Not this kind of tiger, clearly. Photo: Getty
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Why a woman having sex with a fake tiger shows that the Extreme Pornography Act must be repealed

Experts predicted that the law would result in fewer than 30 cases a year. Instead, there have been thousands of convictions. The Act is not fit for purpose.

Andrew Holland, the Wrexham man who was famously prosecuted for possessing a clip of a woman having sex with a man in a tiger costume, has challenged Section 63 of the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, popularly known as the Extreme Pornography Act. In a letter to the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Holland’s solicitors have claimed that even five years after its enactment, the law is so unclear and poorly understood – including by police, prosecutors and solicitors – that it too easily traps the innocent. Assisted by a specialist legal team and advised by the sexual freedom campaigning group Backlash, the former defendant has called on CPS head Allison Saunders to review the implementation of Section 63; if no such review is forthcoming, the law will be challenged via judicial review.

Holland’s case illustrates the damage that can be caused by this poorly understood law. He was an ordinary man who loved jokes, the more outlandish the better. He had received the tiger clip, and another six second clip depicting simulated damage to a man’s genitals, as laddish jokes from friends. The friend had shared the clips as part of a braggart, bravado-tinged culture where online buddies swap videos intended to shock. “Unfortunately one of my friends sent me a load of jokes…some of them were hilarious, but unfortunately there were two on there that were classed as obscene,” says Holland.

In the tiger clip, after copulating with the woman, the costumed man looks up and says to the camera: “That beats doing Frosties ads for a living!” Clearly, it is not real; it’s a joke, albeit not to everyone’s taste, and it isn’t meant to be banned under the Act. But when Holland’s phone found its way into the hands of police in 2009, over a matter which was never pursued by them, he found himself charged with possessing extreme pornography, his name plastered across newspapers and websites. “When I went to court, neither my solicitor nor the people at the court understood the new law,” he says.

The trial process showed that lack of understanding. When they had charged Holland, the CPS had not yet heard the clip’s audio, which contained the tiger’s tell-tale punchline. Upon finally hearing the audio, they dropped the charge, but Holland would still have to face trial for the second charge, relating to the six-second clip of simulated genital damage. He pleaded not guilty, but when the jury saw the clip, his lawyers read their shocked reactions and advised him to change his plea to guilty. He followed his lawyers’ advice, and a date for his sentencing was set.

Were it not for the support of Backlash campaigners, the story of Andrew Holland might have ended there. He could have faced a custodial sentence, and any conviction would almost certainly damage his career and personal life. Fortunately for him, the sensational media reports of the “Tiger Porn” case had spread widely, and came to the attention of Backlash. Through their networks, Backlash activists reached out to Holland; when they were finally able to reach him, he had already made his plea. With specialised advice and support from legal experts, he applied to have his guilty plea vacated before sentencing. This was granted, which meant that he would stand trial again, in the knowledge that he had a defence.

This time, he was ready. With the help of civil liberties lawyer Myles Jackman, who frequently advises Backlash, Holland’s legal team had assembled a panel of experts to dispute the pornographic nature of the clip, highlighting that they had been sent without permission, in jest. Eventually, again, the CPS dropped the charges, possibly because they wished to avoid embarrassment in a high-profile, well-informed challenge to the controversial Act.

Holland was cleared, but he had to piece his life together after the many months of litigation. The media furore led to job loss and public ridicule, as his name was publicly associated with illegal pornography. “People were talking…vigilantes and people threatening, I was beaten up on more than one occasion…I was living in fear of my life,” he says. Even today, the ubiquity of the case on the internet worldwide links his name permanently to an embarrassing episode of his life; though he was cleared, he is still at risk, and has moved to an area where nobody knows him. The charges still appear on some background checks, which make it hard for him to find work. “[The story] went everywhere around the world – my name, my address, my age and everything,” he says. At any time, an internet reader might search his name, find old news reports, and skim the headline without following the complexities of his case. In the mind of that skim-reader – perhaps a colleague or neighbour – he will be forever linked with perversion, with deviance.

Holland hopes to prevent anyone else from falling foul of a law that he feels is not fit for purpose. “I want to clear my name, and put the point across to people that are ignorant in their understanding of extreme pornographic images…People showing a cartoon clip on their mobile phone in a pub face being in the same position as me, even though they’ve got no knowledge that what they have is illegal,” he says.

Without a CPS revision of the guidance around Section 63, or its overturn in a successful judicial review, it is very likely that more innocent people will be exposed to the indignity of arrest and the damaging consequences of unjust conviction. Backlash has worked with many people who feel they were unjustly accused. They have heard from those who were reported to the police to satisfy a grudge, and those who police charged after discovering images during investigation for other issues. With increasing availability of high-speed wireless Internet, and the popularity of social media and instant messaging services like WhatsApp, it’s increasingly easy to be carrying an offending image around in your pocket.

According to Jackman, the new technology creates unprecedented opportunities for people to pass illegal images around unknowingly. “You have a group of people who communicate by text or app messaging services, and a member of the group may post something as a joke without realising it’s illegal. I’ve sent you an image, you haven’t asked for it, you don’t know what it is. You could be in possession of extreme pornography and could be arrested for being in possession of it…We are seeing an increasingly large amount of this. [Prosecution is] not limited to people with alternative sexual preferences, but is now an issue which affects the entire adult population,” he says.

In the challenge, Holland’s legal team, advised by Backlash, emphasise the Act’s violations of human rights. With the concept of “extreme” pornography poorly defined, and without reliable guidance from CPS to prosecutors, individuals find it difficult to determine what is and isn’t legal. Perhaps, this is why a law which experts predicted would get less than 30 cases a year has had over 5,000 convictions since its inception. It’s impossible to know how many people have pleaded guilty to possession of images that were not actually unlawful. “I can only assume that a vast proportion of people caught will have been affected in the same way as [Holland],” says Jackman. Even if only a few of those cases were like Holland’s, or like the case of former Boris Johnson aide Simon Walsh (whose career was destroyed when he was accused), the law’s impact on social freedoms is disproportionate to any social good that it has caused.

This challenge comes at a time of contrasting trends around sexuality and morality. Racy erotica is available on the shelves of bookshops in every high street, but much of society exists in a moral panic, and even a whiff of this fear can ruin lives and tear communities apart. It is the duty of our judiciary to uphold the core, liberal values of human rights and freedom of expression, not to give into moral panic. In holding the justice system to account, Holland and his lawyers can stem the tide of panic, but only society as a whole can decide to reject it altogether. “I think liberalism always wins eventually but it takes time; there’s friction between more progressive impulses and more conservative ones, and when it comes to social issues, be it gay marriage or slavery, these debates can be very short or they can be very long-lived,” says Jackman. “Eventually I think when it comes to sexual morality, which is clearly not a state politics issue but a personal one, these things will change, it just takes time,” he says.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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