"Extreme porn" defendant cleared on all counts

The CPS has "serious questions to answer" over the prosecution, says David Allen Green.

A man who was tried this week in Kingston Crown Court for possessing images of "extreme" sexual acts has just been cleared on all counts. Simon Walsh was tried under "extreme pornography" laws (part of a wider 2008 bill) in a trial before a jury. 

As Nelson Jones wrote:

Walsh [was] charged with several counts of possessing extreme pornography under the notorious s63 of the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. This makes it illegal to possess (and looking at something on a website technically counts as possession) any pornographic image depicting animals, dead bodies or "an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals."

Myles Jackman, the lawyer defending Walsh, had posted this background to the case:

Before being arrested and charged with these offences, Simon was a successful professional and politician in the City who, amongst other things, prosecuted police officers accused of disciplinary offences. After being charged, Simon lost both professional and political positions, despite the fact that no pornography was found on any of his work computers.

In fact, no pornography was found on Simon's home computers either. Instead, the police had to “interrogate” Simon's personal email account (server) in order to discover a few images they deemed questionable. This included an image of a man wearing a gas mask. Their expert stated that this was likely to cause serious harm, even death by asphyxiation: despite being a piece of equipment designed to assist breathing. This charge was eventually dropped.

Following the result of the trial, David Allen Green, solicitor and legal correspondent for the New Statesman, said:

"This was a shameful and intrusive prosecution which should never have been brought. It was bad law to begin with, but a good man has had his sex life examined in open court for no good reason. There are serious questions for the CPS to answer about bringing this prosecution."

For background on the case, read NS blogger Nelson Jones here (includes graphic sexual descriptions). For more on the "extreme pornography" law, see David Allen Green's post on Jack of Kent.

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Kingston Crown Court. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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