(Article Published in Christian Voice newsletter Summer Recess 2016)
A former fireman convicted of a sex attack and held in jail for four years had his conviction quashed in July 2016 in the Court of Appeal.
David Bryant, now 66, of Grove Road East, Christchurch, Dorset, was accused of committing an offence against a man named in court as Danny Day, who was a 14-year-old boy in the 1970s.
Mr Bryant was found guilty of buggery by a majority verdict of a jury in December 2013. He was jailed for six years in January 2014, but appeal judges later increased the sentence to eight-and-a-half years ruling that the original term imposed at Bournemouth Crown Court was ‘unduly lenient’.
Only a courageous and relentless campaign by his wife, who continued to believe in him, led to the evidence of Mr Day being called into question. The latter’s greed in demanding compensation on false pretences also saw his credibility evaporate.
Mr Bryant’s conviction was overturned as ‘unsafe’ by Sir Brian Leveson, Mr Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate in the light of the new evidence.
Mr Day alleged David Bryant carried out the attack with another man who was working as a fireman in Christchurch after they had invited the schoolboy to their fire station to play darts with them.
At a previous Court of Appeal hearing a judge said the alleged victim did not report the alleged incident until 2012 ‘after being motivated to come forward in the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile affair’.
CORROBORATING EVIDENCE NOT NEEDED
The need for corroborating evidence in sexual cases was abolished by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in order to secure more convictions in rape cases.
Any case of alleged rape or sexual assault may now be determined simply on the word of the accuser against that of the alleged perpetrator. It all comes down to which of the two is more plausible. In some cases, particularly where celebrities are involved, police name the alleged rapist hoping other accusers will come forward to bolster the case.
A senior police source said in connection with the disgraced ‘Operation Midland’: ‘You don’t have forensics, you don’t have cell site evidence in these kinds of inquires. What you are looking for is other witnesses who are giving similar accounts.’
In Operation Midland the police believed a serial liar known as ‘Nick’ and both ex-MP Harvey Proctor and Lord Bramall, former Chief of the General Staff, endured months of suspicion. The singer Sir Cliff Richard also fell foul of supposed ’historic’ accusations with no merit.
But barrister Matthew Scott, writing on the David Bryant case at http://barristerblogger.com, says juries may not reach a proper verdict in a case where no evidence is offered other than the testimony of an accuser.
DAVID BRYANT CASE: ONLY ACCUSER’S WORD
Mr Scott says it is a ‘fallacy … that a jury of ordinary men and women, or for that matter a bench of magistrates or a single professional judge, can be relied upon, without extraneous evidence, to discern beyond reasonable doubt when someone is telling the truth.
‘Unfortunately, as we have learnt time and time again, neither jury nor professional judge can do anything of the sort. Liars sometimes look shifty and nervously play with their hair; but so do people telling the truth, especially when defending themselves in the witness box under extreme pressure. At other times liars are utterly believable.’
In the case of David Bryant, there was no evidence save the word of Mr Day. The jury were unable to ‘spot the liar’, exactly as Mr Scott contends. He was believed. An innocent man spent over two years behind bars.
NOT BOXING CHAMPION
Mr Day waived his right to anonymity in a series of newspaper interviews after the conviction. But he was finally exposed as a liar after detective work by Mrs Bryant and a team of lawyers and private investigators, who worked on the case ‘pro bono’.
After David Bryant’s conviction, Mr Day launched civil proceedings against Mr Bryant and Dorset County Council, which ran the fire service.
In those proceedings he claimed aggravated damages because he said the assault had ruined his chances of appearing at the Olympics in 1984.
Mr Day claimed to be a boxing champion with a record better than Muhammad Ali. He said he had given up his place on the British boxing team at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 because of the trauma of the sexual assault.
Mr Scott says: ‘Mr Day had made a mistake. His insatiable greed led to his downfall. Unlike his allegation of rape, where it was just his word against Mr Bryant’s, his claim of having been an Olympic standard boxer was demonstrably untrue. There was no evidence that he had ever so much as stepped foot in a boxing ring.
‘Then he relied on the report of a psychiatrist to prove the extent of his suffering. But this led to his medical records – inexplicably perhaps overlooked or ignored by the police in the original investigation – being examined. It turned out that, to use the language of Mr Justice Singh: “over a period from 2000 to 2010 the complainant in this case had to seek medical attention from his GP in relation to what can only be described as his being a chronic liar”.
‘When the case eventually made its way back to the Court of Appeal even the Prosecution conceded that the conviction could not possibly stand and Mr Bryant was finally set free.’
BIBLICAL STANDARDS OF EVIDENCE
Under a Godly system, a miscarriage of justice such as has happened to David Bryant could not occur. The scriptures show some basic principles:
Firstly, no-one shall be convicted on the evidence of only one witness. Two or three witnesses are required to establish a conviction. God’s eternal standard is especially important in capital offences, but it applies to all.
READ: Exod 23:7; Numb 35:30; Deut 17:06; Matt 18:16; John 8:17-18; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19; Heb 10:28.
Secondly, perjury is punishable by the same punishment as would have been inflicted upon the innocent man were he to have been found guilty. The witnesses bear the primary responsibility of conviction.
READ: Deut 17:07, 19:15-20, 1Kgs 21:13; Est 7:10.
Corroborating evidence, forensics, CCTV, for example, can plausibly stand as a ‘witness’. But the testimony of a single individual will not meet the standard. It should not even meet the lower standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ adopted by our courts.
INNOCENT SHOULD NEVER BE CONVICTED
It was a solid Rabinnic principle that the innocent should never be convicted even if that meant some of the guilty also went free. The English jurist William Blackstone expressed the ratio like this: ‘All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer’.
Matthew Scott writes: ‘What I cannot accept is that criminal courts should be asked to decide cases from decades ago which depend on the word of one complainant against one defendant.
Distressing though it may be for individuals who were sexually abused when they were children not to be believed, the danger that justice will not be done in such cases is simply too great.
‘In 2003 the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, quashed a conviction largely on the grounds that there was no rational way of deciding who was telling the truth in a case which turned on which of two people was right about an incident that allegedly occurred about 30 years earlier:
‘“At the heart of our criminal justice system is the principle that while it is important that justice is done to the prosecution and justice is done to the victim, in the final analysis the fact remains that it is even more important that an injustice is not done to a defendant. It is central to the way we administer justice in this country that although it may mean that some guilty people go unpunished, it is more important that the innocent are not wrongly convicted.”’
PRINCIPLE ‘IGNORED’ BY THE COURTS
But Mr Scott says even this principle is being ignored by the Courts. The matter is left to juries, and for the court of appeal to put right any wrongs. But juries should not be expected to convict on one party’s word against another, and the court of appeal cannot be relied upon.
READ: Psalm 89:15; Prov 16:12, 25:5, 29:2,14; Isa 16:5.
PRAY: Thank God for the eventual acquittal of David Bryant and praise God for his wife who stood by him. But cry to God in anguish that such injustices are not rare in our land and are not easily put right.