THE MAIN EVENT

JusticeFew professions failed to fall under the TV sitcom spotlight in the 1960s and 70s – everyone from bin-men to bus-drivers and rag & bone men to teachers received the treatment; whether down on the factory floor or marooned in middle-management, there was a virtually guaranteed series on BBC1 or ITV that would mine the comic potential in the workplace and supply a strong ensemble cast of eccentrics and archetypes. Perhaps the trend was able to flourish for so long because there was a greater variety of ways one could earn a living back then; a contemporary sitcom set in a call centre or an Amazon warehouse probably wouldn’t inspire quite the same hilarity, though I’m sure it’s already been commissioned by the BBC3 Diversity & Inclusion Committee. The workforce gave sitcoms from British TV’s Golden Age a seemingly limitless source of comedy, whereas drama had a far narrower set of tools with which to work; drama in the era of ‘On the Buses’ or ‘Please Sir’ was unsurprisingly confined to jobs imbued with dramatic potential – the police, private eyes, surgeons, the intelligence services and, of course, the Law.

The most popular legal drama on television in the 60s had been an imported one, ‘Perry Mason’ – starring a pre-‘Ironside’ Raymond Burr as an LA-based criminal defence lawyer. Despite the relative grittiness of the programme compared to the more escapist fare many Hollywood studios were producing for TV at the time, to British viewers the programme still had the inbuilt glamorous sheen that all American filmed series seemed to have. By contrast, when Granada’s lunchtime legal drama, ‘Crown Court’ debuted in 1972 for a good decade-long run, the fact it rarely set foot outside the courtroom and concerned itself with those in the dock rather than a star lawyer gave the series a more recognisable reality. ‘Crown Court’ was on TV all year round in the manner of an ongoing soap, and it became as much a part of the childhood wallpaper whenever off school with a sick-note as ‘Pebble Mill at One’, ‘Farmhouse Kitchen’, ‘Paint Along with Nancy’ and a bottle of Lucozade.

Despite its slot in the schedules being some distance from the watershed, ‘Crown Court’ was serious, grownup drama, written and acted to a standard far higher than that of the Aussie soaps gradually imported to pad out ITV’s afternoon hours. A case would span three episodes screened on successive days and legend has it the non-Equity members of the public making up the jury had no idea what the conclusion of the case would be during the recording. Although the characters of the barristers and the judges became familiar, the constantly changing cast in the dock and the witness box helped ‘Crown Court’ remain fresh and probably contributed to its durability. Owning all available episodes on DVD has enabled me to enjoy and appreciate a series I was too young to enjoy and appreciate at the time; it’s very ‘wordy’, as all series set in this genre naturally are. But courtroom dramas don’t date as much as their more action-packed contemporaries due to the fact the scenario itself doesn’t really change.

With the peerless ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ not beginning its own lengthy run until 1978, one of the most successful legal dramas preceding it had an unusual angle (for the time) in that its central character was a female barrister: ‘Justice’ ran from 1971 to 1974 and starred the former big-screen actress Margaret Lockwood, trademark beauty spot and all. ‘Justice’ was produced by Yorkshire Television and whilst the series had the aforementioned novelty of focusing on a woman, it was still primarily set in the familiar location of the courtroom. YTV’s second legal drama of the era was more original in that it centred on a solicitor, a profession that the courtroom-based legal dramas tend to reduce to footnotes in the overall picture. ‘The Main Chance’ ran from 1969 to 1975 and starred John Stride as David Main, a hot-headed young lawyer recruited by a Leeds-based firm of solicitors, dividing his time between their northern HQ and their London office. This clever device meant the series could be simultaneously provincial and metropolitan.

One of the pleasures of viewing a series whose popularity at the time hasn’t survived beyond its time is that it comes free from cultural baggage when you view it; as much as I enjoy the continuously popular TV shows of old that have remained well-known and well-watched ever since their original broadcast, it’s always fascinating to unearth one of those neglected gems that inhabit the archival no man’s land between the perennially celebrated and the permanently derided. ‘Well,’ say some, ‘TV’s so-called Golden Age may have given us The Prisoner and The Sweeney, but it also gave us Mind Your Language and Love Thy Neighbour.’ What about ‘The Main Chance’, though – or ‘Public Eye’? Unfairly rarely mentioned, yet fresh in their unfamiliarity when approached from the ignorant perspective of another century.

In the case of ‘The Main Chance’, it’s interesting to see elements of the more flashy, superficial series produced by the likes of ITC present – the mini-skirted dollybirds, the dashing lead, the driving theme tune and even (in series one, at least) the presence of the delectable young Kate O’Mara, for once playing a part that doesn’t require her to effortlessly press the button marked ‘Sexy’ (even though she undeniably is). However, these are merely surface trimmings. When it comes to the storylines, give or take one or two excursions into the private lives of the rich and decadent, ‘The Main Chance’ deals with down-to-earth cases the far-from wealthy are often confronted by; David Main as a character may have an account on Savile Row (one presumes), but he’s a grammar school boy from Leeds who worked his way up the ladder and therefore retains a degree of compassion for the little people.

