Let us imagine for a moment that you are successful in your career. The bank balance is piling up nicely, you have an offer on your modest suburban mock-Tudor, and your wife has fallen in love with a magnificent barn conversion in a group of three nestling in idyllic countryside. Life is looking good.
You move into your new house and there are your two rosy cheeked boys playing happily in the garden. The neighbours, a Doctor and a Barrister, invite you to a barbecue that night. They are both charming people, intelligent, educated, and hospitable. The wine flows, your wife is chatting happily to the Doctor’s wife, the Barrister is up to his elbows in marinade, working it deep into some succulent steaks – when suddenly a bombshell goes off in your brain. Walsh, Walsh, oh my God, I remember Simon Walsh.
I don’t care how liberated or tolerant or Libertarian you claim to be. I defy you to feel the same enthusiasm for those steaks when you remember that the arms that are dripping with marinade chose to spend their private relaxation time immersed in another man’s anus. Dripping with faeces.
Simon Walsh. Innocent man. Cleared by Kingston Crown Court of any offence. But his life will never be the same again. I admire his courage in fighting his prosecution for offences under section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. 1337 other people were prosecuted under the same offence, and pleaded guilty rather than risk the intense scrutiny of their sex lives that Simon Walsh has undergone in order to prove his innocence.
Long before the case was heard he lost his high flying job as an aide to Boris Johnson; he was excluded from his chambers, denying him work in his chosen career. We know more about him, his sexual fantasies, his sexual proclivities, than we have any right to know of anyone. And why? Because a friend of his engaged in similar perfectly legal activities, and sent him five photographs of him so engaging by e-mail.
How can it be that it is an offence to receive photographs of perfectly legal activities when there is no offence in receiving photographs of many illegal activities? There you have to return to the murder of Jane Longhurst in 2003. Her murderer, Graham Coutts, had engaged in the dangerous practice of of erotic asphyxiation with consenting partners for many years – without mishap. He claimed that Jane was a consenting adult, and it ‘went wrong’. She was no longer alive to verify his version of events – however his computer was. On his computer were recently downloaded images of violent pornography. The possibility that Jane was a consenting adult was an unappealing image for any Mother. Jane’s Mother began campaigning for what would become known as ‘Jane’s Law’, convinced that it was Coutts viewing those images that had led to her daughter’s death.
I am minded here of a woman I knew many years ago who went on national television one night to confess to her own unusual sexual practices in some detail. Her choice, but she had a teenage child. The next day the child was teased mercilessly at school and in the small community where they lived. The child smashed a window that night and got into another drunken fight. The child turned to the village doctor a few days later and was prescribed a mild sedative. The following day the child was discovered dead, hanging from a rope. A tragedy. The woman has been campaigning ever since to prosecute the Doctor, claiming that the Doctor killed that child. We all find it easier to deal with tragedy if we can point the finger at someone or something external.
‘Jane’s Law’ fitted with the ultra feminist era of early 2003. It was taken up enthusiastically by Martin Salter MP and David Blunkett. It led directly to Section 63, a loosely worded piece of knee jerk legislation which makes it illegal to possess 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.
One could argue that a ten minute sojourn outside any maternity unit will produce women limping along mindful of their genital stitching, having engaged in an act which has ‘resulted in damage to their genitals’. One could equally argue that Her Majesty the Queen, owner of the Carracci pen and ink depiction of the Swan’s vigorous sexual congress with Leda, should shortly come to the attention of Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions…in short, the wording of the Act is designed to apply to any and every situation as required.
That in turn has led many in the blogosphere to believe that this was a malicious prosecution. Not only was it never explained in court why Simon Walsh was arrested in public and then charged with an offence which was only ‘discovered’ when his computer was seized and searched – the offending item, one of only five on his computer was sent to him by a friend on his private e-mail – it was never proven in court that he had even opened the e-mail, much less viewed the images, but he was, technically, ‘in possession’ of them. It could happen to any one of us – I have certainly been sent copious quantities of obscene images, not only in attachments, but in the body of e-mails appearing to arrive from friends. It has become a favourite ‘trick’ of trolls who wish to repay you for some imagined wrong you have done.
There is also the factor that Simon was a well known prosecutor of the Police themselves. That theory would hold true if the Prosecution Service was the Police – but they are not. They are fellow barristers mostly. The Police come up with the ‘evidence’ – and the CPP decides whether to prosecute, not the police. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been a malicious prosecution – just not ‘by the police’. The Crown Prosecution Service has many similarities with the Civil Service in the sense that, whilst there are a few exceedingly bright people who have figured out that they will quickly rise to the top in the environment – and they do – the CPP is also a mass employer of the failed, the mediocre, the tardy, the lazy, the ‘only just scraped through’, and the ‘in between decent jobs’. No reason why in that environment, Simon Walsh shouldn’t have upset a fair few with his meteoric and effortless rise to the top.
None of this concerns me as much as the publicity, of which I am equally guilty in this post, given to Simon’s sex life. If we can provide private anonymised hearings, with anonymised case notes for cases involving children or the mentally ill – why do we have to publicly pry into the quintessentially private sex lives of those accused of these type of offences? A guilty verdict could trigger publicity, that is fair enough (after an appeal!) but the accusation and volume of prosecution evidence, to say nothing of the detail that must necessarily be discussed by way of defence should be sealed away from prurient eyes until it is established that the individual is a law breaker.
We all arrived on this earth out of a sexual act – do you really want to hear that much detail of how you were conceived, what sexual fantasies your parents grunted their way through in order to produce you, perchance someone thinks it funny to send them a similar e-mail?
For once I agree with the ‘think of the children’ mantra, Simon is openly gay, but that doesn’t mean that he has never fathered a child, nor that the next person won’t have children.
It can be written as many times as you like that Simon Walsh is innocent, but what we know of his private life will hang around him like the stench of rotten fish for the rest of his life, colouring every friendship, intruding in every effort to restart his career, embarrassing not just him, but anyone who associates with him. It will be a brave and principled platonic friend who will be seen out with him in public now – the sniggers and innuendos will follow them around too.