate and accurate prosecution decisions in such cases. The public is unlikely to discover the specific details of the decision-making in this or, indeed, any other specific case, but it is crucial that there is a full and effective mechanism for these decisions to be reviewed independently if possible.