Jury to ponder memory evidence at abuse trial

A jury will soon consider experts’ theories about how memory works as it decides its verdicts in a trial on allegations of historic sexual abuse.

Two memory experts – called by the Crown and the defence – gave evidence in the trial, but the Crown said it was not a “trial by experts”.

Defence counsel Tim Fournier said the experts had agreed that memories “can be wholly inaccurate”.

“You can get memories of events that never happened,” he told the Christchurch District Court jury in his closing address on day seven of the trial before Judge Alistair Garland.

“If you have got a wrong memory, you don’t know it’s wrong,” Mr Fournier said. He pointed to what he said were inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the Crown witness’ accounts of abuse involving two girls, from 1989 to 2003. This raised serious questions about witness reliability.

He said one witness said the police had told her she “needed to sort out fact from anger, because of course I was angry”.

Judge Garland will sum up for the jury on Wednesday, before it retires to consider verdicts for 13 remaining charges.

Colin Robert Williams, 49, denies charges of inducing an indecent act with a girl aged under 12, ten of indecent assault, doing an indecent act on a girl aged under 12, and sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection.

Crown prosecutor Kathy Basire said in her closing address to the jury that the defence was claiming that there had been no sexual offending, and allegations put at the trial were the result of the complainants lying or their memories were either distorted or inaccurate.

She expected that the defence would say that one of the complainants had mistaken Williams’ actions many years ago, and the other woman had learned about that woman’s allegations and they had somehow become part of her memory.

The defence would say that led her to incorporate sexual abuse into her narrative, arising from own internal grievances.

But Miss Basire said it was “simply implausible” that two people could have separately “got it wrong” with false memories of abuse by the same person.

“The Crown says to you that is a highly unlikely coincidence,” she said.

The defence had called a memory expert to dispute the two woman complainants’ memories, but the jury should also consider Williams’ ability to recall things. For nine years, he was “popping pills” daily, smoking cannabis daily, and using alcohol.

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