And so it appears to be with sex trafficking. Despite the hype, a nationwide police investigation last year revealed that not a single person had been found who had forced someone into prostitution through international trafficking. (Guardian 20.10.09 http://bit.ly/gQCH83)
But now the position has been reversed. Rather than 'international', we have 'internal child trafficking' conducted by UK men of Pakistani origin.
A slew of investigations and convictions have highlighted the menace of predominantly white girls, often in care, being lured through ' street grooming' into drink, drugs, rape, child prostitution and torture.
Viewed as ' easy meat' by their predators these victims have finally begun to speak out with the ' tidal wave' of hidden criminal gangs and networks being routed. Make no mistake, there is a widespread problem, particularly in northern towns, of young girls becoming involved with Pakistani men with sex, drink and drugs which may lead on to prostitution.
But far from hidden, this was a highly visible phenomenon. The problem was not merely the absence of police intervention, but the self-assertion of the victims themselves who, under the banner of ' children' s rights' , viewed it as their sovereign right to hang out with whomsoever they pleased, doing whatever they liked.
Not that the rape, torture and trafficking we are now hearing about comes into this category. This is a step up, or rather down, and constitutes the hard core of what is being viewed as systematic networks of abusers.
Now that the era of laissez-faire has been exposed, there is understandable outrage and urgency to crackdown on the offenders, while commentators argue about racial oversight and misplaced sensitivity.
But the issue that has not been raised is the nature of the investigations and the reliability of evidence.
The crucial evidence is that of the victims. They must name and blame the offenders and describe their ordeals, possibly going back many years, for a prosecution to succeed.
Yet the history of largescale investigations into organised abuse in Britain does not counsel well for objectivity. All too often suspicion can harden into a presumption of guilt, with the innocent implicated in hideous crimes that may never have taken place.
Our article alongside 'Ganging up on Asians' was commissioned by Inside Time in January 2011 but subsequently rejected because it was felt it was 'the wrong message at the wrong time', and a replacement article asked for. We value the work that Inside Time do and our unpaid for contributions are generally well- received by the editorial team and more importantly, the many readers in prison and on the website.
When we wrote this - based on case experience of Chris
Saltrese Solicitors, we felt that it was important for a cautionary note
to be introduced into the then mounting hysteria, pointing out pitfalls
that have beleagured past child abuse investigations. It was not and has
not been a feature entertained by the mainstream media, though the
Berlowitz report appears to have attracted some scepticism. We stand by
every word we wrote in January 2011,
The widespread historic investigations into alleged abuse in children' s homes is one such example. While genuine abuse did occur, it was vastly inflated by false allegations and exaggeration generated, unwittingly, by the methods used by the police to investigate. And while this mania has subsided, many innocent lives have been ruined.
More worryingly, the flaws in the investigative methods were never properly acknowledged or addressed by the police and the criminal justice system.
The oft-cited research by the Jill Dando Institute headed 'internal child trafficking' turns out, on inquiry, to be a confidential briefing paper to the police, based on information from the police. The only public airing so far was on a bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentation to a conference.
The researchers have told us that to their knowledge no research has been conducted independently into defendants and those accused but not prosecuted, nor into girls involved with Asian men who do not press charges.
While the trials are underway, there is a media black-out. We do not hear about flaws in evidence or that of defendants, or the cases that collapse or result in acquittals.
For a central problem in these types of investigation is the way in which the evidence is gathered. Girls or women with a troubled background may be encouraged to disclose their experiences both as a therapeutic aid and as criminal evidence.
Typically they will prepare their testimony initially through diary or narrative form. This is then transposed onto a police video interview or interviews. Mobile phone contacts are taken as proof of criminal offending, with ' networks' established on the flimsiest of claims.
In this way the innocuous may all too readily provide a framework for iniquity, while the promptings of social workers, therapists and police officers become a launchpad for an undifferentiated mix of fact, fantasy and fabrication.
When the investigations dig ever deeper into the past, as may happen with the sex gang cases, the risk of wrongful conviction becomes magnified.
That criminals should be prosecuted and victims protected goes without saying. The downside is that recent history in the criminal justice system has allowed for a preponderance of lurid but fragile oral testimony to outweigh rational discourse when dealing with sex offences.
There needs to be an open and transparent debate about the methods of investigation and reliability of the evidence in these cases. The voice of defence needs to be aired and trials should be open to reporting throughout.
For it is not just defendants, but the British criminal justice system itself that will
be on trial, if we are to restore confidence in 'the best justice in the
Margaret Jervis is a legal researcher and consultant and Chris Saltrese a solicitor in Southport specialising in contested sexual abuse allegations. See www.chrissaltrese.co.uk
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