Many of the hallmarks of 70s TV drama that the nanosecond attention spans of the contemporary Smombie viewer would struggle to cope with – in particular long, extended scenes not cut like an MTV video – are prevalent in ‘The Main Chance’, though to me these are strengths; this is intelligent, adult fare that unfolds at a sedate pace befitting the seriousness of the storylines. The dialogue is surprisingly spiky, though; David Main has some cracking putdowns in his armoury of insults and his arrogance costs him dear in his personal life as often as it enables him to succeed in his job. Playing the good cops to his occasional bad one are Henry and Margaret Castleton, father and daughter partners in the firm employing Main. There’s also Main’s flirty secretary Sarah, with whom he has an on-off relationship. As with Australia in the 80s and Scandinavia today, there must have only been around two-dozen thespians working in British TV fifty years ago, for the instantly recognisable supporting cast of character actors that appear in virtually every series produced in the 70s routinely appear in ‘The Main Chance’, though they help root it in solid, dependable ground. Even Robin Askwith turns up in one episode, playing an especially nasty young thug and managing to keep his trousers on in the process.

I admit I was initially attracted to this now-obscure series due to it being produced by YTV, and the likelihood of places from my childhood featuring in the scenes shot on location was an incentive to check it out. However, it’s mainly studio-based and that’s where it most shines, allowing the quality writing and acting to come to the fore. As someone who only ever samples present-day terrestrial TV in that brief two-hour window of an evening when there might actually be something worth watching, my off-line viewing habits late at night tend to fall into nightly screenings of vintage shows on DVD, and ‘The Main Chance’ ticks all the boxes for me. As even this post demonstrates, sometimes it’s necessary to have a day (or night) off from 2021.

© The Editor

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STARMER CHAMELEON

I’ve always found ‘The Week in Westminster’ to be one of the more engaging political bastions of Radio 4; the programme being broadcast on a Saturday morning enables it to benefit from the breathing space denied the likes of ‘Today’ or ‘The World at One’, which are both designed to cater for the gut (and knee-jerk) reaction in the immediate aftermath of events. A gap of seven days rather than seven minutes certainly gives rise to a preferable perspective, particularly in our instant age, when a comment is required on the spot and (often) without the facts. MPs of all the major parties are usually represented, as are MPs of old, many of whom have invaluable hindsight that even elevation to the ermine slippers of the Lords hasn’t entirely blunted.

I had to laugh at the latest instalment, however, when the merits of Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary were being discussed – and some of the conclusions reached were so worryingly ludicrous that laughter seemed the only tonic. Sir Keir Starmer was seriously touted as a future Labour leader in the event of Jezza losing the next General Election. For those whose memories of this man stretch back to his insidious activities as Director of Public Prosecutions, this isn’t necessarily a welcome solution to the monopoly of the party by the hard left. Moreover, that a man so lacking in charisma and one in possession of an android-like demeanour that is actually quite chilling in its absence of recognisable human qualities could be considered as a Labour leader (and possible Prime Minister in the process) is yet another cause for concern in a time of many.

In order to justify the terrible pun in the title of this post, I suppose I could say the second most notable Keir in the history of the Labour Party has held onto his frontbench seat by effortlessly blending in to the Corbyn worldview when many of his true ideological allies in the party stormed off not long after Jezza’s election. Starmer has been able to do so because he appears to be so devoid of personality that few have noticed he doesn’t quite fit the Socialist suit that is otherwise a prerequisite for membership of Team Corbyn. He also confirmed long-held suspicions this week by eagerly embracing the Second Referendum option, promoting the People’s Vote as official Labour policy, a move that places him on the same wavelength as the Independent Group, meaning the Starmer Chameleon now has a foot in two Westminster camps, utterly befitting a man who appears to be a blank canvas that anyone can draw a cock and balls on.

Starmer’s background is in Law; he qualified as a barrister in 1987 and became a QC five years later. Within a decade, he was named as the DPP (and therefore head of the CPS) following the retirement of Sir Ken Macdonald. Starmer courted controversy just two years into the job when he announced the police officer Simon Harwood would not be prosecuted in relation to the death of London newsvendor Ian Tomlinson, despite video evidence of Harwood striking Tomlinson on the leg with his baton and then pushing him onto the pavement, allegedly mistaking him for an unlikely G-20 Summit protestor in 2009. The unprovoked assault led to Tomlinson collapsing and dying moments later. However, the initial CPS decision was later reversed and Harwood was tried for manslaughter in 2012, found not guilty.

On Starmer’s watch, the CPS also pursued a case against Paul Chambers in the so-called ‘Twitter Joke Trial’, following Chambers’ frustrated tweet in 2010 after a flight he had booked was cancelled due to bad weather and he jokingly threatened to blow Robin Hood Airport ‘sky high’. The farcical legal action became something of a cause célèbre for notable comedy figures such as Stephen Fry and Al Murray. Chambers eventually had his conviction quashed in 2012, though rumours emerged that the CPS were prepared to drop the case until Starmer intervened and overruled them; Paul Chambers’ MP at the time, Louise Mensch, called for an investigation into Starmer’s behaviour by a Commons committee, though blame for the decision to pursue the case was laid at the door of the crown court and Starmer evaded scrutiny.

Starmer’s most damaging legacy as DPP, however, was to vigorously push through the ‘victim’s law’, a legal code of practice especially aimed at tipping the balance in favour of complainants in cases relating to sexual abuse. As a highly vocal promoter of Operation Yewtree at the hysterical height of the celebrity witch-hunt in the wake of the Jimmy Savile ‘revelations’, Starmer’s proposals were to seriously undermine the rights of defendants in such cases, creating the corrosive climate whereby police forces would not only instantly assume any allegation of a sexual nature to be ‘credible and true’ (AKA ‘I Believe Her’), but would co-operate with the CPS drive to improve stats on rape convictions by deliberately withholding vital evidence from the defence in order to secure a guilty verdict.

