Two men awaiting sentence in Britain’s latest child sex scandal face an exceptionally steep fall from grace. Unlike the stars whose celebrity sparkle has been so abruptly snuffed out in the last twelve months, following the torrent of allegations about the late Jimmy Savile, this pair have made their name not as mere entertainers but as pillars of the establishment and icons of probity.
They are a judge and a public prosecutor. The crime in which they conspired together and which has already destroyed their high-flying careers and good name is apparently considered – judging by the outcry – the gravest sex crime that can be perpetrated in modern society: they have told the truth!
As readers in the UK will be aware, I refer to Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Robert Colover, QC, and His Honour (now Dishonour!) Judge Nigel Peters QC, who, jointly and severally, did knowingly, wilfully and most guiltily commit an act of truth-telling in Her Majesty’s Court at Snaresbrook last month, contrary to the Inappropriate Truths Act, which has an existence in the minds of child “protection” lobbyists as real and substantial as any government legislation.
Colover has been suspended from prosecuting sexual offence cases pending a review by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), while Judge Peters’ comments are being investigated by the Office for Judicial Complaints. The seriousness of the case could not have been made clearer than by Prime Minister David Cameron, no less, who made it his job (in a notable constitutional development!) to pronounce judgement in the case himself. Handing down his verdict, the Prime Minister told the press the CPS was ”absolutely right” to label Colover’s comments “inappropriate”.
What, then, was the nature of this terrible truth-telling? This is not for tender ears, but it was this: in a case in which 41-year-old Neil Wilson was given an eight-month suspended jail sentence for sexual activity with a child, the prosecutor and judge both “blamed the victim”. They made the well substantiated claim, which has not been publicly rebutted on factual grounds, that the girl who was the 13-year-old “victim” was a more than willing participant in the sexual acts.
The girl reportedly looked older than her actual age and told the man she was 16, which is the age of consent in the UK. Wilson met the schoolgirl when she asked him to buy cigarettes for her while she was playing truant. She stripped out of her school uniform and performed oral sex on him.
In accusatory language Heretic TOC would not support, but which appears to have been backed up by the facts of the case, prosecutor Colover, said in court, “The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced. There was sexual activity but it was not of Mr Wilson’s doing; you might say it was forced upon him despite being older and stronger than her.”
Well, quite! Resistance would have been useless! The poor man was practically raped! The judge in effect agreed, saying that “On these facts, the girl was predatory” and had been “egging on” the defendant. He said his lenient sentence took account of this.
With a prosecution like that, it may be thought, the fortunate Mr Wilson hardly needed a defence lawyer, and indeed none was quoted in any of the reports I saw. What prompted this rare (these days, at least) outbreak of commonsense in court is as obscure as it is welcome, but Heretic TOC needs only to congratulate the Judicial Dynamic Duo!
Observant readers will notice a gap of several lines (and some stars) after the last paragraph. I am just attempting to prove to myself than I can still write a reasonably succinct blog when I really try. The one above, at well under 600 words, is far shorter than many of my recent efforts, which have ballooned to thrice this length, and more. However, like poor Mr Wilson faced with his striptease Lolita, I still find myself powerless to resist going a bit further than I perhaps should. I must therefore place myself at the mercy of you, dear readers, as my judge and jury in this matter, and hope you will be as forgiving as the two QCs at Snaresbrook Crown Court!
One announcement I feel confident you will forgive: a few moments ago, as I write, I was informed over the airwaves by the BBC that the latest celebrity show trial in Britain has ended in a verdict of Not Guilty. Michael Le Vell, actor in Coronation Street, one of the nation’s longest-running and most popular TV soaps, has been cleared of a number of CSA charges, including rape. I haven’t followed the case closely but I think it was one of those “his word against hers” allegations, with no corroboration. If that is so, the jury were right to settle for nothing less than a proper standard of proof.
And another bit of good news you may not have caught yet: Richard Dawkins has been making waves by saying he and other children in his school peer group had been molested by a teacher but “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.” Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, immediately went public, in effect to contradict him, insisting on the usual dogma of life-long trauma. An advocate of “listening to the victim”, he clearly did not have ears for this one!
And now a bonus blog, offering a few reflections on the case of the Judicial Dynamic Duo:
1) The girl was 13, which in English law is significant in terms of consent. If a girl below this age consents to sexual intercourse, any man who has sex with her is liable to be charged with rape, because her consent counts for nothing. But if she is over 13 and under 16 he can only be charged with the lesser offence of “sexual activity with a child”. This is because her consent is in effect taken into account as real and it acts as a mitigating factor. This being the case, the public outrage over acknowledging the active role of the child in the Snaresbrook Crown Court case flies in the face of the law. The competence of many young people under 16 to make important decisions in their life is also acknowledged in English law in what is known as “Gillick competence”, following the case of Gillick v. West Norfolk & Wisbech Area Healthy Authority, 1986. The highest court in the land, the House of Lords, ruled that those under 16 could give consent to medical treatment as long as they had sufficient understanding and intelligence to appreciate what was proposed and to express their own wishes. Lord Scarman identified the principle that parental rights yield to the young person’s own right to make their own decisions if they have this “Gillick competence”. Significantly, the medical treatment in question can include advice on contraception for sexually active youngsters. As the admirable lawyer Barbara Hewson recently noted, “It has been Department of Health policy since the 1980s that underage teenagers choosing to be sexually active should receive contraceptive advice and treatment, in confidence. Sexual health charities working with young people have been telling policy makers, for years, that the existing age of consent law does not deter those underage teenagers who are sexually active. And the UK’s teen pregnancy rate is one of the highest in Western Europe. Yet if one of these ‘Gillick-competent’ teens is involved in a criminal case, these uncomfortable facts are conveniently forgotten.”
2) Have there been precedents for the Judicial Dynamic Duo’s approach? Definitely, but it’s been a while. In 1993 an 18-year-old babysitter who tried to have intercourse with a nine-year-old girl after climbing in her bed was freed on probation by a judge who described the child as “no angel”. Judge Ian Starforth Hill was unsurprisingly castigated for this remark by the appeal court. Even more notorious from a protectionist point of view were the remarks of Judge Brian Gibbens in a case 10 years earlier, that of William Watson-Sweeney, who admitted having sexual intercourse with a seven-year-old girl. The judge was clearly sympathetic to the defendant, a former soldier, twice wounded in action, who had a drink problem. His Honour made an unfortunate remark to the effect that people could get themselves accidentally into all sorts of problems in life. This emerged as the following headline in The Times: “Sex with children could happen to anyone accidentally, judge says”. Imagine how that would go down today, especially regarding intercourse with such a young child! Not that the “intercourse” was more than minimal: the penis needs only to slightly enter the labia to qualify. The judge pointed out that the child’s virginity remained intact.
3) An even more fascinating aspect of the Watson-Sweeney case was reported in an appendix to a Home Office report some years ago. The defendant pleaded not guilty to rape on the grounds that the child – aged seven remember – had consented to sexual intercourse with an understanding of what that entailed. Remarkably, the court accepted that the girl’s statement that “she knew what mummies and daddies did in bedrooms” was sufficient evidence of her understanding of the true nature of the situation. (From Setting the Boundaries: Reforming the law on sex offences, Vol. 2 Supporting Evidence page 136, Appendix D2, Literature Review of Research into the Law of Sexual Offences Against Children and Vulnerable People, by Caroline Keenan and Lee Maitland).