LONDON Feb 20 The director of Britain's
prosecution service has defended the decision to bring sexual
assault cases against ageing celebrities, despite two
high-profile acquittals that have led to accusations that the
investigation is a "witch-hunt".
A string of celebrities have been accused of rape and sexual
assualt as part of an investigation launched in the wake of the
2011 death of Jimmy Savile, one of Britain's biggest TV stars in
the 1970s and 1980s, after revelations that he sexually
assualted some 300 victims, mainly children, over six decades of
The BBC and the police were widely criticised for failing to
act earlier, prompting commentators to say that the police were
trying to atone for past mistakes.
Writing in the The Times on Thursday, Alison Saunders,
Director of Public Prosecutions, vowed to keep bringing cases of
historic sexual assault to court wherever possible.
"The public would be horrified if we did not prosecute
because a complaint came many years after the event," she said.
When Operation Yewtree was launched by London police after
Savile's death, hundreds of people came forward with allegations
of sexual abuse by a number of British celebrities.
Now that two of them, radio DJ Dave Lee Travis and soap star
William Roache, have been cleared of the charges against them,
the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is eager to show that does
not mean the cases should never have reached court.
"So long as our criminal justice system is working
effectively, we will continue to see acquittals in these types
of cases. But we are also seeing convictions," Saunders said.
Some celebrities have voiced concern the investigation has
become a witch-hunt with innocent people linked to paedophile
Savile but never charged.
Travis, 68, was cleared of a string of sexual offences
against women over three decades on Feb. 13, while Coronation
Street star Roache, 81 was cleared of historic rape and indecent
assualt charges a week earlier, although his arrest was not
directly linked to the Savile investigation.
A lawyer for Travis declined to comment on the subject.
Saunders dismissed claims that the police and prosecutors
were attempting to rectify past mistakes, saying they had only
brought cases to court where there was sufficient evidence for a
She added: "To those who say recent high-profile acquittals
show that police and prosecutors are overcompensating for past
failings, I say quite simply that we are not."
A UK charity for rape victims, Rape Crisis, described claims
that Operation Yewtree had become a witch-hunt as "baseless" and
"I wonder whether we're now experiencing a bit of a
backlash, in terms of empathy or sympathy fatigue," said Katie
Russell, a spokeswoman for Rape Crisis.
More celebrities are due to go on trial for sexual offences
in connection with Operation Yewtree later this year, including
celebrity publicist Max Clifford and British-based Australian
entertainer Rolf Harris, 83.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by Stephen Addison)