Establishing the comfort blanket of video evidence exclusively for the complainant as the norm and thus only exposing the accused to the lion’s den of the courtroom, Starmer’s rejection of the traditional fair fight has given the green light to every vindictive fantasist and serial accuser ever since. One wonders how many innocent men (and their families) have suffered the trauma of an extended police investigation without even reaching court or are actually languishing behind bars as a consequence of Starmer’s seal of approval on dispensing with the age-old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ Golden Thread of British justice. I’m sure they’d all be ecstatic at the prospect of Starmer one day being the leader of their country.

Starmer had advised the Labour opposition on his proposals in the hope the party would return to government in 2015; it didn’t, but Starmer himself joined the party’s ranks at Westminster after winning the seat of Holborn and St Pancras at that year’s General Election. The shit sorcerer had already handed the reins of power at the CPS to his awful apprentice Alison Saunders, who built on Starmer’s blueprint by steering the reputation of the Law to such a calamitous low that Sir Keir must have imagined he was well out of it; but even though Saunders too has now vacated the post, she has left behind an almighty bloody mess for which her predecessor must take a great deal of the credit. And this is the man some are touting as a future occupant of No.10. Hah. And we think we’ve got it bad now.

© The Editor

THE SPECIAL ONES

Whatever the reasons behind the recent revelations concerning the contents of Damian Green’s office computer a decade ago – and the scramble for the moral high-ground between accuser and accused is an unedifying spectacle that speaks volumes about both – the fact the current First Secretary of State had such material on his hard-drive in the first place might appear somewhat careless. That the apparently ‘extreme’ nature of the pornography discovered was present a mere matter of weeks before it was outlawed only adds to the stupidity of Green in not deleting it. However, perhaps it was not so much stupidity as arrogance, the kind of ‘breed apart’ arrogance characteristic of either the old school tie or amongst those breathing the rarefied air of elevated social status.

I suspect Green wasn’t unduly concerned with having extreme pornography on his PC at work simply because he regarded himself as untouchable; he could afford to be lax when it came to such things because, unlike anyone in an ‘ordinary’ workplace – where the discovery of hardcore porn on an office computer would result in instant dismissal – he was in possession of the arrogance and sense of entitlement that comes with high office as well as being a by-product of certain seats of learning and the professions these seats subsequently lead to. Why should he have to worry about being caught out? His privileged position exempted him from the likelihood.

Politicians are particularly guilty of exhibiting this arrogance, and we notice it more with them because they’re always on our bloody TV screens flaunting it. Of course, there are the prep-school/public-school/Oxbridge conveyor-belt Honourable Members, whose conviction they were born to rule is bred into them from the off; yet there are also those who maybe didn’t have their inherited advantages but have acquired the same arrogance through mixing in the same circles. The instinctive craving to need someone to look down on is satisfied with promotion to Westminster if an MP emanates from humble origins, and a socialist can progress from cider to champagne with remarkable ease.

The Abbott’s and Thornberry’s of this world as just as arrogant in their own way as Dave and Gideon; that both are profoundly thick is evident whenever they open their mouths, yet what makes them so hilarious is that they’re not aware of how stupid they are. They speak with the confidence of the intelligent and appear to genuinely believe they’re a cut above the plebs; the Tweet that earned Lady Nugee her expulsion from Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet in 2015 was as clear an indication of just how ‘clever’ she thinks she is next to the majority of the electorate. But to single out politicians as especially unique in this field would be to unfairly exclude many other professions that encourage the same Us and The Rest mindset.

Emily Thornberry could easily be the head of a social care department; she has the same ‘bossy fat woman’ demeanour that would complement a Birt-speak job title, enabling her to look down her nose at the distraught parents confronting her across the table like Oliver Twist asking for more. She could equally be running your local Job Centre (taking great delight in informing claimants their benefits have been suspended); she could be a school headmistress and could be a barrister.

Indeed, I have it on good authority from a member of the latter profession (one who mercifully lacks its least appealing traits) that the arrogance so in abundance when it comes to the legal game is practically a qualification for entering it. Law students are amongst the most pompous, smug, conceited, up-their-own-arses set of elite peacocks one could ever have the misfortune of being locked in a lift with, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by their detachment from the real world once they make it to the Bar, one that is blatantly obvious with some via their self-indulgent Tweets.

A friend recently selected (yet utterly unsuited) for jury service was able to eventually be excluded on medical grounds, yet it was hard work getting there; at one point, she contacted a solicitor for advice on how to go about it. The solicitor’s response, which was obviously intended as consolation, inadvertently exposed the arrogance of which I’ve been speaking. The solicitor (a lady) explained she herself also once had to do jury service, despite her exalted status. ‘Even I’, she declared. The phrase ‘Even I’ is imbued with everything employed by those who regard themselves as superior when conversing with their perceived inferiors. Yes, even I – someone who would never have a kitchen containing a washing-machine – had to do jury service! Can you imagine what a sacrifice that was for someone of my standing?! ‘Even I’ has now become an in-joke between my friend and me when in need of a simple description for a certain type of professional individual. ‘She was most definitely an Even I.’ Say no more.

It goes without saying that social snobbery stretches beyond the workplace; it’s there in those who feel the need to employ a cleaner when they can’t really afford one, but gain Brownie points from their peers for doing so; it’s there in those who measure their worth as human beings by how many recommended status symbols they can boast; and it’s there in those MPs who never imagined their own clumsy flirting rituals could drop them in the same hot water as the plebs hung out to dry by changes to the law governing sexual conduct that Westminster endorsed in the belief it wouldn’t be affected by them. Ironically, when it comes to some things, we are all in it together.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

A BED FOR LIFE

One of the many memorable individual stories in the superb 1990s BBC drama ‘Our Friends in the North’ was the decline and fall of the character Geordie Peacock, played by Daniel Craig. The son of a mentally ill and violent father, Geordie flees his native Newcastle and eventually tastes the good life as the right-hand man of a Soho porn baron played by Malcolm McDowell; as with the other characters in the series, we follow Geordie’s trials and tribulations from the 60s to the 90s, but Geordie’s journey is an especially traumatic one as he gradually slides into alcoholism and begins to exhibit traits inherited from his father. After a spell living on the streets, Geordie sets fire to his bed in a homeless shelter and receives a seemingly disproportionate life sentence for his moment of madness.

