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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church (EBC) Case Study: Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School Investigation Report

F.3: Crown Prosecution Service

14. Part of the function of the Crown Prosecution Service, since 2004, has been to make a decision about charge and whether to prosecute. This involves applying the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The test to be applied is whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and whether it is in the public interest for the case to be brought to court.[1]

David Pearce

15. Pearce was not convicted until 2009, despite allegations being made to the police as early as 1992.

16. In 1992, the Metropolitan Police presented RC-A595’s case file (alleging sexual abuse by Pearce in his office at St Benedict’s) to the Crown Prosecution Service and asked for advice on prosecution. In the note accompanying the file, WPC Carol Moore and DI Carol Bristow of the Child Protection Team wrote:

13. At the time of writing [RC-A595] wants Father David prosecuted and will attend Court to give evidence. He should make an excellent witness and appears thoroughly truthful. His mother and father are most anxious that we prosecute Father David.

14. It is our view that this matter should be brought before a Court.[2]

17. The Crown Prosecution Service lawyer who reviewed the case file, Matthew McCabe, who gave both written and oral advice to the police, concluded that there was no realistic prospect of conviction.

17.1. Mr McCabe approached the case on the basis that there was a need for corroborative evidence.[3] This reflected the law at the time. In 1992, the legal position was that there was still a requirement that the trial judge should provide a ‘corroboration warning’ to the jury, alerting them to the dangers of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of one person where the charge was a sexual offence.[4] This warning was abolished in 1994.[5] The current guidelines on prosecuting child sexual abuse offences are clear that prosecutors should not use a lack of corroboration as a reason not to proceed with a case.[6]

17.2. Mr McCabe’s reasoning as set out in his written advice raises other questions:

  • He concluded that there was no corroborative evidence, whereas Gregor McGill, Director of Legal Services at the Crown Prosecution Service, agreed that there was some evidence that corroborated RC-A595’s account.[7]
  • Mr McCabe noted that there was no medical evidence of a physical injury from the alleged indecent assault. However, it is unlikely that any injury would have resulted from an assault of the nature alleged. As Mr McGill told us:

     

    A prosecutor today would not expect there to be medical evidence arising from an indecent assault of the nature alleged by the complainant and would be aware that the absence of such evidence is not evidence of no assault having occurred.[8]

     

  • Mr McCabe stressed that there had been a delay in RC-A595 telling his sister, and some inconsistencies between the accounts he gave to his sister and mother. As Commander Jerome noted, neither delay nor inconsistency is unexpected in the context of a young boy having gone through a traumatic incident.[9]

Of themselves none of these considerations should have been seen as a bar to prosecution.

18. Mr McGill told us that this would still be a challenging case to prosecute today and that, in his view, the decision made by Mr McCabe was a reasonable one at the time.[10]

19. The reasoning contained in Mr McCabe’s 1992 written advice would be different today. At that time he focused on the perceived weaknesses of the child’s account. He did not look for and identify those factors which provided support to the allegation – for example, RC-A595’s recent complaints to his sister and mother, and the evidence of a change in his behaviour.[11] Likewise, in his written advice Mr McCabe did not suggest further lines of investigation to the police – such as seeking evidence from teachers, pupils or others at the school – which Mr McGill told us he should have.[12] Mr McGill also referred to subsequent changes in approach. For example, a prosecutor today should not be troubled by relatively minor discrepancies in a child complainant’s accounts or by any delay in reporting the offence. The Crown Prosecution Service also now encourages prosecutors to take a proactive approach, with an emphasis on building a case rather than merely spotting evidential failings.[13]

20. In 2004, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute Pearce in respect of the incidents of his sexual abuse of RC-A6, which included touching the child’s genitals after swimming. Azra Khan, the Crown Prosecution Service reviewing lawyer, said RC-A6 “appears to be credible in his account of what happened and I have no doubt what he says is accurate”. Nonetheless she advised that “it is with deep regret that I have to conclude that we would not be able to secure a conviction against Mr Pearce[14] because there was no corroboration of his account. Despite also commenting that “of course corroboration is not required in such offences”, in effect Ms Khan did adopt corroboration as an evidential necessity and a rationale for not proceeding with the case. This was wrong, and Mr McGill agreed that Ms Khan “fell into error there.[15]

21. Moreover, there was other evidence that might have supported (and so corroborated) RC-A6’s allegation, namely an account from a different boy who alleged that Pearce had put his hands down a boy’s swimming trunks. It appears that this was not considered.[16] Further, it is not clear whether the Metropolitan Police provided Ms Khan with other information they held on Pearce, such as the account of RC-A418. Had they done so, her advice might have been different.[17]

Laurence Soper

22. Soper was not convicted until 2017, although in 2004 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute him in respect of the allegations made by RC-A622 of abuse and multiple rapes.

23. Although these were grave allegations, Claudette Phillips, the Crown Prosecution Service reviewing lawyer, having advised orally, in writing justified her decision not to charge only very briefly, expressing the view that the allegation “is essentially the victim’s version of events against the suspects [sic]”.[18] She also failed to consider whether other supporting evidence might be available or could be sought, and did not advise the Metropolitan Police on these points.[19] The decision not to charge and the advice given were inadequate. Mr McGill accepts this, although he told us that “we approach these cases in a completely different way in 2019 than we did in 2004”.[20]

24. RC-A622 has said that the case was reconsidered (at least by the police) in 2007 but again a decision was made not to prosecute.[21] Police told him that this was because “it was one person’s word against another”.[22]

25. Soper was prosecuted and convicted in 2017.

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