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.)

Getty
Show Hide image

The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

0800 7318496