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The problem of false allegations is a systemic one; one can argue that recent changes in law have made these more likely.
False allegations: sexual assault
The case of Mark Pearson, the man accused of a sexual assault on a woman in a crowded train station in London during rush hour marks a troubling new low in cases of this kind.
The assault was alleged to have taken place during the second or so when Pearson and the woman passed each other and video footage exists of the fleeting moment. Yet despite this Pearson was charged with sexual assault. Though acquitted he was deeply shaken by the experience.
The first Pearson heard of the accusations levelled against him was two months after the alleged ‘groping’ took place, when six policemen arrived on his doorstep. He had been traced via CCTV and data from his commuter card. He will never forget the journey to the station for questioning, because he was “shaking so much – wondering what the hell was going on.”
Although he was released that afternoon, four months later – out of the blue – charges were brought. Soon Pearson was waking up at 4am, his whole body “shaking every night.“
The case raises a number of questions regarding the treatment of the accused and the complainant. One is that Pearson was named publicly but the complainant was not. And despite being found innocent Pearson cannot name his accuser or even allude to information to her being identified. Should not the law provide anonymity for the accused also during the trial?
This is surely a case in which legislative change is required. Ireland has pre-conviction anonymity for the accused in cases of rape (but not sexual assault).
False allegations: rape
False rape accusations have occurred in recent times, very few resulting in custodial sentences. In one case, a woman’s false claim of rape led to a needless six-week long pursuit for a rapist around Shannon in County Clare. The investigation, which included gardaí making 30 separate house calls, followed Amanda Hayes falsely reporting to gardaí that she was raped by a man wearing a hoodie in the early hours of St Stephen’s Day in December 2014. In her defence, her solicitor pointed out that his client had not made the false allegation against a named individual. The woman received a three-year sentence in July 2016.
In October 2016, a woman with a personality disorder who made a false rape allegation against a man she was angry with has been given a suspended sentence of three years. At the end of a brief relationship, Sarah Eastwood had told the man: “You messed with the wrong person, I will get you sorted out.”. at Store Street Garda station, she later alleged the man had raped her in a city centre pub toilet.
False allegations: research findings
A 2009 study carried out by Liz Kelly and Jo Lovett from London Metropolitan University looked at how rape was defined across the range of EU countries and attempted to examine the way rape cases were reported, investigated and charges brought in those states.
It also looked at attrition rates: the ways in which cases reported to police failed to result in a conviction and identified 5 such ways. One of these was false allegation. The authors stated that a distinctive part of the study consisted of a quantitative case file analysis of 100 rape cases in 11 participating countries and tracked how these cases proceeded through the legal system.
It found that in Ireland 9 cases out of the 100 were identified as false allegations. This finding is distinct from other possibilities such as failure to proceed because of insufficient evidence or withdrawal of the case by the alleged victim. This was the highest rate found and is the basis for the statement that Ireland has a false allegation rate for rape of 9%. For comparison, in England and Wales there were 8 false allegations. While the determination of a false allegation rate on the basis of 100 cases is open to doubt, we know of no better studies and the authors go to great lengths to cite the difficulties in carrying out such a study.
However, an FBI study found the following: The “unfounded” rate, or percentage of complaints determined through investigation to be false, is higher for forcible rape than for any other Index crime. Eight percent of forcible rape complaints in 1996 were “unfounded”, while the average for all Index crimes was 2 percent.
False allegations: Child abuse
Following the scandal of the false allegation of child sexual abuse brought against Sgt Maurice McCabe and the outrageous manner in which this was handled by Tusla, the public has been alerted to the possibility that many more such allegations may be lying dormant in Tusla files.
A couple of recent articles have drawn attention to the way in which false allegations of child abuse are being made in the context of bitter custody battles when some relationships break down. Invariably the father is the target of such allegations and the aim is to destroy the relationship between father and child. In Sunday Independent Family law solicitor Marion Campbell said false claims were typically made by the mother against the father. She added: “It is with a view to stopping a father having access to his children”.
Matt O’Connor, the London-based founder of the Fathers 4 Justice group, said malicious claims of all forms of abuse were ‘endemic’ in family law battles. “It’s a significant factor in about
30pc of cases we deal with.The allegations can range from general domestic violence to child abuse, and unfortunately in the civil courts there can be a presumption of guilt from the outset.”
Clinically I have experience of those accused taking their lives
Further confirmation comes from the psychiatrist Professor Patricia Casey. In an article in Feb 2017
Healthy Living she said:
“Most of the false allegations of child sexual abuse take place in the context of family disputes. Fathers are overwhelmingly the victims. The motivation is invariable revenge driven by a desire to hurt the father where he will most experience pain and sorrow: the loss of his children and the permanent fracturing of their relationship.”. Speaking from a background of clinical experience she set the terrifying context for such allegations: Trying to comprehend the incomprehensible with control over the outcome is unbearable. The role of faceless people, conducting an investigation involving others who are strangers and often nameless, must be terrifying. It is easy to imagine how a false confession might arise simply to escape the endless questions while held in custody. Clinically I have experience of those accused taking their lives.
There are still other references. In her ground-breaking thesis Judicial Separation and Divorce in the Circuit Court, Dr. Roisin O’Shea quotes one judge as follows: “I am concerned that allegations of sexual abuse are at times being used as a very effective weapon but a court is obliged to ensure that the HSE or the Gardai investigate all such complaints”.
A Newstalk panel discussion from early 2015, Do fathers need a referendum too also discussed this issue of false allegations.
False allegations: domestic violence
The case of Spain since the Gender Violence Law was enacted in 2004 is a salutary reminder of what can happen when ideology rather than sound practice is made the basis of law. The law has led to a whole spate of false allegations against men and to their summary imprisonment for 48 hours before any appearance in court to test the validity of the accusation.
Video: false allegations in Spain
Quotes cited in the above video from three prominent legal figures, two of whom are judges, convey some idea of what is going on. Magistrate Maria Sanahuja: “In case of doubt we have the presumption of guilt and an arrest is made and within a few hours the case is presented in a court… [which] decides what to do and to accuse someone of an offence or crime without a minimum of investigation”
Lawyer Javier Perez-Roldan: “The Gender Violence Law protects only women. It is a law that assumes that any infringement by a man against a woman is a result of male dominance. It is a law of author because if it’s a man it is an aggravated crime which is legally absurd…It is clear that this law may violate the European Convention on Human Rights in several articles: Art. 8, Art. 6, Art.14.“
Judge Francisco Serrano (Seville) Serrano has warned about the unfair aspects of the Gender Violence Law and has compared the situation with the Guantanamo detention centre.