Roy Harper, British justice and the contrast of Christ

I was saddened to read this story in yesterday’s Guardian. It seems Roy Harper, long time folk music legend, has just cleared his name of any wrongdoing following a three-year historic sex abuse trial. For the record, that is not the bit that saddened me. To have any confidence in our legal system at all, and short of having any evidence apart from that which is reported, Roy Harper can only be pronounced innocent. And it is good news that a man accused of having committed such crimes has, in actual fact, been proven innocent. It is indeed a cause of rejoicing that Roy Harper has not been involved in the lurid activities that have been the downfall of so many in the public eye over recent years.

Having been found not guilty – and thus, to all intents and purposes, he must be considered innocent of these crimes – it does appear Harper has faced a significant financial loss. He stated:

The psychological and personal cost to my wife and myself has been enormous and the financial cost hugely unfair. I lost my livelihood and I spent my savings … and more, on my defence.

I realise these are difficult issues at this time in this society, and I thank my lawyers for standing by me and working so hard to show the truth. Despite coming out of this without a blemish on my name, I cannot recoup my costs and that’s left me incredibly angry.

It is, unfortunately, inevitable that any legal proceedings will take their emotional toll. And it is not unreasonable to presume – in these times of heightened vigilance and public disgust over predatory paedophilia in particular – such accusations come with significant consequences, even for those eventually found innocent. Defending against this sort of allegation carries an especially high psychological cost. It does seem to be an unfortunate, but rather unavoidable, consequence of a legal system such as ours.

What does, however, seem to be both eminently unfair and palpably avoidable is that, having been found innocent of all charges, Harper should face legal costs that have wiped out his savings and forced him back to work from which he retired several years ago. Roy Harper was not only cleared in court on two counts earlier this year but prosecutors decided that, in respect to the remaining charges, “based on the strength of the evidence there is no longer a realistic prospect of a conviction”. Thus the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence at a hearing on Monday and decided, in the end, to drop all allegations. How can it be equitable that a man innocent of the accusations brought against him has been left so badly out of pocket? How is it fair that a man has lost his savings and security for retirement, forcing him to cover legal costs, when he has been found not guilty and the accusations against him false?

It does rather seem that Roy Harper is paying for the consequences of a crime he did not commit. He has found himself psychologically assaulted, emotionally drained and financially bereft. All this for having done no wrong. Of the psychological and emotional price, for justice to really be done, there is a limit to how far such issues can be mitigated. But the financial implications are patently avoidable and clearly unjust.

It is interesting how this whole situation contrasts with the Christian’s legal standing before God. For Roy Harper was innocent of these crimes yet continues to face huge, ongoing consequences despite having no guilt in law. By contrast, the Christian is utterly guilty of their crimes before a holy, almighty God. Not only have we failed to live up to God’s moral requirements, we have failed to even keep our own standards consistently. Yet, in Christ, the just punishment and condemnation our sin deserves has been paid for on the cross. We bear no more consequence in respect to our sin because it has been fully dealt with in Christ.

1Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)

As the apostle Paul says clearly enough: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Would that it were true of the British legal system. Sadly, there is often still much condemnation for those found not guilty in a British court of law, especially for those accused of paedophilia. Yet, in Christ Jesus, there really is no condemnation for those who truly are guilty. I hope Roy Harper does’t face ongoing recriminations following his not guilty verdict; I hope even more that he finds forgiveness in Jesus for the things of which he is guilty.