‘I would do the school run, come home and get the paperwork out,’ recalls Louise Long. ‘For weeks on end the kids weren’t allowed to open the windows in our lounge because the papers were all over the carpet. The kids weren’t allowed to touch anything.’
For months, days after day, Louise would sift through the mountain of documents in an attempt to clear her husband’s name in relation to allegations of sexual assaults made by his daughter which, she claimed, took place almost four decades ago.
Geoffrey Long, a 67 year old building and decorating contractor living on the south coast, was convicted of five sexual assaults in October 2010. He spent 20 months in prison as a result of those allegations. He walked out of the Court of Appeal three years ago a free man in June 2012, his conviction quashed and a fresh trial ordered.
Earlier this year that second trial at Lewes Crown Court collapsed after the daughter admitted she had been lying almost immediately under cross-examination. This was the second attempt at a retrial – the first collapsed in February 2014, after it was revealed that the main prosecution witnesses had been recording the trial in a failed attempt to improve their own evidence.
- You can read Olga Craig and Jon Robins in the Mail on Sunday here
- You can read Matthew Scott, who writes at www.barristerblogger.com, writing about the case: Should we always prosecute people who make false allegations?
The case should never have got this far. That it did raises serious questions about the justice system.
In January, the CPS dropped charges against Geoffrey Long’s eldest son – he had gone to the police in 2012 to say that his sister had admitted lying to him. The police not only refused to believe the son, but prosecuted him for attempting to pervert the course of justice. The day after the Crown dropped the charges against the son, they dropped the case against the father.
That should have marked the end of a six-year nightmare for the couple except, of course, it never ends. Earlier this month, Geoff Long was called a paedophile and asked to leave the house of a prospective new client in Brighton. He knew Long from a golfing tournament that they had played in years ago. ‘I’ll never be totally free of it. The stigma follows you,’ Geoff tells me. ‘When you get to the age of 67 you haven’t enough years ahead of you to feel normal again.’
This disturbing case raises serious questions about our criminal justice system. ‘Frankly, it was blindingly obvious that the allegations made against him were false back in 2012,’ comments solicitor Mark Newby. ‘That the Crown stuck doggedly to a case – there was not one but two attempts at a retrial – is not only a scandalous waste of money but, even more alarming, reveals a credulous approach to self-evidently flawed evidence. It always was a nothing case. What was the prosecution thinking?’
A CPS spokesperson points out that the 2010 convictions were ‘successfully appealed due to a misdirection by the judge in the original case’. ‘This finding did not affect the prosecution evidence and so it was proper to apply for a retrial – which was granted by the Court of Appeal.’
‘Live evidence in the retrial was, however, inconsistent with that in the original trial, and the prosecution case was therefore fatally undermined. This could not have been foreseen and as soon as this became apparent, the CPS offered no evidence.’
Crown Prosecution Service
Geoff and Louise don’t see eye to eye about going public. ‘As a society we accept that there are miscarriages of justice and that there has to be collateral damage,’ Geoff says as soon as we sit down. ‘For every eight people who get sent to prison in relation to these types of allegations, two are innocent. They’re the collateral damage.’
Louise is not prepared for them to be written off as ‘collateral damage’. ‘There are people out there who are in the same boat as us. It’s important that they know that they can fight back – and win.’ Geoff cuts in: ‘Look, what you did was fantastic and resulted in me being a free man,’ he says. But he takes the view that ‘in 90% of cases’ the partner disowns the other on conviction. ‘So what’s the point?’ he says. ‘If everyone thought the way you did,’ chides Louise.
The allegations against Geoff Long were made many years after his 20-year marriage to his first wife – and with whom he had three children – came to an acrimonious end. ‘I’m the first to admit it, I was no angel,’ he says. ‘I married young. We had kids quickly and there were affairs. I didn’t behave as well as I should.’
In October 2010, Geoff Long was sentenced to five years. He was convicted of five charges of sexual assault but acquitted of the main charge of rape.
‘I was numb,’ recalls Geoff. ‘In the lead up to the trial, the barristers told me the case was a total farce and would immediately be seen as such by the jury. When I left my son in the morning, I told him I would see him later.’ As it was, he wasn’t to see his then four-year old son James for a year.
‘All I could hear was his family behind me cheering,’ his wife recalls. ‘I just sat there staring at where he was standing. It was horrible. I waited for everyone to leave the courtroom and then went home.’
Geoff remembers being taken from the dock to the cell underneath. ‘My barrister came down and said: “Sorry, but you should bear in mind that there is no chance of an appeal. If you’re found guilty by a jury, that’s it.”’
Geoff recalls his first night behind bars at HMP Lewes. As a result of a recent heart attack, he had had a stent fitted in his upper thigh to maintain the flow of blood to his heart. ‘I thought about taking the plug out – lying there, quietly bleeding to death,’ he recalls. ‘If I could have ended it, I would have. I did try, but obviously not hard enough.’
The following day he was visited in his cell by a prison listener, a fellow inmate assigned to help vulnerable prisoners. Geoff burst into floods of tears (‘just unstoppable’) and told the prisoner that he had been convicted for abusing his own daughter. ‘Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone what you’re in for – or you’re dead,’ he was told.
