I am a retired Anglican priest. In 2014 I was arrested at my home and taken to the custody suite in Dorchester. I was placed in a cell. During the next two years I was taken through the Crown Court system on an allegation of sexual assault. After appearing behind bullet-proof glass at the Magistrates’ court in Weymouth, I appeared at Dorchester, Weymouth, and Bournemouth Crown Courts. My accuser was a female member of the congregation. The first jury failed to reach an agreed verdict. A new date was set for a second trial. I was sent home. This intrusion into our quiet and law abiding existence threatened to devastate our family. Had it not been for the support of a few Christian friends, and their prayers, we would have gone under,
I was bailed and prohibited from attending my church. This was heartbreaking. I was banned from practicing as a priest by the bishops of two dioceses, and by the Methodist Church. If I wished to worship elsewhere I had to agree to a humiliating monitoring procedure by a group of church people and the vicar of the parish. Any close proximity to a female in church had to be reported. I had to arrive at the church not earlier than ten minutes before the service, and not remain more than ten minutes after the end. Everybody knew. Our regular attendance at Sherborne Abbey, where I had been a member of the College of Clergy, and had preached, had become a weekly torture. As a drummer, I was no longer allowed that role in church. I am not alone as an alienated priest. Reverend Graham Sawyer says that the church vilified and alienated him when he reported sexual abuse by a member of the clergy. We experienced a similar abandonment by clergy colleagues.
The difference between reverend Sawyer and me is, he had been abused. I had been falsely accused of abuse. Yes. I was innocent of the charges. In the end, after two trials and numerous hearings, many miles of travelling and anxious sleepless nights, the judge dismissed the jury and set me free as an innocent, falsely accused person. After a more thorough investigation by the police, there was no evidence to bring against me. I was offered an apology and awarded costs.
Now, at age 71, I no longer wish to represent the established church, the Anglican establishment, or the Methodists, for whom I had been an Associate Minister.
George Cary, former archbishop of Canterbury spoke in the Lords in June last year. He highlighted the suffering involved in the false allegations against Cliff Richard, Lord Bramall, Bishop George Bell (deceased) and Paul Gambuccini. Famous people. In the news. Newsworthy. Although George Carey taught me Church History and knows me well – we were friends at college – he failed to mention my case. Why? I believe this was because my case was not high profile news. In a sense, like the anonymous folk at Grenfell Tower, I did not count.
But there are many of us in this position, whose lives are being ruined and who will never recover. I am old and diagnosed with terminal cancer, so in a way it doesn’t matter. But there are others. Young people whose relationships and lives are being torn apart, who will spend the rest of their lives in limbo. I am in touch with many of these people and their families. I have become a friend and counsellor to them online. Every day brings a new example of false allegation. Compensation, revenge, mental illness, malice of all kinds. These are the motives for lying. And the police have to take these allegations seriously. They cannot afford to ignore them. So a false allegation becomes a powerful weapon in the hands of anyone who wishes you harm. Even though innocent, it will wreck your life, separate your family, make you unemployed and unemployable. Tarnish you on the internet and in the local and national press. It may even result in your murder. It has happened before. The lying tongue is a powerful weapon.
I have enormous respect and empathy for those who are sexually abused. I believe that their hands should be strengthened by the law so that their abusers can come to judgement and be punished. But I want to speak also for those who are innocent. I want to speak for those who have been falsely accused out of revenge, malice, for financial compensation, or because of mental illness fantasies.
Did you know that in legal proceedings all accusers are called ‘victims’ and all accused are called ‘perpetrators’? In other words, accused people are defined before trial as guilty perpetrators. All accusers are presumed to be truth-tellers. I want someone to do something to change the popular culture of moral panic and precautionary logic which assumes that all accusers are victims and truth-tellers and all accused are liars and perpetrators. How many more quiet, law abiding families, doing their little bit of good in the community, have to have their lives devastated by liars with the full backing of the law?
Rev. Dr. Roy Catchpole.