A couple of weeks after a photogenic Oxford student with a conveyor belt career smoothly lined-up for her received a suspended sentence for stabbing her boyfriend whilst under the influence, a woman one year younger than Lavinia Woodward hasn’t been granted similar clemency from our judiciary. 23-year-old Alice McBrearty has been sentenced to 16 months for having a ‘full-blown (unfortunate turn of phrase) sexual relationship’ with a 15-year-old schoolboy. Eight years between the seducer and the seduced isn’t that great an age gap when compared to, say, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and his third wife Fabiana (a staggering 47 years his junior), Billy Joel and his current missus (33 years’ difference) or Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall (25 years); but, lest we forget, the pupil was under-16 by a few months, so that means Ms McBrearty is officially a Paedo.

The defence barrister in the case said that her client ‘is not sexually attracted to children,’ before adding ‘She will of course be branded a paedophile for the rest of her life. She is a sex offender’. As a result of pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual activity with a child while in a position of trust, Alice McBrearty is bracketed in the same legal category as a loathsome individual like Ian Watkins. After sentencing, a lawyer representing our old friends at the CPS said ‘We would like to thank the victim for coming forward and for supporting this prosecution during what has been a difficult time for him and his family.’ However, it was the father of the ‘victim’ who intervened in the affair and contacted the police rather than the boy himself. Of course, such an intervention would have severely altered the wistful ambience of Bobby Goldsboro’s 1973 hit, ‘Summer (The First Time)’, but this isn’t 1973.

One wonders how much longer the sentence Alice McBrearty received would’ve been in the reversal of this case’s gender roles; a 23-year-old man seducing a 15-year-old girl would certainly have received a prison sentence, though recent patterns in such cases suggest he’d have been looking at a tenure behind bars considerably more extensive than 16 months. Not that gender imbalance diminishes other double standards on display where this particular case is concerned. The fact remains that, going by current legal definitions, inflicting serious physical injury upon a partner is a lesser offence than providing them with practical sex education – an extracurricular lesson that it’s hard to imagine the ‘victim’ being an unwilling scholar of.

According to slavering press reports, the female teacher at a school in East London had a four-month affair with the unnamed male pupil – indulging in classroom snogging, sex acts in her car (which may have constituted the ‘full-blown’ aspect of the relationship), and the inevitable hotel rendezvous; she even got her leg over with him at her parents’ home. The judge’s summary included the observation that ‘I accept you truly believed this was a great romance, that you were in love with him and vice versa, and that age didn’t matter; but it did.’

When, way back in the 80s, I and a fellow 19-year-old were advertising for musicians to form a band, being contacted by a 23-year-old bass-player led to a shared immediate opinion that this ‘old man’ was a bit suspect, believing if he hadn’t found fame and fortune at the advanced age of 23 he was evidently doomed to obscurity. Remembering this serves as a reminder of how a mere four-year gap makes a difference at 19, something that was brought back to me not so long ago when I overheard a conversation between two student girls mulling over whether or not to accept the offer of a potential flatmate also aged 23; ‘He sounds a bit weird’ opined one of them, a character summary which appeared to be solely based on his age. The chasm is perhaps wider than one cares to recall when distanced from the adolescent mindset – though I’ve no doubt this was part of the attraction for the boy inducted into a world he probably craved to be a member of when he encountered Alice McBrearty.

Judge Sheelagh Canavan said that Ms McBrearty was ‘a bright, intelligent and gifted young woman who knew right from wrong’ who nevertheless committed ‘the grossest breach of trust’. The judge accepted the ‘victim’ was consenting, adding ‘What 15-year-old schoolboy would turn down such an attractive offer?’ That the judge acknowledged the boy’s willing participation in the affair with a woman eight years his senior speaks volumes; but as things stand, the law is there in black-and-white, and Alice McBrearty knew it was – as did her besotted ‘victim’. The CPS interpreted their relationship from the legal perspective, as is their wont, stating ‘She conducted a sexual relationship for months with a boy, despite knowing he was under-age and she was committing a crime; she groomed him on social media and bought him gifts before having sex with him in her home, at a hotel and in her car.’

Of the two traditional sexual fantasies that tend to occupy male minds – schoolgirls and older women – the former has now been discredited as latent paedophilia whereas the latter retains its potent allure, even if it becomes redundant as the decades roll by and the only older women resemble Vera Lynn. For the average teenage boy, however, the attraction remains as relevant as the opposite does for his female equivalent; in the turbulent maelstrom of the teenage thought processes, the desire to be over-16 is predominant; the teenager in question will gravitate towards any adult prepared to treat them as a fellow adult, and that includes on a sexual level. That the genuine adult should know better is the real issue. Alice McBrearty at 23 was quite possibly as emotionally immature as the 15-year-old she seduced and may not have been the scheming predator the 16 month sentence will portray her as; but does that make her a sex offender? As the law stands, yes.

