Rape suspects deserve a fairer deal, says peer.

It is better for society that a few guilty men walk free than innocent men are imprisoned for rapes or sexual assaults they have not committed, says Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, an economist, author and university professor.

Public pressure to punish every sexual predator would risk more miscarriages of justice, she said. “I do feel strongly that it’s better that people who are guilty walk free than innocent people are imprisoned and have their whole lives ruined,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t put a huge amount of effort into trying to find out what happened. It certainly doesn’t mean you go back to a world where you don’t take allegations seriously. But there is a huge world of difference between taking allegations seriously and taking the position that any allegation is true till proven otherwise, and that distinction seems so fundamental.”

Every rape and serious sexual assault case is being reviewed by the Crown Prosecution Service after four trials collapsed over failures to disclose evidence. Police and prosecutors are trying to avoid cases such as that of Liam Allan, 22, who spent almost two years on bail and was on trial for rape before police handed over text messages that exonerated him.

Lady Wolf, a professor of public sector management at King’s College London and an expert in women’s roles in the labour market, said that suffragettes would have been “horrified” to see the identities of men, who were later cleared, revealed in court, adding that it was not unsisterly to accept that some women lied. “One of the things that seems to me very strange is the belief that women never lie,” she said. “I find it really hard to understand how people can believe that. If you read about the terrible history of pre-civil rights in America, they are full of instances in which young black men were lynched on the testimony of white women, which, looking back, we can see was very clearly malicious.

“If we accept, as almost everybody would, that women can lie in those circumstances, why in the year 2018, when we know far more about false memory, emotions and the way people operate when they’re under stress, would some vocal feminists suddenly convince themselves that women don’t lie or at the very least, give a partial picture? I think most of the suffragettes would be horrified by this. What’s interesting about them is how very constitutionally minded many of them were.”

Research shows that false allegations of rape are rare and conviction rates for lying are low. That did not mean, she said, that anonymous “victims” who falsely accused men of rape should not feel the full force of the law if there was evidence they were acting maliciously. “It’s no different from accusing your female next-door neighbour of setting fire to your fence when you did it yourself to steal the insurance.”

Campaigners say that publicising the name of a suspect is crucial to encourage victims of a serial offender to come forward, but Lady Wolf called for the anonymity of alleged rapists to be protected until conviction.

“People are innocent until they are proven guilty,” she said. “They are being accused of a particular crime and if you don’t have evidence for that particular crime . . . you can’t say, ‘Oh well, they’re guilty, because someone else thinks they might be guilty of something else’.”

She cautioned against trial by social media in the age of the #MeToo movement, and compared public shaming — no matter how noble the cause — to Stalinist denunciations and the Spanish Inquisition. “I do feel incredibly strongly is that if you don’t have the rule of law, you have nothing,” she said.


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