I’ve been scanning the press coverage of the Britain’s Soham murder trial to see whether anyone has asked a very obvious question. So far, commentary seems to be concentrating on the failure—if it was a failure—of the Humberside police to pass on details of the ten allegations of sex crimes that had been made against Ian Huntley. (Anyone who has had experience of Britain’s Data Protection Act will sympathise with the police when they declare themselves confused about which records they were allowed to retain, and how much they were allowed to disclose.) But the dilemma of policy and principle is obvious: on the one hand there was information that could have prevented the murders; on the other hand, it seems wrong to allow mere allegations that have not been tested to be a barrier to someone getting a job. The question nobody seems to be asking, though, is why didn’t the earlier allegations go anywhere?
And there seems a worrying possible answer to that question. In today’s target culture, neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service will proceed with an case unless they think they stand a very good chance of success. To risk failure is to risk bad statistical outcomes. In other words, maybe Huntley was able to continue his career of rape and under-age sex because the threshold at which the authorities will now initiate a prosecution is set too high.