The western world has long turned a historical blind eye towards sexual abuse, and as we now know, predators have got away with lifetimes of depravity. Quite rightly, this needed to be halted, but unbeknownst to most, some innocent people have been swept up in this effort to right wrongs. Recently a number of sexual abuse cases have collapsed due to non-disclosure of evidence, but before these collapsing cases, there have been convictions and imprisonments of people who maintain innocence. The culture around sexual abuse court cases has changed: the complainant is known as ‘the victim’; the accused is seen as guilty unless proven innocent; there is the spectre of Jimmy Savile; there is the ‘wisdom’ that people very very rarely accuse someone of rape unless it is true. People adhere to the idea of ‘no smoke without fire’.
Even those who are falsely accused of sexual abuse but who are found innocent find it hard to shake off that taint.
Stephen Hamilton, was found guilty of sexual abuse, 5 years ago.
He was a GP in Bolton, had started and built up a practice he loved, gained a teaching qualification to train others, and treated and advised countless patients over many years. A clever, humourous and sensitive man who never stagnated, and was respected and appreciated by his colleagues and patients.
He is now in prison. Sentenced for 18 years, labelled a paedophile, forever on the sex offenders list, and has lost everything he held dear.
Unfortunately at the end of 2011, a young woman under his care accused him of abuse, both sexual and otherwise on a number of occasions. He was accused of drugging her as well. As you can imagine the tabloid press went wild with blood thirsty excitement over this, and if you google his case you are made to envisage a repulsive Dr. Shipman or Jimmy Savile figure, so depraved that he deserves to be flung in a dungeon and left to rot.
A partner in his practice noticed the prescription for his patient, correctly reported it to the British Medical Association and after investigation he was subsequently exonerated. The truth is the drug he gave the young woman (or adolescent as she was when this begun) was an antidepressant that is not illegal at all, just not advised for children, but must have been deemed the correct drug, as her prescription for it continued long after the trial and his imprisonment. The truth is that the unhappy young woman was not just depressed, but had been developing psychosis and schizophrenia, and had prior to her accusing Stephen, suggested both that the Swedish Police were electronically stalking her and that her doctors were in cahoots with the government and planning to poison her. It was following the suggestions of a similarly ill young woman she met in hospital that the idea that she might have been sexually abused came to light. (Her fulsome diaries that covered the times the abuse was supposed to have happened, were full of tales of an innocent and normal childhood. These diaries were ‘lost’ in police care).
The judge in Stephen’s case was careful about which evidence the jurors were allowed to hear. They did not learn that the complainant (or victim as she was referred to throughout) was mentally unwell. They did not learn that she had previously blamed the Swedish Police and The British Government for her illness. They did not hear tell of her happy childhood diaries. They were not allowed to hear from Janet Boakes, a specialist in False Memory Syndrome, who would have explained to them that terrible memories are not blanked out and stored by the body and then recovered when triggered some time later in the way that we the general public believe and that the syndrome is not recognised as a psychiatric illness.. The judge even mentioned the hateful but plausible nature of Jimmy Savile, with his years of abusing, in his summing up of the case.
The jurors believed that a mistake on their part was not the end of the world: there is the appeal system to safeguard them against possible wrongful imprisonment, and that, in the light of the Jimmy Savile reminder from the judge, ‘better safe than sorry’.
Stephen, although it was only the word of one person against another (during the whole of his pre-trial period, no former patient or member of the public came forward with anything other than messages of trust and support for him, despite tabloid requests for further condemnation) was presumed guilty until proven innocent. A ghastly timing, a ghastly skewing by the judge, and the result? A ghastly wrecking of a good man. An appeal was mounted, but was not heard due to there being no new evidence to present. In spite of eighteen points of mismanaged law, including the non-disclosure of the diary, the case was deemed ‘not in the public interest’.
The complainant in his case remains ill, has made two other accusations of a similar nature: one of which was overturned in the courts after a two year battle, the other of which not even reaching court because the nature of her illness was taken into account. Sadly for the complainant, she is being treated as having PTSD following sexual abuse, and so even she is a loser here as the true reason for her mental ill health is not being tackled.
We in this country are led to believe that our judicial system is the fairest in the world. We believe that if we are accused but innocent we will be believed and remain free. But this is patently not the case with sexual abuse cases: mistakes have been made in the past and people have been allowed to continue their depravity. But, as you will know, imprisoning innocent people is not the way to redress this balance.
Stephen steadfastly maintains his innocence with its concomitant loss of privileges and serious risk of dangerous attention from prison inmates and staff. His legal team believe so strongly in his innocence they continue to work for him pro bono and are preparing his case for the Criminal Cases Review Commission.