The McCann case continues to attract tabloid and broadsheet interest - the latest story is that the McCann’s are prepared to take a lie detector test. I wrote a few days ago about my preference for the old fashioned idea – the presumption of innocence – and said that I am none to keen on trial by media.
I received this useful note today – which I have permission to post in full:
“The comments by Charon on the McCann case are quite right and that presumption of innocence should be maintained but so should the presumption of common sense.
The Portuguese criminal justice system is suffering from a hangover from the days of the Junta. The investigative process is shrouded in secrecy but remains fair non the less and suspects are still innocent until proved guilty. One thing that people should bear in mind is that here in the UK the parents of Madeline McCann would have been suspects from day one of the investigation and there would have been just as much media frenzy generated.
The CATCHEM database used by police on investigations into child disappearences indicates that 80% of missing children have been killed either by parents or close relatives and that the snatching of children by roving paedophiles is actually quite rare.
The media have been feasting off the idea that naming the parents as ‘arguido’ is something terribly unfair and that the Portuguese police are somehow corrupt or incompetant. This is a formality in the Portuguese criminal justice system and allows for questions to be put that are not allowed before the formal declaration that someone is a suspect. It is no different in principle to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act caution or the Miranda warning. Still why ruin a good story by telling it as it is!
We don’t formally allocate suspect status in our criminal justice systems but we do nevertheless treat all witnesses as in some way ‘suspect’ and the last person to see the victim alive is usually included in the list of suspects.
I teach criminal investigation and am very familar with the evidence gathering process in the UK, US and Europe. They are different in style but it is quite silly to think that the UK is somehow a more sensitive system.
There has clearly been a fiasco in the leaking of alleged DNA evidence detail to the press and this has hurt the family unecessarily. Our media is the culprit however as they have plenty of access to people who could have put them right on the significance (or lack of) of this from the outset.
Trust no one said the lonely cop!
Lecturer in Criminal Investigation
Department of Forensic and Biomedical Sciences
University of Lincoln
Thank you for writing Barry. I am delighted to be able to state the following: Barry Turner has written the comparative forensic criminal evidence sections for the Wiley Encyclopedia covering most of the European jurisdictions