The other big news story last week was the conviction and imprisonment of Carl Beech. The BBC described him as ‘the fantasist’ who told lies about the abuse he claimed to have suffered at the hands of a group of prominent figures. Extensive press coverage described the way in which his own story unravelled, the fact of his being an already convicted paedophile and the impact his testimony had on those whom he had accused. For Beech, 18 years for perverting the course of justice, was a significant sentence, the judge indicating the seriousness of making unfounded allegations.
Following sentencing there was an understandable media response from organisations who support survivors of abuse, concerned about the potential impact Beech’s experience may have on other people coming forward to tell their stories. In 2014, when some of the allegations surfaced there was some presumption of belief on the part of investigating agencies , but this now seems to have been set aside. Replacing this with something similar to ‘respectful uncertainty’ is potentially concerning for those who have suffered abuse and who may now feel a greater degree of reluctance to report.
Published in the Guardian newspaper yesterday was a letter from a group of therapists and counsellors that made a plea to provide justice for all in situations like this, recognising that ‘trauma and abuse evoke powerful feelings.’ Understanding ‘fantasists and liars’ is equally as important as listening with care to what children are telling us. Appreciating that trauma can cause a dissociative disorder, it’s possible to recognise that different states of mind can hold different perspectives on the same life event at the same time.
Beech’s case was very complex, with questions now being asked today about the legality of police methods of collecting evidence. The issues identified in the letter quoted above are equally complex and possibly beyond some aspects of lay understanding. However going forward the Church will be endeavouring, through working in partnership with the Survivors’ Advisory Group, to make sure that safe spaces are widely available in which the voices of survivors are clearly heard. The most important thing we need to do now is actively to support people who have been abused to tell their story and continue to report concerns to investigating agencies. If we don’t continue to provide that absolute commitment and reassurance our recent progress will be halted.