I only reference what is one of my favourite British TV dramas of all time due to the fact that news broke today of a man whose sentence for a virtually identical act of arson is poised to be curtailed. Like the fictitious Geordie Peacock, 32-year-old James Ward from Nottinghamshire has suffered from mental health issues, though when he set fire to his bed it was in a prison cell. He was behind bars serving a 22-month sentence in 2006 for Actual Bodily Harm following a fight with his father; on the eve of release, he set the mattress in his prison cell alight and was then resentenced under the now-scrapped Imprisonment for Public Protection scheme. The additional sentence was for a minimum of 10 months. Only 11 years later is Ward finally about to be released.

Imprisonment for Public Protection – IPP for short – was one of the last of the draconian Blair Government’s endlessly damaging additions to the Law; introduced in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, it came into effect in 2005 as a means of keeping prisoners inside whose crimes weren’t serious enough to warrant a life sentence but who were regarded as too dangerous to be let loose on society. Indeterminate sentences were nothing new, of course; successive Home Secretaries made it clear the likes of Brady, Hindley and Sutcliffe would never see life outside of gaol again, ensuring parole wouldn’t be a possibility for any of them. While few would dispute the logic of that, beyond a straightforward life sentence there were no provisions for those earmarked as a risk to the public without having committed a crime to justify this opinion. IPP was supposed to be the answer.

However, as early as 2007, the Queen’s Bench division of the High Court concluded that prisoners serving indeterminate sentences under IPP were victims of an unlawful system, particularly where prisons lacked the adequate facilities to accurately assess an IPP prisoner’s suitability for release; the temptation to simply keep the prisoner incarcerated was both adding to prison overcrowding and denying freedom to those who had served far more time than their minimum sentence specified. The findings of a 2010 report into IPP declared it to be unsustainable and it was discontinued in 2012, just seven years after it began to be implemented.

‘The IPP continues to cast a long shadow over our justice system,’ said Mark Day, the head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, in response to the news of James Ward’s case. ‘Despite recent welcome efforts by the Parole Board and prison service to speed up the release of the remaining IPP prison population, without legislative action there will still be thousands of people caught in indefinite detention by 2020. The onus is now on the Government to put into action the sensible recommendations made by the Parole Board and other senior policymakers and finally put an end to this unfair and unjust sentence.’

Ward brought attention to this shady corner of the criminal justice system himself when he contacted Radio 4’s Today programme last year. ‘Prison is not fit to accommodate people like me with mental health problems,’ he wrote. ‘It’s made me worse. How can I change in a place like this? I wake up every morning scared of what the day may hold.’ Ward’s sister has campaigned for his release for years. ‘James is not a risk to the public,’ she says. ‘He’s only ever been a risk to himself, and with the right support we can get him there. I hope the IPP prisoners who are way over their tariff can now also be released. I don’t like to think about what would have happened if they’d decided against letting James out. He had given up.’

At the same time, 3,300 men and women remain in gaol on IPP sentences; as was the case with the Joint Enterprise law until a series of campaigns highlighted its injustices, Imprisonment for Public Protection is one of those aspects of law and order in this country that most are largely ignorant of. We tend to assume the punishment fits the crime, yet who really knows how fairly IPP was applied during the years when it was an option? Do we have enough faith in those making such life-changing decisions to do the right thing, or have the numerous exposés of corruption and ineptitude to have seeped out in recent years bred suspicion that those in a position to make these decisions simply cannot be trusted?

Public bodies that exert immense power over people’s lives – whether the police, social services or the prison system – essentially have carte-blanche to use the tools at their disposal, often free from independent scrutiny; and in the case of James Ward, it would certainly seem some form of mental health care would have been a far more fitting solution to his evident problems. But his story is just one of thousands waiting to be told.

© The Editor

THE GOLDEN GIRL

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

THE PRESUMPTION OF GUILT

‘It was one of those immensely rare and exceptional cases where the decision to prosecute and thereafter to continue the prosecution was an unnecessary or improper act.’ So spoke His Honour Judge Martin Edmunds in his official verdict of a case he tried in which a jury cleared a deputy headmaster of raping a 14-year-old female pupil; he came to his conclusion in a written costs ruling that was published in last weekend’s Mail on Sunday. It’s hard to read the passage quoted without wondering where Judge Edmunds has been lately. ‘Immensely rare and exceptional’? Really? With an estimated half of cases brought before Crown Courts in England and Wales today being ‘sex cases’, the case His Honour commented upon seems a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the legal system and the insidious organisation spearheading its abuse known as the Crown Prosecution Service.

If just one case was to be selected as representative of the corruption of the Law and the way in which it is enacted today, the sad story of Kato Harris appears to have it all. And at the dark heart of this sorry saga that left the career and reputation of an innocent man in tatters are (yet again) the toxic twins responsible for a growing trail of injustice and misery that has served to obliterate any lingering shreds of faith in this country’s upholders of fair play – the CPS and the Metropolitan Police Force.

