Police drop last music school rape charges

The Crown Prosecution Service have dropped all charges against the violin teacher Wen Zhou Li after it was found that his accuser had made allegations against another teacher, who was not prosecuted.

Wen Zhou Li, 61, had been charged with rape and indecent assault of a teenage girl at Chetham’s School of Music in the 1990s. He denied the charges and was due to face trial later this year.

The violin teacher, who also taught at the Royal Northern College of Music, was told that he left court without a stain on his character, free to resume his career. He faces heavy legal costs.

BBC report here.

wen zhou li

The dismissal of charges against Wen Zhou Li brings to an end the three-year police investigation of sexual impropriety at Chetham’s and the RNCM in the 1990s. The case brought about the conviction of chorus director Mike Brewer and his ex-wife, Hilary, along with the conducting teacher Nicholas Smith.

The Brewers’ victim Frances Andrade took her own life during the trial. A violin teacher, Chris Ling, shot himself as California police arrived with an extradition warrant. Another violin teacher, Malcolm Layfield, was acquitted of rape.

 

 

 

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  • There are cases in which one suspects that the perpetrator has simply got away with it, and then there are cases in which it seems clear that the alleged perpetrator is in fact a genuinely innocent man who has himself been the victim of an injustice. This seems to fall firmly into the latter category.

    The question which never seems to be adequately addressed is how best to deal with the accuser. Personally, I feel that people who make false allegations about sexual abuse cases ought routinely to be prosecuted for attempting to pervert the course of justice. The reason why I feel so strongly about this is not just because of the impact on the falsely accused, but also because of the impact on genuine victims. The most remarkable recent example has been the gentleman known as Nick, who would seem to have made false allegations about a prime minister, a home secretary, another MP, a chief of MI6, a director-general of MI5, two chiefs of the defence staff, a master general of the ordnance, and Jimmy Savile. This has been awful for those of the accused who are still alive, but it has also been awful for people who are genuine victims. Every false allegation makes it even harder for genuine victims to make themselves believed and for them to have the expectation that they will be believed.

    Of course, we don’t have enough information available to know exactly what was behind this allegation, or why the prosecution chose to offer no evidence, but if it is a straightforward case of a false allegation then there should be consequences for the accuser, both for the sake of the falsely accused and for the sake of genuine victims who will find it even harder to come forward with genuine allegations.

    • There is talk of this Nick person being sued – though I’m not sure why it took the police so long to see through him.

      • I believe this is true, yes. It’s also reported that he may have mental health issues, in which case it seems that he has been exploited by people with an agenda of their own. Certainly somebody ought to be criminally liable, and I have some ideas who that would be, but it may not be Nick himself. On the other hand, he may be of perfectly sound mind, in which case being sued for defamation should be the least of his worries.

  • The unlikelihood of reliably establishing facts to a decades-old allegation is the reason statute of limitation laws used to be in place.

    • Was there ever a limitation period for criminal offences in English law? It is my understanding that the principle “nullum tempus occurrit regi” dates at least to the thirteenth century.

      I am also wondering what experience, if any, you have of trials for so-called “historical” crimes. People often say things like, “How can anyone be expected to defend himself after all these years?” However, the fact is that it is the responsibility of the Crown to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the offence. If it is hard to defend after such a long time has elapsed then it is also hard to prosecute. No allowances are made for the witnesses, whose evidence is tested at the same standard that would apply had the crime been committed more recently. If a witness cannot remember something then he has to say so, and the jury is entitled to consider that grounds for reasonable doubt. There may also be more extant evidence than you expect. For example, the defendant, the complainant, and third parties may have maintained contemporaneous and historical written material which can help to prove guilt or innocence. There may still exist diaries, letters, or materials proving the whereabouts and activities of the various parties at relevant times. There may also be early disclosure evidence, which is where, although the offence happened a long time ago, the victim may have told one person, or often several people, an account of the offence at a time much closer to the date of the commission of the offence. If these accounts have been consistent over a long period of time it does strengthen the case against the defendant, although these accounts can also be cross-examined.

      In conclusion, it is really very hard to prove historical offences, and the system is heavily biased in favour of the defendant. This is, of course, how it should be. We would always prefer that guilty people walk free than that innocent people lose their liberty. But it does mean that the risk of unsafe convictions is low. The matter will have been investigated by the police, often over a period of several years. It will then have been considered by the CPS, which will only prosecute where they believe that it is in the public interest and that there is sufficient evidence to make a conviction likely. The defendant will then typically claim abuse of process, i.e. that he cannot be fairly tried after such a long time, and a judge will consider this claim. Only then are the charges actually tested in court, where large amounts of evidence will be heard and tested. It is then for a jury to determine the verdict, and if there is any doubt about the defendant’s guilt then he must be acquitted. With protections such as these, a statute of limitations is really not necessary, and would be harmful to the cause of justice.

      Sexual offences, especially involving children, are a special case, as they are so often reported only long after the offences were committed. I appreciate that some people find the term “historical” offensive, and say that there is no such thing as a historical murder, but it is a useful and widely understood term. You simply cannot reasonably expect that a child will come forward to make the allegation at the time, or even shortly after the offence. It is a part of how sex offenders typically operate to ensure that the offence is unlikely to come to light at the time, if at all. If there were a statute of limitations sex offenders, especially paedophiles, would be more or less free to offend without fear of justice. The system we have now is a good one, and it works.

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