Of all the complex factors behind Caroline Flack’s death, one over-riding fact is clear. Her death must not be blamed on intransigent police and prosecutors who should, her fans claim, have dropped the case out of consideration for her vulnerable mental state.
Miss Flack, who took her own life while awaiting prosecution for an assault on her boyfriend, was clearly in urgent need of psychiatric help, and her death is an unmitigated tragedy for her family and friends. But, cold-hearted as it may sound, this does not disqualify her from being subjected to judicial process.
That hasn’t stopped some trying to point the finger of blame at the Crown Prosecution Service. Miss Flack’s management company has suggested that her ongoing case should be blamed for her untimely death. They reference the fact that Lewis Burton, the alleged victim of the assault, ‘did not support the prosecution and had disputed the CPS version of events’.
That may be true. But it is still no excuse for allowing a celebrity a higher threshold for evidence before any prosecution – a notion that in the past has enabled high-profile figures to commit serious crimes without challenge. We have to have one law for everybody or there’s no law at all.
Caroline Flack is pictured above leaving a court in London in December last year
Nazir Afzal is a former chief prosecutor who has today said there is no better way to clear one’s name than in a court of law
The guilty must be held to account. And for the innocent, there is no better way to clear one’s name than in a court of law.
Furthermore, while it may seem sensitive to take a victim’s reasons for withdrawing support for a prosecution at face value, history shows that often the causes are more complicated than meets the eye.
A victim may have been coerced by the defendant or their family not to kick up a fuss. Financial motives may also come in to play; if the accused is responsible for paying a mortgage, the pressure on a victim to withdraw can be overwhelming.
An undated photo shows Caroline Flack, who was found dead today at her home in East London, aged 40
There were 750,000 reports of domestic violence to police in the year ending March 2019. That in itself is the tip of the iceberg; the British Crime Survey indicates that there were more than two million victims. To say it is the epidemic of our times is an understatement.
Indeed, following Miss Flack’s tragic death, it seems that many have forgotten that roughly 90 per cent of domestic assault victims are women. Imagine if, instead of a much-loved female celebrity being accused of domestic violence, her male partner was accused of beating her. If that were the case, I highly doubt that anyone would be campaigning for the CPS to restrict its investigations.
Men who withdraw their allegations will generally have different reasons from women. A victim who has been assaulted by a woman more than a foot shorter than him, for example, might subconsciously feel that he could have prevented the attack.
This is why the CPS must be blind to gender, as it is to all similar considerations. The evidence is all that matters. Yet the majority of commentators on social media display very little understanding of this.
That isn’t to say that the CPS couldn’t have treated Miss Flack’s case with more sensitivity. It ought to have been handled much faster, to spare her months of mental trauma. That’s partly due to massive cuts to both the police and CPS in recent years. Boris Johnson has pledged to reverse these, and I hope he does.
I also find it deeply troubling that Miss Flack was informed of her forthcoming trial on Valentine’s Day. This was clumsy.
The mental health of a suspect has to be a consideration in prosecution. New guidelines emphasise that CPS lawyers must have regard for the vulnerability of the defendant. This, however, must not be driven by social media outrage, but on medical and psychiatric evidence supplied by defence lawyers.
Whether the case then proceeds depends on the ‘public interest test’: does the risk to the defendant outweigh the possible harm to the public at large? It is a fine balancing act – and the more serious the allegation, the less likely that the vulnerability of the accused will halt the prosecution.
Prosecutors are fully aware that Parliament and society rightly take a very dim view of domestic violence, and want to deter it by prosecuting robustly.
They will also know that after every domestic killing last year (and there were more than 120), the question was asked: ‘Could it have been prevented by earlier action by police and prosecutors?’
It’s not a scientific exercise, but one based on judgment. After all, that’s why we have a blindfolded figure with a set of scales above the Old Bailey.
CPS ‘is under pressure to prosecute MORE domestic violence cases after two watchdogs said there was “room for improvement” in the way they are handled’
ByDavid Barrett Home Affairs Correspondent For The Daily Mail
Prosecutors were placed under renewed pressure to bring more domestic violence cases to court just weeks before Caroline Flack’s death.
Two official watchdogs told prosecutors and police there was ‘room for improvement’ in the handling of cases where the victim stops co-operating with the investigation.
The criticism takes on a new dimension after the TV star’s apparent suicide just hours after she learned prosecutors had decided to press ahead with a court case.
CPS lawyers decided to prosecute Miss Flack even after her boyfriend Lewis Burton asked police not to proceed. A court was told she hit him over the head with a lamp.
A court previously heard that Caroline Flack had hit her boyfriend Lewis Burton with a lamp (pictured together above)
Flack is pictured above leaving Highbury Magistrates’ Court in December last year
Known as an ‘evidence-led prosecution’, it would have relied not on his testimony but on material gathered by police such as bodycam footage taken at the presenter’s north London home in the early hours of December 12.
A former director of public prosecutions said the CPS was ‘under a lot of pressure’ to bring cases against a victim’s wishes.
In a report published just three weeks ago, police and prosecutors were told to be ‘pro-active’ in instances like Miss Flack’s, and were criticised for allowing too many domestic abuse cases to slip through the net.
The report by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services found a fifth of domestic abuse cases where the victim had stopped co-operating with the police were incorrectly dropped.
The TV presenter, aged 40, took her own life after a worried friend who was staying with her went to the shops, leaving her alone at her London home (pictured)
It has now been suggested that Flack’s trial had been a ‘show trial’ by the CPS (Flack is pictured above in a promotional shot for Love Island in 2019)
Inspectors examined a sample of 78 cases marked ‘no further action’ by police in England and Wales. They concluded that in 15 cases, or 19 per cent of the total, ‘reasonable lines of enquiry had been missed’.
In a joint statement, inspectors Wendy Williams and Kevin McGinty said: ‘Domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on victims’ lives and it is important that the police and CPS are proactive in their approach to dealing with this type of offending.’
The law allows police and prosecutors to carry on building a case against the alleged perpetrator without the victim’s help, using evidence such as statements from other witnesses, CCTV evidence and 999 recordings.
Prosecutors can even force victims to give evidence against their alleged abusers. Former director of public prosecutions Lord Ken Macdonald said there would be a ‘strong presumption’ that bringing domestic violence charges would be in the public interest.
‘The CPS is under a lot of pressure these days to bring cases where victims withdraw their co-operation,’ he told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme. ‘Indeed there’s a recent report by the CPS inspectorate that called on prosecutors specifically to do this.
‘Prosecutors can often be damned if they do and damned if they don’t,’ he said.
As 170 to 180 people a year, mainly women, are killed in domestic violence incidents there is a ‘huge amount of public concern’ about such offences, Lord Macdonald added.
And it would be ‘quite rare’ to drop a prosecution because a defendant was in a vulnerable mental state.
Human rights barrister Charlotte Proudman, of Goldsmith Chambers, suggested the prosecution of Miss Flack was a ‘show trial’.
Dr Proudman told Today: ‘Looking at the circumstances of the case, I’m struggling to see why it was in the public interest to prosecute when it’s very clear that Caroline Flack, at the time, was struggling with her mental health.’