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.)

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496