A man wrongly accused of rape. Another murdered on suspicion of abusing children. Surely nothing damages the reputation of the police or offends the British sense of fair play more than a miscarriage of justice.
So, could it happen in Gloucestershire?
Taking the second case first, Bijan Ebrahimi was executed by a mob who wrongly believed he had abused children. An inquiry later ruled the failure by the local police and council to intervene was institutionally racist.
My job is to hold the chief constable to account and he reassures me that everything is in place to guard against racism and discrimination within our Constabulary. But we are a diverse county and we can’t afford complacency.
The collapse of the London rape trial of Liam Allan, who was charged with 12 counts of rape and sexual assault, also has important lessons. The hearing was terminated because important digital evidence that supported his ‘not guilty’ plea was not disclosed to the defence. Could that happen here? It’s difficult to say ‘no’ with certainty.
Although the outcome was the right one, factors which could have led to an innocent man going to jail are disconcerting. Any review should at least confirm how the application of justice has failed to keep pace with the digital revolution we have witnessed over the last 20 years.
When the rules around disclosure were drawn-up, all the relevant evidence could have fitted in a suitcase. Now, according to a speaker at a national conference I attended recently, because of the proliferation of digital sources, it would need two and a half shipping containers. Buried in those tens of thousands of online communications could be the one message that proves a person’s guilt or innocence and – I know people are fed-up of hearing it – someone has to find and process it.
When something goes wrong in open court, the police and prosecutors are usually in the firing line. But while the law enforcers should never be absolved of their occasional shortcomings, our sense of justice and fairness demands a solution which goes much deeper than pointing the finger.
It is a truism that in life you get what you pay for. Any review that ignores the wider issue of resourcing should be considered irresponsible