Obscenity victory

An illiberal and misconceived prosecution fails at Southwark Crown Court.

The jury at Southwark Crown Court has returned unanimous Not Guilty verdicts on each of the six charges under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 against Michael Peacock.

The prosecution failed to convince a single juror that any of the DVD material distributed by Peacock was "depraving and corrupting" under the 1959 Act. The DVDs contained sexual practices such as fisting, BDSM, and so-called "watersports" depicted between consenting adults.

Statement from Crown Prosecution Service:

The CPS charged Michael Peacock with publishing obscene articles for gain, as we were satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to secure a realistic prospect of conviction, and that it was in the public interest to prosecute these allegations.

The prosecution was not only about the content of the material, but the way in which it was being distributed to others, without checks being made as to the age or identity of recipients.

The judge was satisfied that there was a case to answer, but having heard all of the evidence for both the prosecution and the defence, the jury acquitted the defendant.

We respect the jury's decision.

Statement from Mr Peacock's solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen:

The trial of Michael Peacock for six counts of distributing obscene DVDs under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 concluded today with an acquittal.

The jury, which had watched large parts of the 'hard core' male-on-male DVDs took under 2 hours to find Mr Peacock not guilty.

Mr Peacock had been advertising the DVDs online and selling them from his flat in Brixton. Officers from SCD9 (the former Obscene Publications Squad of the Met) saw the adverts and operated an undercover test purchase. Six DVD's featuring various sex acts including 'fisting' and BDSM were deemed by police to be obscene and Mr Peacock was prosecuted.

Myles Jackman, a solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, with a specialist interest in obscenity law, commented: "The jury's verdict is a significant victory for common sense suggesting that the OPA has been rendered irrelevant in the digital age. Normal jurors did not consider representations of consensual adult sexuality would deprave and corrupt the viewer."

Senior Criminal Partner, Nigel Richardson, acting for Mr Peacock, stated that "from the outset Michael has displayed an enormous amount of courage in contesting these charges. The jury's verdict vindicates his decision to challenge this arcane and archaic legislation. The result is also a testament to [HJA crime partner] Sandra Paul's persuasive advocacy."

More to follow.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as “pure” as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."