The 35-year-old deputy head of the fee-paying St George’s School in Ascot, Kato Harris was regarded as an inspirational teacher and a popular one; however, his rapid rise through the ranks ground to a horrific halt when a girl he’d never even taught at his previous school accused him of raping her on three separate occasions. Adhering to the ‘she who must be believed’ edict issued to all police forces where sexual offence accusations are concerned, the boys in blue demonstrated their noted subtlety by turning up at Mr Harris’ school and bundling him away in full view of bemused pupils.

What followed over the next year-and-a-half was a nightmarish ordeal for Kato Harris familiar to hundreds of men in this country who have been at the mercy of a legal system that has overturned the ‘innocent till proven guilty’ foundation stone upon which English Law was built. Never imagining he’d actually be charged, the moment he was, Mr Harris’ world collapsed. Suspended from work, barred from his local church and cricket team, publicly named and shamed whilst his accuser enjoyed the luxury of anonymity, Kato Harris became an overnight outcast in the community he had been a prominent member of.

According to a teacher at her school, Mr Harris’ accuser (whose parents used to fly her to New York for weekly therapy) was engaged in a competition with a friend as to who could concoct the most audacious story, and it would seem the name of Kato Harris was plucked out of thin air with the nonchalance of a retired footballer extracting balls from the bag during the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup. What gave her story clout, despite the inaccuracies in her flimsy evidence, were the deep pockets of her parents, who hired Sue Akers, ex-Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard and now working as a private detective. She was recruited via a legal firm known as Mishcon de Reya, along with her partner-in-crime Alison Levitt, who just happened to be a former legal adviser to the CPS.

Sue Akers played her part in the CPS’s decision to prosecute by renewing old contacts at the Met, supplying Scotland Yard detectives with a list of tasks that could secure a conviction. Working in tandem with Levitt, she recommended they contact all of Mr Harris’ former pupils and that they seize his computer for incriminating evidence (none was found); the relentless pressure from Akers and Levitt even annoyed senior detectives working on the case who were well aware of the gaping holes in the accuser’s tall tale; but they carried on lobbying.

When bombarding the CPS and Met with emails, Alison Levitt tellingly stooped to one including a statement from personality-free Labour MP Keir Starmer, her former mentor, who highlighted Levitt’s ‘findings’ in the DPP report into Jimmy Savile. If ever proof were needed to underline Ms Levitt’s chilling agenda, this email had it in spades. Yet, still the case went to trial.

Kato Harris was cleared of the charges by a jury in the space of fifteen minutes. Despite this, St George’s School declined to resume his employment there. He is currently unemployed and is understandably reluctant to return to teaching in any capacity; why would any man even enter the profession anymore? Judge Edmunds ruled that the CPS decision to prosecute was an ‘improper act’ and that they should now pay Mr Harris’ legal fees, though they have offered a paltry amount so far. The Met, meanwhile, claim that an independent review of their actions by the Greater Manchester Police said no evidence was found that the accuser’s representatives ‘were inappropriately given any physical access to information concerning the investigation’.

An innocent man on the scrapheap, branded for life and unwilling to re-enter the profession he was apparently extremely good at; a narcissistic fantasist endorsed by wealthy parents and a despicable law firm; legal reforms that encourage such malicious vendettas; the CPS and the Met once more joining forces on an immoral crusade to appease victims lobbyists without a care for those trampled underfoot – none of these factors are unique in 2017.

Kato Harris may not feel it, but he is a lucky man. He’s not behind bars for something he didn’t do. In the current climate, that in itself is a triumph. The easiest way to ruin anyone today is to simply point the finger and shout ‘Paedo!’ Job done.

© The Editor

OUR MAN IN THE ESTABLISHMENT

rumpoleWhen John Mortimer created the character of Horace Rumpole, he admitted his ultimate motivation was to come up with a Sherlock Holmes or a James Bond, a fictitious figure whose popularity could span a series of books that would keep the author financially comfortable in his old age. In the end, it was the television incarnation of Rumpole as played to utterly convincing perfection by Leo McKern in the ITV series, ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, which ran from 1978-1992, that provided Mortimer with his retirement nest-egg.

Mortimer was himself a barrister and he drew inspiration from some of the ‘Old Bailey hacks’ he had encountered during his legal career, those who regarded their role as a moral duty, one that honoured the inscription on the pediment above the portico of the Central Criminal Court – ‘Defend the children of the poor and punish the wrongdoer’. Like them, Rumpole had no career ambitions to climb the legal greasy pole, to become a QC or Circuit Judge; he was a firm believer in the presumption of innocence and favoured legal aid cases that few other barristers of his experience would touch.

As a barrister, John Mortimer gained a reputation for defending what many saw as the indefensible, famously on the side of the ‘Oz’ editors charged with obscenity in 1971, ‘Gay News’ for blasphemous libel in 1976, and Virgin Records over the furore concerning the public display of the word ‘bollocks’ on the sleeve of the debut Sex Pistols LP in 1977. Although he cited his criminal barrister father as another influence on the character of Rumpole, there was certainly more than a touch of the author in his creation’s wilful embrace of the underdog up against the powers-that-be.

Interestingly, Rumpole baulked at prosecution, though there were occasions when even if he knew his client was guilty, he still entered a ‘not guilty’ plea; for all his noble dedication to ‘the golden thread of British justice’, Rumpole’s cherished ethics occasionally encompassed the lies that so many in his profession propagate in order to secure success. Rumpole’s career was back in pre-CPS days, so he had no need to court favour with the Clown Prosecution Service in the hope that he could one day prosecute on their behalf; he never deliberately threw a defence case by withholding vital evidence he knew couldn’t be used in an appeal, thus ensuring a dubious CPS conviction. The old boy network was one Rumpole revelled in standing outside of.

