A senior prosecutor who was over-ruled after deciding not to charge Coronation Street’s Michael Le Vell with child sex crimes today rejected claims of a celebrity witch-hunt following the actor’s acquittal.
Nazir Afzal, the senior Crown Prosecution Service lawyer on child sexual exploitation, said that policies to pursue alleged offenders would continue unchanged despite criticisms by the actor’s family and supporters that he was targeted because of his public profile.
The prosecutor said that abusers could not be allowed to get away with their crimes and contested critics’ claims that there was a desire for prominent scalps. It followed years of failings by the criminal justice system in the case of Jimmy Savile.
Mr Afzal made the initial decision not to charge Mr Le Vell, 48, after he was arrested in 2011, but the decision was later reversed by a senior colleague in 2013 after the victim made further allegations and her mother contested the decision.
The actor was cleared by a jury on Monday of 12 child sex offences after a trial when his accuser’s credibility became the pivotal issue for the jury to decide. She had claimed that she had been raped and abused while a young girl.
Speaking at an event organised by Lancashire police, Mr Afzal said: “I absolutely detest this word ‘witch-hunt’. It is not a witch-hunt. We look at the evidence, we follow the evidence, we present the evidence.
“I am not shy about pursuing these type of cases and will continue to do so,” he said. “The vast majority of child sex abusers are not your public figures... and they cannot be allowed to get away with it because of some discourse about ‘This is some kind of campaign’ that is following what happened with Savile or Cyril Smith or whoever it may be. Invariably if it is child sexual abuse it will be in the public interest to prosecute it.”
The CPS said it had concluded there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest to put the case before a jury.
Mr Le Vell’s aunt, Pat Gallier, told the Daily Mail: “The police seem to be arresting celebrities and accusing them of child sex offences without seeming to check if there’s enough evidence. Michael’s been caught up in this witch-hunt.”
The comedian Jim Davidson had used the phrase “witch-hunt” of Scotland Yard’s Operation Yewtree inquiry before he was arrested on sex abuse allegations. Mr Davidson learned last month that he will not be charged with any offence following complaints by ten women.
Max Clifford, the prominent PR man, had also warned that the Yard’s inquiry could turn into a witch-hunt after being contacted by prominent celebrities from the 1960s and 70s who were worried about potential prosecution. Mr Clifford was later arrested and charged with 11 counts of indecent assault, and will stand trial next year.
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