WHAT do Jimmy Savile, Max Clifford and Rolf Harris have in common?

They were all convicted of committing sexual offences, following a police investigation codenamed Operation Yewtree, for acts that took place decades ago.

According to the different lines of investigation, the extent of the sexual exploitation of children was unprecedented and on a ‘national scale’, according to the Metropolitan Police. Consequently, all three were duly tried by English courts – under English laws – who returned three guilty verdicts.

But what would have happened if the above trio of sexual predators had operated in say Torremolinos? Without even assessing the allegations, the surprising answer is known to most lawyers: nothing.

Or, at the very most, they would have had to report to the nearest national police station where they would have denied all allegations to the duty officer – for sure without having to spend any time in locked up in cells – to finally walk out just as they walked in: immune to any charges.

The reason is fairly simple: the Spanish penal code establishes that all crimes, save for crimes against humanity and genocide, shall have a statute of limitations. As such, article 131 states the following:

Felonies expire:

  • After 20 years, when the maximum punishment set for the offence is imprisonment of 15 or more years.
  • After 15, when the maximum punishment set by law is barring for more than 10 years, or imprisonment for more than 10 and less than 15 years.
  • After 10, when the maximum punishment set by law is imprisonment or barring for more than five years and does not exceed 10.
  • After five, all other felonies, except those of slander and defamation, which shall prescribe in one year.

Allegations against Savile covered four decades, from 1959 until the 1980s; those against Max Clifford had been situated in the 70s and similarly, all others accused under Operation Yewtree would have committed their offences at least 30 years ago.

In Spain these offences would have been deemed, automatically, non-indictable and given at the very most the status of anecdote. And unquestionably, legally contested via defamation of character/libel claims by those accused.

Finally, in the hypothesis that they were within the above time limits, it is also very possible that had they reached court it would have taken more than several witness statements to find them guilty.