As unconventional and borderline Dickensian a character as Horace Rumpole was, he nevertheless represented a recurrent strand in British television when dealing with the most revered professions within British society, that of the heroic crusader seeking justice for the little man when confronted by those with the weight of the establishment behind them. Such a character had already become familiar in the genre of the police drama. Sgt George Dixon was far from being a rebel, but he personified the honest copper children had been brought up to believe was there to protect them. Stratford Johns’ bullish CID colossus Barlow (‘Z-Cars’ and ‘Softy Softly’) was a different proposition, but still essentially a good guy when it came to the innocent. If we ever found ourselves in a tight corner, we wanted Sgt Dixon, DCS Barlow and Rumpole to be there for us.

These effective TV PR jobs for the police and the Law presented the public with an idealised and unrealisable vision of crime and punishment that viewers who had no first-hand contact with either came to believe was the truth. It wasn’t until GF Newman’s uncompromising ‘Law and Order’ was broadcast on the BBC the same year that ITV aired the first series of ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ (1978) that television uncovered the less reassuring reality of how the system actually worked.

A four-part series whose grim brutality showed up ‘The Sweeney’ for the admittedly enjoyable escapism it really was, ‘Law and Order’ featured a corrupt police detective (Derek Martin of later ‘Eastenders’ fame) faced with finding the guilty parties behind an armed robbery. Although this proves a relatively simple task, the urge to frame a career villain (Peter Dean AKA Albert Square’s Pete Beale) who has evaded arrest for several other jobs sees the detective cajole and persuade the men responsible for the crime to name said villain as a member of their crew even though he had no involvement with them or their ‘blag’. The man was ‘due’ and is duly found guilty, sent down for several years for something he didn’t do; in the eyes of the copper, this is justice.

The bias of the judge in directing the jury to reject the outrageous notion that the police could possibly be liars, the hopeless predicament of the low-rent lawyer entrusted to keep the accused innocent from prison, and the smug satisfaction of the detective in removing a persistent offender from his books are all complemented by perhaps the most graphic portrayal of prison life ever seen on TV up to that point.

‘Law and Order’ doesn’t make for easy viewing, but I would recommend it to anyone who remains in denial that the judiciary and the police aren’t always on our side. Yes, we want to believe in Rumpole and Dixon in the same way we want to believe every newspaper journalist is on a par with Woodward & Bernstein. The sad fact is that when we encounter them we find this isn’t necessarily the case.

Only this week in promoting the ITV police drama, ‘Unforgotten’, its author spoke on the radio of deliberately portraying the police as ‘nice people doing a tough job’ and it would seem endless toxic headlines of police corruption and ineptitude have resulted in TV returning to a more feel-good formula that assures its viewers that not every apple in the barrel is rotten. Try telling that to the innocents who have been on the receiving end of a system that purports to live by the principle carved on that Old Bailey pediment and yet is found wanting when the maintenance of the status quo from which its beneficiaries thrive and prosper becomes the prime objective, along with increasingly insidious politicisation that has made ‘guilty till proven innocent’ the rule rather than the exception. Be careful out there – you’re on your own.

© The Editor

DEMOCRATIC RITES

judgeIf the American novelist Paul Auster can observe the unedifying savagery of this year’s US Presidential Election and come to the conclusion that his country is at its most divided since the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, what, I wonder, would his summary be of the disunited kingdom across the Atlantic? Events on June 23 merely confirmed divisions many had long been aware of, but this week’s High Court ruling, caused by a legal challenge to the Government’s right to press ahead with Brexit negotiations without the participation of Parliament, has provoked a fresh wave of vitriolic accusations and counter-accusations from the irreconcilable opposites for whom the decision of a referendum wasn’t the end of a long-running saga. Tony Blair was condemned for his ‘Presidential’ approach to running the country, excluding most of the Cabinet from key decisions, never mind Parliament; yet, the fact that Theresa May has been prevented from doing likewise on this particular issue, that she has been forced to resort to democracy rather than dictatorship, has been received with unprecedented outrage.

The Daily Mail puts a trio of senior judges – including the Lord Chief Justice – on its front cover and the headline screams ‘Enemies of the People’; to hammer home their qualifications, the guilty men are named and shamed as a ‘gay fencer’, a ‘Europhile’, and the most damning of all, ‘Worked with Tony Blair’. Cue requisite readership mouth-frothing. The Telegraph headline declares ‘The judges versus the people’, whilst fellow Brexit cheerleaders the Express and the Sun make the same point in their own distinctive ways. Tied-in nicely with the FIFA poppy row, this latest treasonous act that is no doubt an insult to all our brave boys who laid down their lives for Fleet Street enables the Express to adopt a Churchillian battle cry in its editorial. And, along with the judges, we even have a proper villainess to boo and hiss. Her name is Gina Miller

Gina Miller is a 51-year-old Investment Manager who launched her challenge to Theresa May’s Brexit strategy with the aid of a few friends as rich as her and the crowd-funded ‘People’s Challenge Group’. She denies it was her intention to overturn the will of the British people to leave the EU, but so toxic are relations between the Remainers and the Leavers that she has already received the predictable rash of online death-threats, something that the media plastering her over the front pages and painting her as the Cruella de Ville of the anti-Brexiteers obviously cannot be blamed for. So far, the extent of protests in the wake of Brexit has been petulant foot-stamping on the part of students who couldn’t even be arsed to vote and socially-conscious Luvvies whose infinite wisdom on such matters naturally gifts them with the authority to lecture the poorly-educated masses residing beyond Watford Gap. This is something far more substantial, however, and again makes a mockery of the simplistic manner in which Brexit was sold to the public by its salesmen and women.

