I think about cases like this recent one whenever I see people treating false accusations as victimless crimes. According to the article, several neighbors killed a gardener who took pictures of kids who destroyed his plants because they thought he was a pedophile:
Bijan Ebrahimi, a keen gardener, took pictures of local youths as they attacked his plants and intended to hand the photographs to police as evidence.
But instead officers were called when he was seen with the camera and he was led away for questioning as residents chanted “paedo, paedo”.
Officers realised their mistake at the police station and he was released, but rumours had already begun circulating that he was a child abuser and two days later he was beaten unconscious, dragged into the street and set on fire.
According to another article, Ebrahimi may have been alive when the neighbors set him on fire. It also appears that one of the men involved may have told the kids to damage Ebrahimi’s plants:
New details have begun to emerge about the events that led to Mr Ebrahimi’s murder since [Lee] James and [Stephen] Norley admitted the July attack. According to The Sunday Times, James encouraged the children to vandalise Mr Ebrahimi’s plants, causing the keen gardener to take pictures of them – and James to wrongly accuse him of being a paedophile in response.
While some maintain that Ebrahimi wasn’t the “easiest neighbour”, the paper reports that “moments of conflict… did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary until Lee James moved in with his girlfriend and three children earlier this year”. The newspaper goes on to detail an incident in which Mr Ebrahimi took pictures of children and adults on his mobile phone at one of James’ parties because he “apparently objected to the drinking and drug-taking going on in front of them”.
Ebrahimi’s family believes that the police failed to protect him:
In a statement, Mr Ebrahimi’s family have criticised police for not doing more to protect him. “It should not be forgotten that Bijan had been the victim of hate crimes for a number of years before his death, both due to his race and his physical disability,” they said. “It was for this reason that the police should have taken especially seriously his calls for help in the days before he was murdered.
“We hope that not only James and Norley will face justice but also all of those who failed to protect Bijan, including the police,” they said.
Three officers were suspended following the murder and at least three others may face charges.
However, the thing to take away from this case is not only the police misconduct, but also the power of a false accusation. Ebrahimi’s neighbors bought the lie. They believed he was a pedophile because he took pictures of kids. Even if James had not allegedly killed Ebrahimi, the impact of the accusation would still be there.
Keep in mind, the police found nothing and let the man go. In other words, it was clear he had done nothing wrong, but that did not matter because the lie was powerful enough to sway people.
This is why false accusations are so dangerous. It only takes one person to start the rumor, and once it starts it may be impossible to undo the damage. In this case, it led to an innocent man being killed. In other cases it may lead to innocent men being assaulted or wrongfully imprisoned.
This is why we need to investigate accusations and not just assume that when someone makes an accusation it is true. Some people do make malicious accusations, and depending on the situation, those accusations may lead to violence.
We should not be so keen on catching predators that we ignore the concept of innocent until proven guilty. Once you make that mistake, you cannot undo it.