The presumption of innocence…

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!

Regards

Barry Turner
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

7 thoughts on “The presumption of innocence…

  1. I suspect that the McCann Camp reads my blog because I suggested “Should the McCanns take a lie detector test?” here. As you are probably aware, I have taken an interest in this case from the start. Therefore, I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting this post in full, on my blog, and provided the necessary link to the original. Furthermore, I have highlighted both in bold and red type particular sections which I believe are relevant.

    “This case has facts, beliefs, lies and speculations. It is a fact that Madeleine is missing”. Quoted from my blog. According to Gerry McCann “The police have said time and time again we are not suspects”. The McCanns may like to believe that, at least until they were made formal suspects, however, as your post points out “in the UK the parents of Madeline McCann would have been suspects from day one of the investigation” and “The CATCHEM database used by police on investigations into child dissapearences 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.” and “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.” and “Trust no one said the lonely cop!”, shows that the McCann belief is naive to say the least.

    The MSM is guilty of publishing statements made by the McCanns as facts. At best such statements were hearsay, at worst outright lies. Then the MSM rounded on the public and said they were guilty of speculation. The McCann version of events did not hold up to public scrutiny. Personally, I cut through all the emotional crap which the Daily Mail churns out, and bring it back to basics. It is either an inside job or an outside job. The McCanns stated it was an outside job. However, there is a reason why we have the rule against bias, nobody should be a judge in his own cause. If they are guilty, they would say that. Common sense and legal reason both state the McCanns should be deemed as suspects. I don’t have a problem with this.

    I do have a problem with how this whole case has been handled by the McCanns, the police, the media, and the McCanns PR team. I suspect that the next casualty will be Clarence Mitchell. Certainly, I have got him in my sights and I am gunning for him. My charges against him relate to perverting the course of justice and breaching The Official Secrets Act. I believe it was wrong for him to have tipped off the McCanns to the electronic surveillance by the Portuguese police. Then to blame the British police for tipping off the McCanns is unforgivable.

    It may turn out that we never get to find out what happened to Madeleine. But, I like to think that there is no such thing as the perfect crime. And, hope that this one can be laid to rest. As a blogger, the case has done wonders for my stats. But, another story will come along which fires people’s imaginations…

  2. I found Barry Turner’s piece to be carefully written and interesting. It is important that UK audiences gain insights and some understanding into how different countries’ law enforcement agencies work, that because things are done differently, this does not mean they are done any less effectively.

    The McCanns have grabbed the media spotlight and some of that light shines back onto each of us, in that almost everyone has an opinion or point of view they wish to express about what may have happened on the night of May 3rd. For once, opinion is not defined only by the “hoi polloi” but by everyone including the highest echelons of government. There may be many reasons for this but one could be that the McCanns represent an embodiment of Modern Britain as the bi-product or legacy of New Labour. More worryingly is that they also challenge our belief systems: “doctors wouldn’t do such a thing…” and this questioning of our values is what fuels much public indignation and protestations of their innocence. Because doctors “can’t” behave in a certain way “proves” that they cannot because if they did, we would feel let down, betrayed, unable to trust someone who plays such an important role in our daily lives.

    Yet human nature supports the polar opposite view, that we are all capable of the unthinkable.

    —–

    There is much that does not add up with this case, not least the fact that Kate McCann telephoned Sky News prior to contacting the police. In itself, this is odd behaviour, although if there was an opportunity to gain instant publicity for a terrible crime which had been committed, perhaps many of us would have reacted in the same way. But not before calling the police, perhaps. More important is what Kate is reported to have said to Sky News: that her daughter had been abducted. After which the story was wired around the world as being an abduction and therefore was deemed to be factual. But no-one knew at that point in time what had happened to Madeleine other than those who were the last to see her, whoever it was.

    The reaction of any parent who finds a child missing is not to declare they have been abducted but to say that they are missing. In a situation of great peril, a person might say “she’s dead” or “she’s gone”. To say that she has been abducted (to Sky News) and (if true) “they’ve taken her” to the rest of the group at the Tapas bar sounds orchestrated. It is not possible to react in a controlled manner when a life-changing emotional trauma is happening in front of you unless it is a deliberate or planned attempt to mislead. Once the police were called only then could theories emerge as to what the reasons for any disappearance might be. But the Portuguese police were never given any opportunity to investigate or to arrive at any conclusions as Kate McCann had already undermined their efforts by providing one to the world via Sky News, one that sounded plausible – that Madeleine had been abducted.

  3. ‘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.’

    You need to consider the children who go missing while on holiday abroad.

  4. Pingback: McCanns: Reasonable suspicion? « Justice For Madeleine

  5. put it this way if madeline would have gone missing in this country,The mccann’s would have been suspect’s from the start. And why haven’t they been charged with neglect, I guarantee that if a young mother nipped to the corner shop for a loaf of bread and left her children she would have had her children removed from her care and prosecuted, Why haven.t the mccann’s. Also watching them walk along the beach while kate mccann holds cuddlecat is hypocritical, she didn.t care when she was enjoying a meal and downing booze while her 3 children all under the age of 4 were left on their own while the parents enjoyed themselves”Shame on you kate and gerry mccann” i hope the truth one day will come out and you get your just deserts.

  6. Pingback: Madeleine McCann - Page 131

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