Allegations of Sexual Abuse

False Allegations

Nick Wills

The Daily News
October 18, 1996

Double injustice is something our system can well do without

Human frailties being what they are, any system devised by people whose judgments are called into play inevitably fails occasionally. Perfection, unfortunately, is but an unattainable vision. We strive for it, but despite all the will in the world and the best minds in any situation, some people are wronged along the way.

Our justice system is one example. No one, least of all practitioners within it, would suggest it is perfect. But on the positive side, it is something of which we can all be proud. It works in the vast majority of cases. There are systems around the world that are at the extremities of harshness in that fundamental rights do not form any part of their statutes -- if indeed they have any at all -- through to others that have a pretence of our kind of fairness but which fall short of adequate comparison in several key respects. Perceived injustices in New Zealand often are nothing more than the protestations of those found to have done wrong -- rightly in the minds of everyone but themselves.

Guilty people are sometimes found not to be. That is just the price we pay for the premise by which Crown actions at least are brought. Those facing action are innocent until proven guilty; the onus of proof in these cases rests fairly and squarely on the Crown. In the words of that 18th century British judge, Sir William Blackstone, it is better that 10 guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.

Unfortunately, one man is suffering. Nick Wills, a 22-year-old Waikato University student, is not a rapist. A woman claimed he was in August last year. He was sacked as deputy warden of the university hostel. The woman was subsequently convicted of making a false statement to the police. Mr Wills was cleared of charges of rape and threatening to kill, but his name is in public arena now as it was back then. The woman's name was suppressed.

He has received $30,000 from police and his former employer, the Bryant Hall Trust Board. Just on $27,000 has gone in legal fees. That's $3000 compensation for a gross injustice. Sex cases, rape included, have a stigma associated with them and this will last a long time in Nick Wills' instance. In a double injustice, the same kind odium associated with the woman who made a completely false statement is absent.

Of course there are good reasons why names in all kinds of court cases should be suppressed -- victims in particular but accused too. The reason is obvious for rape victims. But the woman in this case was not the victim; the man falsely accused was. Police tread a tightrope in most sex cases. Usually it revolves around just two people, one word against the other. The police have been made to learn on this occasion. Whether the broader issues of justice versus injustice have been learned too is doubtful.