I was astonished to read yesterday that the DPP has felt it necessary to ‘issue a reminder’ to chief constables of police that dead people cannot be prosecuted.
Seriously, it's true. See, for example, Saturday’s report in The Guardian.
Apparently, Inspector Hugh Tree and Chief Superintendent Dawn Raid have lost perspective in the wake of the Savile enquiry and similar investigations – many, I hasten to add, leading to entirely justified and necessary prosecutions.
For one thing it is right that the grotesque conduct of people like Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter and others should be directly punished, even after the passage of time. Better late than never, one might say.
Also vitally important is the deterrent effect. It would be quite wrong to send out the message to the perverts that if they run long enough, the law will give up and they will get away scot-free. That mustn’t happen.
But dead perps are a different kettle of fish. Any fool can see that. Whilst there might still be some benefit in terms of the deterrent effect, I doubt it will add much and there certainly won’t be any direct penal consequences. The faint hope that there might have been some accomplices who are still alive and can be caught is pushing it.
Reportedly this intervention by the DPP was prompted by the news that Wiltshire Police are continuing enquiries into the activities of the late former Prime Minister, Edward Heath. Already some £370,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent on this investigation.
So why is the DPP a lone voice here? Where is Mr Gove, the Prime Minister or even that nemesis of wasteful causes, Lord Faulks?
If litigation is an “optional activity”, if claims for minor injury (genuine ones by innocent, living people) are “unnecessary”, then why not arrest the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money building a case to prosecute a corpse?
We could use the money and police time saved to catch some live villains who are otherwise much more likely to commit further crimes.