David Bryant and his wife Lynn have given an interview on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show (about 1.10 in), a few days after David Bryant’s conviction for historical child rape was overturned. As has been widely reported, Bryant had been accused of having violently raped a teenage boy over a pool table at a fire station station where he was working in the 1970s (no specific date for the incident was given – just sometime between 1976 and 1978). Bryant’s accuser, a certain Danny Day, claimed that Bryant and another firefighter (since deceased) “took turns to rape him while also having sex with each other”, and that his screams were ignored. The case and its implications for justice in the UK have been discussed in a rightly celebrated blogpost by Matthew Scott here.
After the conviction, it subsequently emerged that in recent years Day had sought medical treatment for being a “chronic liar”. However, it must be stressed that Day’s claims were debunked on the basis of evidence rather than just doubts about his character. And in the BBC interview, Lynn Bryant makes it clear that this evidence could have been gathered by the police very easily (my transcription):
We said, “well, we can prove it couldn’t have happened on a Tuesday or a Thursday, we can prove, because we’ve got the books to say there were people on the station on that day.” He [Day] said there was a pool table; there was no pool table until 1992. He said he was led out through a fire-exit door; there was no fire-exit door. So we could have proven, if they’d asked David when they questioned him more thoroughly, and just done 20 minutes’ investigation, they could have found out then that this guy was lying.
…we went to the council, within 10 minutes we had a set of the plans that showed the station not being changed until 1991 to how Mr Day had described it. The log books we already had, and we put the whole lot together in 40 minutes.
If the police had spent 40 minutes, just, you know, if we could have had the chance to tell them, they could have most probably have put a stop to the whole thing within half an hour to an hour, because we could prove it.
Lynn Bryant made a complaint to Dorset Police about the police failure to gather this evidence – but given that her husband had at this point been convicted, this went nowhere.
Evidence and testimony
The interview also mentioned the response of the Crown Prosecution Service, which was that at the time there had been “sufficient” evidence to proceed to prosecution. Lynn Bryant’s response:
…when they [the CPS] say they had evidence to prosecute that makes me angry because there was no evidence from Mr Day. He could provide no evidence.
It seems to me that this highlights a particular problem when by “evidence” is meant “complainant testimony”. When we read about a case not going forward due to “insufficient evidence”, this may give the false impression that there is at least some evidence in support of a complaint, when in fact there is no evidence other than the complaint itself. In the case of Cliff Richard, the CPS regrettably spoke of having received a “full file of evidence”, which obviously implied a substantial case to answer – when in fact there was no evidence in support of the claims against him, and good reason to disbelieve them (see below).
The media are sometimes complicit in this misundersanding of “evidence”; in August 2015, the Daily Mail ran an article about the “Westminster VIP” accuser “Nick”, in which a subheading claimed that Nick had “handed over written and video evidence”. Only buried deep in the article is it made clear that this referred to a “written account of his ordeal and three days of videotaped evidence”, rather than to anything corroborative (the paper later took a more critical perspective on Nick).
How the police investigate
Speaking on Loose Women in June, Cliff Richard said (my transcription):
This very first accuser made so many mistakes. And, remember – and this is not good for the South Yorkshire Police – but they didn’t even check until four weeks and two or three days later after they broke into my apartment. He got so much wrong. The room he said it happened in, apparently didn’t exist in 1985. Goalposts were never kept in rooms. And then he got the year wrong. He said it was 1983, and Billy Graham wasn’t there till ’85. So now I’m thinking to myself “well of course they’re going to just throw it out. This is nonsense.” They didn’t throw it out, and because of the raid, and because of the accusation, because of the BBC, I found myself smeared and named.
There are obvious parallels here with how Dorset Police handled the allegation against Bryant.
This police unwillingness to consider evidence of innocence makes more sense in the context of a 2011 academic paper by Dr Michael Naughton of the Innocence Project, titled “How the Presumption of Innocence Renders the Innocent Vulnerable to Wrongful Convictions” (Irish Journal of Legal Studies 2 (1): 40-54):
[A]nalyses of recent successful appeals demonstrate how normal and acceptable methods of police investigations fundamentally undermine the [Presumption of Innocence] at the initial and most crucial stage of the criminal justice process when information is being gathered and cases are being constructed and can lead to wrongful convictions. This is because the role of police investigations in an adversarial system is not to find evidence that suspects of crime are innocent but, rather, to treat situations that they are called to as potential crime scenes and seek evidence that incriminates suspects for alleged criminal offences to pass to the Crown Prosecution Service (C.P.S.) to supply a criminal charge.
Naughton is here highlighting a general systemic problem with the justice system, and on Twitter his view is cynical:
Back in October, Paul Gambaccini, who was investigated as part of Operation Yewtree, reportedly observed in conversation with Chris Jefferies that “younger cops are interested in justice… senior ones interested in results”.
The trend towards believing complainants
Bryant’s accuser stated that he had been inspired to come forward following the publicity around Jimmy Savile. As Dominic Lawson notes in the Daily Mail:
add another one to the thousands — and I mean thousands — of claims encouraged by the police, who declared after the Savile revelations that they would henceforth ‘believe’ anyone who came forward with claims of ‘historic abuse’.
Lawson’s article refers to “the never-ending farce of this sex abuse witch-hunt”.
However, although the police response to Savile is certainly an important factor here, I think the problem goes deeper than just the “Savile factor”. I refer here to Richard Webster’s 2005 opus The Secret of Bryn Estyn (page 311) where he observes that trials may begin with a “recital of repulsive sexual detail”, and that
In view of the manner in which child sexual abuse is now construed not merely as a crime, but as an unspeakable evil, any defendant exposed to such an ordeal is liable to find that by the end of the prosecution opening he or she has been effectively demonised in the minds of the jury. And although a potent mythology maintains that judges themselves are immune to the effects of such prejudice, there is no evidence that this in fact the case. The reality in all too many cases is that, by the time the prosecution opening has been completed, both the jury and judge may have been caught up in a current of prejudice so powerful that they are swept together towards a guilty verdict without being able properly to assess the evidence which is presented to them.
Although I cannot currently locate the reference (it’s a very long book), I recall that Webster also included an anecdote in which a care worker who had been acquitted of physical abuse was afterwards told by a juror that had the allegations been of a sexual nature, the jury would have sent him to prison. This indicates that jurors consider the prospect of mistakenly allowing a child sex abuser to to go free with greater horror than of mistakenly finding an innocent man guilty of sexual abuse, and that this affects their decision-making.
The character of the accuser
Why did Danny Day make his false accusation? One reason he was eventually caught out was because he went on to tell a lie about nearly having been part of the 1984 Olympic boxing team. He made this claim as part of a bid to gain further compensation, and this suggests a financial motive. However, perhaps he was simply an attention seeker; it is also possible that he is deluded, perhaps following some sort of “recovered memory” therapy. We can, though, draw inferences from a couple of elements of the story.
First, Day originally put a letter through the Bryants’ letterbox, in which he said that he intended to go to the police and to the media, but that it would be in David Bryant’s interests to have “a chat” with him. He included a mobile number for this purpose. We must regard with scepticism a supposed victim holding the threat of a police complaint over someone unless they comply with instructions, and the police ought to have treated the letter as suggestive that Day’s subsequent complaint had been made in bad faith.
Second, following Bryant’s first appeal, which was refused, Day made a statement:
“He’s in the place he should be in. He keeps on trying but he’s been in court with me three times, and three times he’s lost.”
Matthew Scott correctly characterises this comment as being of a “gloating” nature, and it suggests to me an attitude inconsistent with being a genuine victim.