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What happened to innocence?

It’s a tough time to be a man.

Fewer than one in 60 rape cases in England lead to a charge. In 57% of cases that is because the complainant withdrew her support for the case. And yes, it’s complainant, not victim: for the simple reason that the accused has not yet been judged to be guilty.

There are many reasons why so many accusations of rape cannot be made to ‘stick’, ranging from the inefficiency of the Crown Prosecution Service, to failures in police investigative techniques, to the inherent difficulty of proving an accusation where – self-evidently – there may only be one witness to what happened.

Perhaps it is understandable, therefore, that in a drive to increase the number of successful prosecutions, the language and methodology have changed. But what they have changed to represents a far more severe threat to justice than the possibility of real rapists escaping conviction.

Take the many senior police officers who now tell women “you will be believed”. Really? The job of the police is not to believe or disbelieve any complainant. Their job is to carry out a fair, impartial, and thorough investigation. The evidence gathered is then presented to the CPS for a charging decision. And the defendant is not guilty until a court says he is.

The hysteria surrounding the rights of women has now gone so far that it poses a real threat to the – equal and equivalent – rights of men. There have been many miscarriages of justice. Just look at the case of Liam Allen, cleared of rape after two years on bail, where the police cherry-picked evidence they felt helped them make a case, whilst suppressing key evidence which proved Mr Allen’s innocence beyond doubt.

And fast forward to today, when Scottish footballer David Goodwillie had his contract terminated with Clyde FC following a determined and concerted campaign to ensure he never works again.

In 2017, Goodwillie was ordered to pay £100,000 in damages to a woman who had accused him of raping her six years earlier. That was a civil case and, crucially, he was never charged with, tried, or convicted of any criminal offence. Even if convicted, eleven years later Goodwillie would now have ‘served his time’ and been released from prison – and thus fully entitled to live his life having been appropriately punished. But this is not what happened. In the eyes of the law, Goodwillie is an innocent man who has spent the past several weeks being persecuted by hyper-feminists and the media.

First, Raith Rovers women’s team – aided and abetted by wealthy celebrity donor Val McDermid – declared that they would not play if Mr Goodwillie was allowed anywhere near the club. Ms McDermid withdrew her sponsorship. The hare was set running.

Now, Clyde FC have terminated Goodwillie’s loan period after a flagrant abuse of power by North Lanarkshire Council. The council has misapplied a clause in their lease of the stadium to Clyde FC, and has over-reached considerably with the statement: “Should Mr Goodwillie enter the stadium, we will consider the contract to have been breached and we will take immediate steps to terminate it.”

It is unclear what Mr Goodwillie’s original transgressions were – but it is crystal clear that he is most definitely not a convicted rapist. The hounding of a footballer who just wants to play football is symptomatic of a society that now eschews justice in favour of trial by media. And we are all the poorer for that.

The UK’s record on rape convictions is a travesty. Much more must be done to ensure that those who do rape women are punished to the full extent of the law. But that will be achieved by improving the performance of the police and CPS. It will not be achieved by persecuting the innocent and making a cause célèbre out of innocent men.

Whether it’s supermarkets promoting veganism, insurance companies flying LGBTQIA+ flags, or football clubs persecuting men in the name of women’s rights, we can only hope that the phrase “go woke, go broke” comes true in this case.

The presumption of innocence has been a cornerstone of justice systems since the second century (“Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” – “proof lies on him who asserts, not he who denies”) Why are we so quick to make a wholesale change to the presumption of guilt?

I’m with William Blackstone – it’s from his Commentaries on the Laws of England published in the 1760s that we derive that well-known saying: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

The real victim here is David Goodwillie, not his accusers.

Felacia Nelson

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