It took more than a decade of on/off negotiations before Ted Heath signed on the Common Market dotted line in 1972, so anybody who was expecting an overnight exit from the European Union once the votes in the Referendum were counted clearly wasn’t paying attention. The prolonged process of extricating the UK from almost 45 years of European commitments was destined to be an interminably tedious one, and now the High Court ruling proclaiming the Government cannot get on with it without the approval and say-so of Parliament suggests we’re in for a far longer ride to ‘freedom’ than even those who anticipated a sloth-like departure could have imagined.

The Royal Prerogative cannot be invoked when it comes to legislation relating to Britain’s membership of the EU – that was the decision reached in the High Court by men whose job it is to study the small print of the statute book; Theresa May cannot press on with Brexit negotiations without putting her plans and proposals to Parliament; and Parliament must vote on those plans and proposals before Article 50 can be triggered. When one studies the stated preferences of MPs on the eve of the Referendum, the cries of foul play emanating from the Brexit side are understandable: 185 Tories said they would vote Remain, whereas 138 declared they would vote Leave; with Labour, it was 218 to 10; every Lib Dem and every SNP MP said they would opt for Remain. Even before the Government submits its intentions to a Commons heavily in favour of Remain, it will appeal to the Supreme Court, and the two combined mean more and more months will be sacrificed before any action can be taken.

On one hand, this judgement could be viewed as the return of the much-discussed ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty’ that Brussels had apparently robbed us of, relieving a coterie of Cabinet Ministers of the exclusive rights to decide and giving all our elected representatives a part to play; on the other, it could be viewed as a wealthy and privileged elite with vested interests in the status quo using their clout to prevent an outcome voted for by the people. Whichever viewpoint one adopts, this is a situation that has thrown up some unlikely heroes and villains – with, in many cases, left and right swapping sides as social media updates provide the latest info on who to cheer and who to jeer.

The traditional ‘falling on one’s sword’ gesture has been employed yet again by an attention-starved backbencher in the aftermath of the ruling, the honour this time belonging to Tory MP Stephen Phillips. He apparently already has a career as a barrister, so won’t be spotted at his local food-bank in the near future; but his resignation is the second in a fortnight from a party whose government is in possession of a fairly slender majority, pointing once again to Conservative cracks that haven’t been healed by the Referendum result.

This week’s drama has rekindled talk of an early General Election – possibly next spring; this is something Theresa May has constantly downplayed ever since Dave vacated Downing Street, despite the likelihood of a landslide with such a weak and underwhelming Opposition. The Fixed Term Parliament Act instigated by her predecessor reduces a Prime Minister’s power to call an Election when it suits them, but circumstances are fairly unique right now, and if the Government loses its appeal against the High Court ruling, the PM may have no option but to go to the country in what will be inevitably labelled ‘The Brexit Election’. This won’t be over even if Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott duet on the hustings in 2017.

© The Editor

AS NATURE OFFENDED

d7e11002cd980b7e96b55a95b0ac8b0e[1]A paediatrician asks a mother to video her mentally disabled daughter enduring one of her regular spasms in order that he can make an effective diagnosis; a side-effect of her child’s condition is that the spasms cause her to rip her clothes off. Upon being told this, the physician whose job it is to tend to the medical needs of children informs the mother he cannot view any such videos. Despite the fact that visual evidence of the spasms will enable him to treat them correctly and possibly ease the girl’s suffering, he cannot look at it because he fears possession of such material will result in him being placed on the sex-offender’s register. The mother also hesitates at capturing her daughter’s spasms on video for fear she will be charged with making offensive images; sending them to the paediatrician could land her with an additional charge of distributing offensive images. Therefore, a woman who gave birth to a child born naked and a man whose profession sometimes requires him to examine children without clothes on both back away from helping a sick child because of fear. This is a true story, told to me by someone who was told it by the mother of the child. What an absolutely ludicrous, not to say tragic, scenario.

This is an extremely smug century. A consensus is afoot that we are sophisticated, liberated and no longer hindered by the repressive sexual pressures that stifled personal freedoms in the past. If the products of this culture have an imagined nemesis, it is the Victorians. Women couldn’t vote and were second-class citizens encased in constricting corsets; homosexuals were locked away and broken by the prison system; black people were oppressed colonial cheap labour, barely better off than when they were slaves; the poor lived in squalid hovels with no social safety net other than the workhouse. Weren’t the Victorians terrible and aren’t we so much better? Are we?

Last year, a BBC documentary on Lewis Carroll aired, in which the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ author’s pioneering photographs received extensive coverage. Carroll – or as he was known beyond Wonderland, Charles Dodgson – specialised in somewhat sentimental portraits of children that enraptured their parents, most of whom were present when Dodgson’s elaborate set-pieces were staged and captured on camera. Many of these images featured children unclothed, something that at the time was supposed to emphasise the virtuous innocence of vulnerable cherubs whose lifespan hovered in a permanent state of uncertainty. Sensibilities today see such images rather differently.

One overlong segment of the documentary was devoted to an image of an unidentified naked pre-pubescent girl whose identity was speculated as being that of the real Alice’s sister, Lorina Liddell; nobody could even say for certain that Charles Dodgson had actually taken the photograph. But this formed part of the predictable discussion on whether or not Dodgson’s penchant for participating in a late nineteenth century vogue for photographing children pointed to him being a paedophile. The squeamish icing on the twenty-first century censorious cake, however, was that the programme-makers wouldn’t even let the viewers see the photograph in question. A Victorian photo of a girl who will have been dead for at least fifty years – and that’s if she lived to a very ripe old age – couldn’t be shown on television in 2015 because it was deemed to be offensive to the sensitive sensibilities of our oh-so superior age.

