Two, Three, Four Persons' Words
In this case, there will have been other factors that brought the robber to court, for example how did he come to be arrested in the first place? He was near the scene, matched the description, had stolen property on him? Was he named by an anonymous caller, was there CCTV, did his mother bring him in, did it just match his modus operandi? The victim had a broken nose, and her car will have been smashed - these things are both independently verifiable pieces of evidence. Somebody robbed her, and she has picked out this offender, out of a video ID parade. Just to clarify, we don't do video ID parades unless the person has been arrested for some other reason first, and the suspect is then one of twelve similar-looking faces shown to the victim some days or weeks later. The chances of a false-positive identification are minimal under this system.
It concerns me greatly if we can't take cases to court under circumstances like these. If the jury cannot be allowed to hear the victim's testimony and make a decision, we may as well say goodbye to an adversarial court system and try things based on whether or not there was CCTV. If a victim has no reason to lie, on the face of everything seems credible and honest, those are all things that the jury can legitimately use to find the defendant guilty.
How should police officers respond to this kind of decision? Most of my job consists of assessing one person's word against the other. We go to a domestic: "He hit me", "I was defending myself", we have to make a decision who to arrest: both, neither, either? To some extent every crime is the same, and the point is to weigh up one side against the other and come to a conclusion. But there are now half a dozen people to convince of the suspect's guilt between 999 call and court. It is no longer a case of: we think he's done it, let's see what a jury of his peers thinks. Each crime now has to pass through the threshold of the attending officer's view, the custody sergeant's opinion, a Gateway officer's assessment, CPS's scrutiny and a judge's decision. If there is a scrap of evidence missing, a minutiae that doesn't add up, a speck of doubt in one witness's statement, someone along the way will spot it and put a stop to things before it has a chance. This kind of rigour is nonsensical in real life. Crime isn't cut and dried, it's fast, furious and confusing, and if on the face of it the case seems deserving, it should have its day in court.
The Daily Mail is up in arms about the above robbery case, but the fact is that it merely represents the state of the Criminal Justice System now. Crime and Punishment no longer reflect the values and beliefs of the British public. Mrs Dawson should console herself that even if the youth had been found guilty, he would have been back out in a few weeks none the worse for his ordeal.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.