How the Wealthy Get Away With Their Crimes

“Our criminal justice system treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent.” (Attorney Bryan Stevenson: Banning the Death Penalty Would ‘Liberate Us’ | SuperSoul Sunday | OWN, 2015)

There is no denying that being wealthy can improve your experiences within the criminal justice system. Marxist criminologist Chambliss (1978), argued that selective law enforcement takes place in the system, whereby those of higher social classes are treated far more leniently for their crimes as opposed to those of the working class. When an individual belonging to the upper class is found to have committed a crime, it is often excused as an isolated incident. This ensures that crime control is primarily focused on the working class, who are more likely to be prosecuted for their crimes, and hence, overrepresented in the prison system.

There is a ‘demonisation of the working class’ in British society perpetuated through the media (Jones, 2011). McDougall (2019) highlights the way in which there is an “immorality of welfare” that is “entrenched” within society. Those who are claimants of welfare support are depicted as leeches who “languish on state handouts”, as stated by the then Chancellor of Exchequer George Osbourne in 2013. These negative attitudes from those at the top of society, who are predominantly upper and middle class, have filtered their way through society and into institutions like the criminal justice system. An example of this would be the outrage at Universal Credit scams, and the lack of the same for corporate tax avoidance. Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK (2014) found that tax avoidance had reached a total of £120 billion, whereas annually, benefit fraud only amounts to roughly £1.1 billion. Yet, tabloid newspapers still continue to portray claimants of Universal Credit as “scroungers” and “thieves”, whilst failing to see the huge issue that is white-collar crime.

It cannot be disputed that the policing system is severely lacking in funds to adequately tackle white collar crime, meaning that it largely goes under the radar (White-Collar Crime Enforcement in the UK, 2017). However, this does eliminate the culture within society whereby the upper-class bourgeoisie are deemed to be morally superior, leading to lenient treatment and allegations against them going uninvestigated.

This is true in the case of Prince Andrew, of the British Royal Family, who is facing allegations of sexual assault. Prince Andrew had links with Jeffrey Epstein, a financier who was convicted of sex trafficking of minors. Their relationship allegedly began in 1999, with them maintaining a relationship in the decades following this, as well as during Epstein’s convictions (Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein: What We Know – BBC News, 2019). Prince Andrew has described this relationship to be “useful” whilst underwhelmingly describing Epstein’s behaviour as “unbecoming”(Prince Andrew & the Epstein Scandal: The Newsnight Interview – BBC News, 2019).

In 2019, Virginia Giuffre came forward with her experience of being sex trafficked to Prince Andrew by Jeffrey Epstein when she was 17 years old . She claims Prince Andrew had full knowledge of her age, yet he denies meeting her despite there being photographic evidence of them together (Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein: What We Know – BBC News, 2019). He claims this is a doctored image. Instead, he alleges he was at a “Pizza Express in Woking” (Prince Andrew & the Epstein Scandal: The Newsnight Interview – BBC News, 2019). Giuffre filed a lawsuit against Prince Andrew in a federal court in Manhattan in 2021, suing him for sexually assaulting her multiple times when she was a minor (Jacobs, 2021). Following the filing of the lawsuit, a review was launched into Prince Andrew’s connections by the Metropolitan Police, but subsequently dropped with Dame Cressida Dick, police commissioner, stating that the Metropolitan Police was not the “appropriate authority” to investigate (Siddique, 2021). Prior to this review, the Metropolitan Police had carried out two other reviews, both of which were closed. This prevented any further investigation of these claims (in the UK) and only enhanced mistrust in the police to hold those in positions of power accountable and adequately investigate reports of sexual assault (Week, 2021).

Even prior to the lawsuit being filed, there had been a lot of public outrage against Prince Andrew and his connections to Jeffrey Epstein. In August 2020, anti-paedophilia protests took place outside Buckingham Palace, with individuals holding signs reprimanding Prince Andrew (Aspinall, 2020). There was very little mainstream media coverage of this, with the majority of the reporting of the protests taking place on social media platforms like Twitter. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex alleged that the “tabloids have holiday parties at [Buckingham] palace” in order to receive better press (Winfrey, 2021). Therefore, it could be argued that the limited coverage of the protests, and lack of media outrage at Prince Andrew’s connections to Epstein, was attributed to the Royal Family’s close relationship with the press.

The case of Prince Andrew distinctly highlights the way in which the wealthy and well-connected are able to use their affluence to avoid being held accountable for their crimes. There isn’t a foreseeable end to this inequality, which is disappointing since the law should be applied equally. This is also exacerbated by the lack of diversity within the judiciary system, with the majority of judges being white, male, and having middle or upper class backgrounds (Murphy, 2020). There needs to be greater diversity, both in terms of gender, ethnic and class background, in order to gradually create a shift of attitudes within the criminal justice system as well as society in general.

Reference List
1. Aspinall, G. (2020, August 24). Buckingham Palace Protest Videos: Was There An Anti-Paedophilia Protest Against Prince Andrew? Grazia.
2. Attorney Bryan Stevenson: Banning the Death Penalty Would ‘Liberate Us’ | SuperSoul Sunday | OWN. (2015, November 2). YouTube.
3. Bennett, P., & McDougall, J. (2019). Popular Culture and the Austerity Myth: Hard Times Today (Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies) (1st ed.). Routledge.
4. Dombrink, J., & Chambliss, W. J. (1978). On the Take: From Petty Crooks to Presidents. Contemporary Sociology, 9(2), 227.
5. Jacobs, S. (2021, August 11). Woman who says she was groomed and abused by Jeffrey Epstein sues Britain’s Prince Andrew. Washington Post.
6. Jones, O. (2011). Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (New ed.). Verso.
7. Murphy, S. (2020, January 29). White men still dominate judiciary, says Justice report. The Guardian.
8. Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein: What we know – BBC News. (2019, August 31). YouTube.
9. Siddique, H. (2021, October 12). Met decision to drop Prince Andrew inquiry ‘no surprise’, says ally. The Guardian.
10. Tax Research UK, & Murphy, R. (2014). The Tax Gap: Tax Evasion in 2014 – and What Can be Done About It.
11. Week, T. (2021, October 11). Why Scotland Yard dropped its investigation into Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein. The Week UK.
12. White-collar crime enforcement in the UK. (2017, November). Financier Worldwide.
13. Winfrey, O. (Director). (2021). Oprah with Meghan and Harry. (Televised Interview). Harpo Productions.

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