"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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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform