Innocent until proven guilty? The Jimmy Savile effect

Opinion Writer Ellie Woodruff examines how the public create criminals before a verdict is passed, and  the effect that the Jimmy Savile case has had upon this

Lostprophets fans everywhere were left stunned in December as it came to light that the band’s lead singer, Ian Watkins, 35, had been arrested on suspicion of six child sex offences. The crimes brought against Pontypridd-born Watkins, who was raised just 12miles north of Cardiff, include possession, making and distributing indecent images of children, and most disturbingly, conspiring with a female fan to rape a one-year-old girl. Watkins is a former ex-boyfriend of TV presenter Fearne Cotton and is currently being remanded in custody in Park Prison in Bridgend after being refused bail on two occasions.

Although the Welsh rocker has not admitted to any of the accusations and is still awaiting trial, he has been predictably slandered in the media. Funeral For A Friend singer Matt Davies,  friend of Watkins, commented “It goes to show that you can never tell…You spend that kind of time together, but you never really know anybody.” He admitted that although he wished to believe in Watkins’ innocence, “there are so many things that have come out that it is hard to ignore.”

The case has also sparked a frenzy of comments on social networking sites, with Ian Watkins trending fourth worldwide on Twitter at its’ most talked about.  The singer’s Facebook page has been victim to a string of hate messages ; one user commenting “Even if this terrible musician does get represented by an expensive lawyer that manipulates the truth to grant his innocence, who is gunna listen to his voice knowing he was arrested for distributing animal and child porn?…sicko.” So many Facebook and Twitter users appear certain of Watkins’ guilt, but in a legal system which views defendants as “innocent until proven guilty”, why is this so?

Two words: Jimmy Savile. The late Top of the Pops presenter was able to abuse more than 450 people over a 54 year period, but avoided any charges in his lifetime despite being investigated by police on five separate occasions. The enormity of scale and atrocity of Savile’s crimes beggars belief and has naturally caused the public to question their trust in the police. It is believed that the BBC star’s celebrity status was a contributing factor in the failure to prosecute him, and the public can’t be blamed for not wanting to make the same mistake in dealing with the case of Ian Watkins.

However, for every Jimmy Savile there is an example of a wrongly-accused who turns out to be completely innocent, but whose name has been tarnished forever by ignorant people who cannot see past the idea of “no smoke without fire.” Sports fans will remember the case of ex-Cardiff City manager Dave Jones who was falsely accused of paedophilia, and lost his job and a year of his life before he was cleared of all charges. More recently, Christopher Jefferies, the landlord of Joanna Yates, was deemed guilty of her murder by the media as soon as he was arrested. His only crime? Living in the same building as her and “looking creepy.” He has since received apologies and damages from eight different newspapers who published inaccuracies about him and attacked his character following his wrongful arrest.

Everyone has the right to a fair trial, and until Ian Watkins has his, we cannot be sure of his guilt or innocence. Assuming he is guilty before his conviction is dangerous, as fuelling a hateful media frenzy against an innocent man makes us the criminals. Until the jury reaches a verdict on Watkins, we must sit tight and wait; lips sealed and keyboards to ourselves.