‘Victorian Values’ is a wide-sweeping term that is only ever used dismissively; it is supposed to represent everything bad that has gradually been superseded by more enlightened thinking and living. Yet, as hypocritical as the Victorians’ attitude to flesh and pleasures thereof allegedly were, they were not terrified of the flesh of children – and they were not expected to see pleasure in it at all, unlike their ‘sophisticated’ successors over a hundred years on. Of course, there were some adults then who had unnatural sexual desires towards children, just as there were before the Victorians and just as there are today; but the key difference between then and now is that the nineteenth century acknowledged paedophilia as a rare symptom restricted to a minority rather than a commonplace perversion inherent in the majority.

Today, one has to prove the absence of such feelings because their absence is not accepted. It is a given, a presumption that they are in all of us, simply waiting to be exposed. A series of laws introduced over the past decade seem designed to catch us out, to coax these feelings into the open, like some form of thought entrapment; and if they happen not to be in us, they have to be implanted in us because they’re supposed to be there. These laws encourage instant suspicion and rushes to judgement, and they persuade people to think the worst of everyone. They negate rationality, provoke paranoia and self-doubt, inspire mob mentality, and more than anything, they generate a primitive brand of pseudo-religious, finger-pointing fear unprecedented in a secular society.

The Victorians were supposedly so averse to the sight of naked flesh that they covered piano legs because they resembled the indecently-exposed legs of ladies. How silly, eh? But they weren’t horrified by the sight of children as nature intended; we are. And that’s progress.

© The Editor

TUMBLEWEED INJUNCTION

EltonOnce upon a time, Reg posed as one of the lads. Unlike his contemporaries the Dame and the Wizard, Reg was not one for in-yer-face effeminacy. He had initially been a sensitive sort at the piano, riding the crest of the singer-songwriter wave at the turn of the decade that made him; then some fearless souls opened the dressing-up box and he could tentatively dip his toes in – once those burly bruisers from the Black Country showed it was possible to do so while maintaining one’s masculine credentials, of course. Rather than re-emerge as a fully-fledged drag act, however, Reg went for the pantomime football hooligan look and cranked up the guitars as he penned an ode to the delights of fighting on a Saturday night. Staying in was still easier to handle than coming out when a career could be killed. His pal Freddie followed suit.

They loved him Stateside; he was far bigger there than he ever was here, topping the Billboard Hot 100 on numerous occasions – occasions no doubt memorised and quoted verbatim by his pal Paul. Therefore, despite investing in his hometown team to keep his laddish end in, Reg finally felt it was safe to tiptoe out of the closet, though even then he hedged his bets and went for the half-and-half option as the Dame had long before him. The disappearance of the frills and elaborate goggles, followed by the focus on a hair transplant that was forever hidden beneath a hat, distracted attention from sexuality as the 80s approached and some wondered if it had been a convenient hitch on a passing bandwagon.

Marrying a lady seemed to confirm the bi bit had been a sign of the times for Reg when it had been chic to declare so. The barriers broken down in the 70s had been a step too far for some, however, and there was a vociferous backlash in the new decade. It’s easy to forget how hostile the mainstream media were to anything ‘poofy’: Boy George skirted around the bleedin’ obvious, stating he preferred a nice cuppa, whereas the other George did his utmost to come across as macho as possible. With the insidious incursion into the national consciousness of AIDS and then Clause 28, it was not the time for household names to be out and proud, with only a small handful of newcomers such as Little Jimmy Somerville braving the animosity. The death of Mr Mercury in 1991 was greeted in at least one Fleet Street tabloid with a ‘you got what you deserved after the lifestyle you led’.

As the 90s progressed, it no longer seemed to matter, however. Both Georges had finally kicked the closet door open, with the Michael one now aware the teenage girls who had viewed him as a dream date had moved on from gazing lovingly at his image on their bedroom walls. It was safe to come clean at last, and Reg no longer pretended he was anything other than a raging queen. By the turn of the Millennium, with the likes of Will Young being open from the start and his honesty not affecting his popularity one iota, Reg could afford to enter into a relationship that there was no need to hide anymore. When civil partnerships and then gay marriage were enshrined in law, Reg was at the head of the queue and had cemented his place as the Queen Mother of British pop culture.

Revelations in the US media this week that Reg’s missus had been playing away and then invited Reg for a three-way tie with the other party had provoked slavering relish in the dark heart of Murdochland, but a super-injunction has been taken out to prevent the British press from publishing the names of those involved, even though social media has made a mockery of the law by naming, if not necessarily shaming. The quaint shock-horror tactics of the press seem to perceive the story as being in the public interest, presumably just as Max Mosley’s S&M shindig was. They paid the price for publicising that, just as they were successfully sued for libel by Reg in the 80s for accusing him of attending an all-boy’s gang-bang.

Personally, I couldn’t give a toss. What has Reg’s private life got to do with anyone else? Just because he has paraded him and his spouse through the Hello and OK doctor’s surgery gallery, does that mean we are entitled to know every behind-closed-doors detail? Murdochland imagines we do. One cannot help but wonder, however, if this is another symptom of old mistrust resurfacing in a new guise, just as Harvey Proctor hinted the witch-hunt that unjustly returned him to the spotlight was a hangover from the bad old days. How long before ‘a victim comes forward’ whose accusations against Reg are viewed as ‘credible and true’?

© The Editor