Child abuse conviction quashed over hearsay account of ‘confession’

Ipswich Crown Court Picture: ARCHANT

Ipswich Crown Court Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

A man who protested his ‘100% innocence’ when found guilty of historic child sex abuse has won an appeal to have his conviction quashed.

Alec Smith was found guilty by a jury at Ipswich Crown Court in November 2017 of sexually assaulting a schoolgirl almost 50 years earlier.

Mr Smith, who was 75, of Little Wood, Frinton-on-Sea, at the time of his conviction, had denied indecently assaulting the eight-year-old in the late 1960s and declared from the dock: “I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. I’m 100% innocent”.

A month later, he was given a two-year suspended jail sentence, 180 hours of unpaid work, and ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.

This month, Mr Smith took his case to the Court of Appeal, which ruled the conviction was “unsafe” and based on “highly prejudicial evidence”.

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In 2017, a jury heard about a conversation between the girl’s now deceased mother and Mr Smith’s then wife about the girl’s claims.

The court heard that Mr Smith’s wife, Phyllis, had returned home in tears and refused to tell him why she was upset.

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Giving evidence during the trial, the complainant, who contacted police in 2016, said Mr Smith’s wife “went back to Alec and said he admitted it straight away when challenged” – a claim Mr Smith denied.

Meanwhile, the girl’s mother was said to have also told another daughter about the allegation, but that the incident was “swept under the carpet” to avoid it being dragged through the courts.

Court of Appeal justices found “no proper basis” upon which multiple hearsay evidence of Mr Smith’s alleged admission should have been introduced, and that the jury should have been told the alleged confession was irrelevant and must not be relied upon.

They added: “The important facts were that the complaint was made and that they (the girl’s parents) took no action.

“The prejudicial effect of an alleged confession, if introduced as part of the motive for that inaction, is that it was likely to be taken as confirmation of truth of the confession itself.”

The court ruled it was not in the interests of justice for there to be a retrial after more than 50 years from the alleged offence, where a non-custodial sentence was passed and the relevant unpaid work requirement completed.

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