Lord Janner: Former Director of Public Prosecutions 'not told' of child sex abuse allegations against peer

Lord Macdonald said he would have given them ‘close attention’ if they had been referred to him

Samuel Osborne,David Connett
Sunday 19 April 2015 10:07
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Alison Saunders decided not to charge Lord Janner over child abuse allegations
Alison Saunders decided not to charge Lord Janner over child abuse allegations

Pressure was mounting last night on Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to better explain her decision not to test in court allegations that the ex-Labour MP Lord Janner had sexually abused children.

Lord Macdonald, her predecessor as DPP, described it as a “serious failing” by prosecutors that he was not informed of an investigation into the claims when the Crown Prosecution Service previously considered them in 2007. Lord Macdonald said that he would have given the historic allegations his “close attention” had CPS lawyers chosen to refer the case to him.

Last week, Ms Saunders said she had decided not to prosecute Lord Janner because he has Alzheimer’s disease and was unfit to plead. She also decided not to go ahead with a “trial of the facts”, which can take place in such circumstances.

Pressure is growing on current Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders

It has since emerged the CPS has taken sex-offence charges involving defendants deemed unfit for trial to court. In 2010, businessman Michael Collingwood, 68, was accused of abusing six underage girls in the 1980s and 1990s. Exeter trial judge Paul Darlow told the jury two independent psychiatrists assessed Collingwood as unfit to stand. “He has dementia and couldn’t sufficiently understand proceedings or make any proper defence or communicate with his legal advisers,” the judge said. Despite Collingwood’s absence, the jury heard his defence counsel test the evidence and cross-examine witnesses. The jury finally found Collingwood “did the act charged” rather than “guilty”, due to his not standing trial. The court heard Collingwood was in hospital under a Mental Health Act order. He died shortly after.

Former Leicester West MP Lord Janner, now 86, was investigated by three police inquiries between 1991 and 2007. He is accused of abusing young boys at a children’s home in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He has always denied the accusations and his family insist he is “entirely innocent”.

Ms Saunders said last week there was enough evidence to bring charges against him. Legal experts last night said without knowing the full details of Lord Janner’s condition that it was impossible to tell if he was unfit to stand trial or unfit to plead. “The nature of his condition is key. Some degenerative diseases mean sufferers’ lucidity and comprehension comes and goes. Unfit to stand trial is not the same as unfit to plead. The Collingwood case may or may not be a precedent.”

Lord Macdonald, DPP from 2003-2008, said on BBC Radio 4 the case involved a “prominent person” and should have been handled in London, not locally. “It was apparently a serious police investigation, and should have been absolutely clear to the lawyers in Leicestershire that this case should have been sent to London.” Had it been sent, he would have personally considered whether Lord Janner should be charged.

“The greater regret... is that this matter was not dealt with before when Lord Janner was fit to stand trial. Not just for the sake of the alleged victims, but also for his sake so he could have the opportunity to clear his name. Now we’re stuck in a limbo with the allegations having been made and no prospect of them ever being resolved.... In light of the fact... there were so many opportunities in the past to resolve this... it might have been wiser for the CPS now to say we’re going to have this matter resolved in the full public glare of a courtroom rather than simply by the DPP.”

The Law Commission is looking at updating the test for fitness. “The reforms aim to ensure the few defendants who are not fit for trial are identified accurately, and all others are tried in the usual way but with help where necessary,” it said.

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