© The Editor


Anyone recall the immortal words of Mr Justice Caulfield, the judge at Jeffrey Archer’s libel trial against the Daily Star in 1987, in reference to Mrs Archer’s appearance in the witness-box? Let me remind you: ‘Your vision of her will never disappear,’ he said in his instructions to the jury. ‘Has she elegance? Has she fragrance? Would she have, without the strain of this trial, radiance?’ Before the sick bucket could be passed around the jury quickly enough, he expressed his evident incredulity that someone of Mr Archer’s standing would pay a prostitute to go abroad and not broadcast their illicit union to all and sundry. ‘Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel about quarter-to-one on a Tuesday morning after an evening at the Caprice?’ he asked. Perish the thought!

With such blatant directing of the jury by Mr Justice Caulfield, it was no wonder Archer got off first time round. However, as we all know, in 2001 Archer was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice at his original 1987 trial and received a four-year sentence (half of which was served). At the 1987 trial, the judge’s aghast attitude at the very suggestion such a prominent member of the establishment might enjoy an extra-marital affair with a common girl on the game doesn’t so much imply naivety as articulate an in-built refusal to accept that ‘one of ours’ could be capable of such sleazy activities, especially one married to a lady as ‘fragrant’ as Mrs Archer.

Similar prejudices had been aired at the trial of another high-profile politician eighteen years earlier, Jeremy Thorpe. Despite leaving many questions unanswered regarding the conspiracy to murder the ex-Liberal leader’s clandestine gay lover Norman Scott, Thorpe was found not guilty, with the judge referring to Thorpe as ‘a national figure with a very distinguished public record’ and a man of ‘hitherto unblemished reputation’. Scott, on the other hand, was ‘a fraud, a sponger, a whiner and a parasite’. As Stephen Fry said retrospectively, ‘It is fantastic how judges still have this extraordinary propensity to believe someone because they have an Old Etonian tie or because they’re a peer of the realm or because they are the establishment.’

A very different kind of case was reported this week that shone another unflattering light on how looks and, to use a very old-fashioned phrase, ‘breeding’ can have an impact on the path of justice when our faultless legal system is confronted by a crime whose perpetrator doesn’t fit the necessary profile. It concerns a very pretty and photogenic blonde-haired blue-eyed girl.

Lavinia Woodward is a 24-year-old student at Christ Church College, Oxford whose ultimate aim is to become a surgeon. She is described as ‘bright’, someone who already has articles published in medical journals to her name. The only obstacle to the glittering future ahead of her is the fact that she attacked her boyfriend in a vicious outburst whilst off her tits last September. She hurled a glass, a laptop and a jam jar at him before punching him in the face and topping off the attack by stabbing him in the leg with a breadknife. Quite a serious assault one would imagine and one worthy of at least a custodial sentence. Hold on a mo, though.

Judge Ian Pringle is of the opinion that any sentence arising from the incident would be unfair due to the possibility it might ruin her intended career. ‘It seems to me that if this was a one-off,’ he said, ‘to prevent this extraordinarily able young lady from not following her long-held desire to enter the profession she wishes to, would be a sentence which would be too severe.’ Her defence barrister pleaded that his client’s dreams of being a surgeon would be ‘almost impossible’ to fulfil due to the necessary disclosure of any conviction of this nature when applying for such a post. Christ Church itself clearly holds no grudges, as it has allowed her to return in the autumn because she’s apparently ‘that bright’. Woodward isn’t due to be sentenced until September, though the most she has received as a result of what she did is a restraining order whilst being advised to stay ‘drug free’. It certainly appears, going by the judge’s comments, anyway, that Miss Woodward could well be spared a sentence.

What if Lavinia Woodward hadn’t been regarded as an ‘extraordinarily able young lady’ and perhaps stacked shelves in a supermarket, with no greater career prospects to look forward to than promotion to the tills? Would the likelihood of being spared a sentence for such a serious assault as stabbing someone in the leg with a breadknife be on the cards then? Or what if she was a he? Going by the atmosphere on many university campuses these days, I somehow don’t feel that a male student attacking his girlfriend with a breadknife would be welcomed back to any seat of learning after being in court on such a charge, do you? I suspect there’d be one or two demonstrations objecting to his return and numerous social media campaigns to prevent it.

Now, of course, none of us other than Miss Woodward and her unfortunate ex know the true ins and outs of what happened last September; we only know what’s been reported in the press and media. I’m not of the ‘hanging’s too good for ‘em’ opinion when it comes to crime and punishment, and Lavinia Woodward definitely sounds as if she needs some form of drug rehabilitation, not to mention anger management; that in the long run could achieve far more for her as a person than prison.

If what she did results in a spell behind bars and, as a consequence, this means she can’t achieve her dreams of becoming a surgeon, yes, that’s tough; but she should be given equal billing in the eyes of the law, on the same level as anyone else, regardless of sex or background. She committed a serious crime and should receive adequate punishment for it, just like a less ‘bright’ individual charged with the same crime would. But that’s not how the law works where the extraordinarily able and fragrant are concerned, alas.

© The Editor