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Chief prosecutor defends decision to go to court after series of acquittals

The lawyer dubbed the "Witchfinder General" has made a robust defence of the courts in the wake of a series of high-profile acquittals in celebrity sex trials.

Nazir Afzal, chief Crown prosecutor for the north-west of England, who put Coronation Street's William Roache in the dock, said the authorities would prosecute if the evidence was there - irrespective of who the defendant was - in cases of historic sex abuse.

"This is not some witch hunt. Criminal justice is not a ducking-stool, it is due process. It is a collection of evidence, scrutiny of evidence, presentation of evidence, the testing of that evidence and determination by a jury," he said.

Mr Afzal said in each case, no matter who the complainant or accused was, the same test applied in deciding whether a case went to court: "Is there sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and is it in the public interest to do so?

"The threshold has not changed. Time is not barrier to justice being delivered. It is for Parliament to determine there should be a limitation on cases being brought to court. Parliament has decided there is no limitation on these types of cases and that must be right.

"Our test is the realistic prospect of conviction, it's not the same as 'This man is guilty': that is a judgment only a jury can make. Nobody is above the law in this country. We apply the code, the law, to everybody."

Mr Afzal said that as a chief prosecutor he was "damned if I do and damned if I don't" in deciding whether a case goes to court.

Speaking at a conference on sexual abuse in Manchester, he said it was important to prosecute cases of historic abuse regardless of the passage of time for the sake of the victims.

"Time is not a healer," he said. "Justice delayed, evidently, is better than justice denied. "

He said that for generations children, very often the victims of sexual abuse, had been told they should be seen and not heard and it took "enormous courage" to eventually come forward.

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