One of Britain’s most senior police officers has accused defence lawyers of “exploiting” the weakness of sex abuse victims making prosecutors reluctant to bring cases to court.
Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said many victims were unwilling to come forward because of fears at the prospect of undergoing cross examination and the facts being reported in the media.
Citing the case of Frances Andrade, a professional violinist who killed herself after being accused of lying in court during the sexual assault trial of a former choirmaster at a leading music school, Sir Peter said the defence too often relied on trying to blame the victim whose testimony was central to the case.
“In a case of burglary the victim will not be blamed for leaving the front door unlocked. In sexual offences the behaviour of the victim, whether they had been drinking, any weaknesses of character how they were dressed may well be picked over at great length in the court room,” he said
“Where the details are particularly salacious or the case involves a celebrity then these very intimate details will receive full publicity in the media but the main impact is the trauma the victim will go through in the court room. This was sadly highlighted by the recent case involving Frances Andrade and the Chetham’s School of Music,” he added
“This pressure on the victim and the way any weakness will be exploited means that prosecutors and police officers are cautious in taking cases to court,” Sir Peter said.
Mrs Andrade, 48, a mother of four, committed suicide after giving evidence in the trial of Michael Brewer, former director of music at Chetham’s in Manchester.
He was eventually found guilty last month of five charges of indecently assaulting Mrs Andrade when she was a teenage pupil at the school. Her family later said she felt like she had been on trial and had been devastated by claims she was a “liar” and a “fantasist”.
Her husband Levine Andrade, also a leading musician, said she had been unable to cope with the questioning by defence counsel Kate Blackwell QC. Charities and former Solicitor General Vera Baird, now police and crime commissioner for Northumberland, also raised concerns over the aggressive questioning of victims following the tragedy.
Surrey Police was also criticised for failing to offer Mrs Andrade counselling before the case was over.
Sir Peter added: “Sexual predators will inevitably pick on vulnerable victims who often have other problems in their lives and suffer from low self-esteem. The nature of the abuse will further damage them and it is not surprising therefore that they are reluctant to come forward and that those concerned with their welfare worry about the additional significant trauma if a not guilty verdict results and the abuser is seen to win.”