Christa Ackroyd: Why social media still found me guilty after I had been vindicated over BBC tax case

If there is one well worn phrase which I detest it is the old adage ‘there’s no smoke without fire’. Because there is. Some people are entirely innocent but that doesn’t stop people declaring themselves judge and jury especially in the court of social media. And that I detest. It is why I am always so careful what I write in this column. Because every word written has the potential to wound .

Three men have walked free this week and now face the world as innocent men. But as I know only too well that will not stop the keyboard warriors wading in with their unwanted comments as they always do.

A couple of weeks ago I was alerted to a comment on social media which floored me. I thought I had made it perfectly clear that my well reported tax case had been resolved after a decade of rumours and whispers. That the BBC had, after apologising in the House of Commons, paid me and around a hundred others compensation in light of their flawed contracts which led to the Inland Revenue declaring they were more akin to contracts of employment, even though they were drawn up by the BBC and the only method of engagement on offer. That a judge called me honest, that a judge found me blameless didn’t seem to matter. According to this keyboard warrior I had fled to Australia because the police (who were never involved) were after me.

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So should I laugh it off? Should I respond? Should I threaten legal action? No because in the end it is just not worth it. There is too much life to live and yes I can say without conceit, too many other outlets for my talents and my passions. But boy did it hurt. And boy has it costs me dearly. I lost a job which I loved (I was the only one of the hundred to lose mine being the first case), I lost my house and at times my sanity. Were it not for friends and yes members of the public who believed in me I could have drowned in a sea of despair. But I didn’t. I came out fighting. And have found both resolution and peace, though it has taken me years to be able to say that and mean it.

Christa AckroydChrista Ackroyd
Christa Ackroyd

Acceptance is a long time coming. This week three men walked free from court after cases that will change their lives forever. One was found not guilty, another was declared not guilty after serving 17 years in prison and one was found guilty of killing his wife but was not jailed. And my heart goes out to each of them as they try and rebuild their lives. Because it won’t be easy, no matter the verdicts.

First came the case of Kevin Spacey, a brilliant actor, a gay man, a talented man accused of sexually assaulting four men. He was found not guilty on all nine counts, echoing the verdict in a similar case in America. And yet, the Hollywood experts say any sort of a comeback in Hollywood is unlikely. And I want to know why. In a court of law after a long and detailed trial a jury who had nothing to do with Hollywood found him innocent. And that should be the end of it. The court cases have already cost Spacey millions. He still has a $31m bill from Netflix to settle for alleged breach of contract when they axed him from House of Cards. And I don’t understand. He walked free from court an innocent man. And that is how he must be treated. This is not about box office receipts or television series this is about a man’s life and livelihood. Mel Gibson came back after his anti semitic rant. Robert Downey Jr served eight months in jail when he failed repeated drugs tests. And as far as I know John Depp is still considered to have box office potential after his claim and counter claim with his ex wife. So why not Spacey? And who are Hollywood to sit in judgement when eleven good men and true have made theirs? I want him back on my screen sooner rather than later.

Now let us turn to the case of Andrew Malkinson. Andrew was a man who served 17 years for a rape he didn’t commit. There was no DNA evidence against him. He was wrongly convicted on identification. His original sentence of seven years was extended by a further ten because he maintained he was innocent. Because he was. So why should he have to admit to a crime he didn’t commit to gain his freedom? And yet we have heard that reasoning before. It happened in the case of Stefan Kiszko who was eventually freed having been found innocent of the murder of Lesley Molseed in West Yorkshire. His health in prison deteriorated so much he died twenty two months later before receiving the compensation he was entitled to. Which brings me to the other horrific element in the case of Andrew Malkinson. Andrew is now living on the dole as he faces trying to rebuild his life. And when he finally does receive compensation the system states he will have to pay the prison service for ‘board and lodgings’ while he was wrongfully incarcerated. In other cases this has amounted to upwards of a quarter of his payout. And that dear readers proves once again that justice isn’t really justice when it gets things wrong.

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Only sometimes it gets things right. The third and final court case this week has me conflicted. And got me thinking. David Hunter suffocated his wife of 52 years as she ‘cried and begged’ for him to end her life because of the pain she was suffering from blood cancer. Delivering sentence in a Cypriot court the judge said his case of taking human life was on the basis of the feelings of love. And I cannot possibly comment because I haven’t been in his shoes. Instinctively I feel I couldn’t do it…. not because of any religious or even moral arguments … but because I couldn’t cope with the consequences. And because I have never been in that position. But then I spent many hours with the Bradford warrior campaigner Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who fought to clarify the law which meant even if she were to travel abroad to have an assisted death her husband could have been prosecuted just for going with her. And here again the law needs clarifying and a proper debate on assisted dying undertaken. David Hunter wanted to kill himself when he killed his wife. It was his daughter who stopped him and then stood by him then and during his two years in prison. Without them this sad case would have been a double tragedy. I hope he finds his peace and anonymity again.

We all go through trials and tribulations in life but very few of us suffer as these three men have suffered. Sometimes the law is an ass. Sometimes the system is beyond cruel. But all three deserve to live the rest of their lives without the rest of us wading in with our unwanted two penneth. It will be hard enough putting their past trials and tribulations behind them. But they will do it with the support of friends and family. And if we the public let them.

In the meantime Hollywood needs to say sorry to a great actor, the judicial system needs to look at why an innocent man has to pay them back for a large chunk of his life spent unjustly in prison. And a man who loved his wife with all his heart must be left to cope with what must have been the most horrific decision he was ever asked to make. There but for the grace of god goes any of us. And remember from one who hasn’t fled to Australia, there is smoke without fire. It is up to each and everyone of us not to fan the flames.