A better deal
Geoff was brought up on the Moulsecombe housing estate in Brighton. ‘I would describe myself as streetwise. I was the eldest of 10 children brought up on a very tough estate. But it was a strict upbringing and there was discipline. I was brought up to respect the police.’ He describes his time in prison – after two months in Lewes, he was moved to HMP Maidstone for the remainder of his sentence – as ‘horrendous’.
‘But I got the better deal. Louise was out there in the world taking all the flak because of me. When she came for her first prison visit I told her there was not way out for me and the best thing she could do was sell the house, downsize and apply for divorce.’
As her husband struggled to cope with prison life, Louise Long began her fight to clear his name. The couple would write letters to each other every day. But it wasn’t easy. The year after Geoff was sent to prison, his daughter sold her story to Chat! Magazine. ‘PAEDO Dad crept into my bed’ was the headline on the magazine’s cover.
Louise recalls being spat on by parents as she dropped James off at school and, on one occasion, being physically attacked. She was sitting in her car with her seat belt on when another mother came over, punched her in the face and keyed her car. James, then seven years old, was sitting behind her with his seat belt on. Apparently the mother had flown into a rage when her daughter told her that James had asked her: ‘Do you want to play with me’. ‘To be honest, I understand her response but I had to press charges,’ Louise says. The woman received a two-year suspended sentence.
Back in 2009, the couple had been about to set up a children’s nursery which, they believe, is why the allegations of abuse first surfaced, as a vindictive attempt to close down the business. There had been a major family rift between Long and his first wife and children. The allegations began when the couple refused to take the child of Geoff’s eldest into the nursery.
His daughter went to Brighton police’s historic sexual abuse inquiry team to say that 30 years earlier, when she was just eight, she had been abused by her father.
The impact was immediate. ‘I had to sell the nursery,’ Louise says. ‘The child-minding business which I had run for six years closed the day after the police came to arrest Geoff in 2009.’
Geoffrey Long went to the police station with a local solicitor who specialized in conveyancing and had no experience of police stations. ‘He just let me go on and on,’ Geoff Long recalls.
It so happened that Long, a keen football fan, had a very good memory of his weekend activities in 1979 (when it was claimed he was abusing his daughter). ‘That was the year that Brighton got promoted to the old first division for the first time in their history,’ he says; adding that he would tour the country together with his girlfriend watching his favorite team.
‘I literally poured my life out, including my affairs to the two interviewing police officers,’ he says. ‘If you are an innocent person, you think that you have nothing to be scared of.’ As it was the prosecution reenacted that interview at his subsequent trial. ‘One played my part, the other played the police officer and they went through the statement in front of the jury in which I said I had two affairs, one resulted in me being divorced and having a child outside my marriage. It made me look like a devious person. The prosecution turned to the jury and said: “How can you believe this man who is an obvious liar?”. The jury found me not guilty on the most serious charge – rape – but because of my history found me guilty on the indecent assault charges.’
The fight back
Despite having no income and a husband in prison, the couple was deemed not eligible for legal aid because of the equity in their property. Louise Long approached the solicitor and www.thejusticegap.com contributor Mark Newby. He sent over a pamphlet explaining how to research your own appeal. Newby and the barrister Mark Barlow, from Garden Court North chambers, went on to represent Long at the Court of Appeal on a pro bono basis.
Louise Long, one of life’s fighters, did the digging herself. Under a Freedom of Information Act request – and at a cost of £800 – Louise got hold of 3,600 pages of undisclosed evidence, including copies of the investigating officer’s notebooks. She also spent £3,000 on court transcript of the original trial.
The undisclosed material from the police revealed critical evidence that undermined the prosecution case. For example, it was proved that there was no sink in the room where the attacks were claimed to have been made. It was always alleged by the daughter that the father had washed himself and his daughter in a sink in the bedroom after the attacks.
The bingo hall where Long’s first wife claimed that she was at when he was supposedly abusing their daughter had closed decades before the alleged assaults. Louise found her husband’s ex-girlfriend of the time who confirmed she was with him every Saturday night.
It seemed like a shocking miscarriage of justice was revealed when in October 2012 Long’s son went to the police to say that his sister had drunkenly confided in him that she made all the allegations up. But the nightmare continued. Instead of dropping the case, the police prosecuted the son for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
It was not until January this year when the trial finally collapsed after the daughter admitted lying under cross-examination. The CPS decided not to offer any further evidence and the trial was abandoned. The Crown dropped charges against both father and son.
A spokesman for Sussex Police said that ‘a not guilty verdict does not automatically mean that witnesses must have committed offences’. ‘The case was fully discussed with senior CPS management after the retrial was discontinued,’ he said. ‘No request or suggestion was received from them that there should be any re-investigation, and there are no grounds for carrying one out.’
How do the Longs feel about their six years of hell? ‘I do not want to see anyone else going to prison now,’ Geoff tells me. ‘I worked my feelings of revenge out when I was in prison. Obviously I felt very angry then. You have to work through the anger. It happened, you cannot change it. We aren’t over this by any means. But we are still together and getting on with our lives.’
‘I am just glad I found the strength to carry on and find the evidence to prove Geoff’s innocence,’ says Louise. ‘Life really can get better – no matter how bad it seems at the time or what people throw at you.’
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award