Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tell Me About It!

This not only has the ring of truth, but adds to the argument that much of the last two decades' decline in public decency is down to the tabloid press.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Floreat Etona

Posh lawyers don't spend a lot of time in the magistrates'court. A few young barristers who fancy a life of crime flit through the grubby end of the trade on their way to the Crown Court and the Old Bailey, but on the whole we get a different type of defence brief.

We were graced one day by the presence of an exquisitely pin-striped and beautifully spoken stiff-collared young man whose haircut was strongly suggestive of Eton College (or Slough Grammar as it was known at my provincial university).

He shimmered to his immaculately-shod feet. "May it please your worships" (running fingers through his mane, removing blonde mop from line of vision) "Due to a happy concatenation of circumstances we find ourselves in a position to progress my client's case this morning".

"Swipe me!" was my first thought. My second was to suppress a grin prompted by my having caught the eye of John Cochrane, a down-to-earth local solicitor who is a fixture in our court, and whose rolling eyes were a dead giveaway of his thoughts.

By chance I bumped into John a few days later in the local pub known as Court Seven. We could not resist talking about Mr. Pinstripe, and I finished up betting John a pound that he couldn't fit in the word 'concatenation' in front of me one day. I lost.

I have subsequently learned that advocates often challenge each other to introduce unlikely words in their address to the court without prompting a rebuke or a query from the chair. The daftest that I have heard of is 'hypostasis'. How the perpetrator got away with that I cannot imagine, but he did, or so he claims.

Compensation Culture

The power to award compensation is one of the magistrates' most important powers. After all, there is a deal of natural justice in making people pay for damage they have caused, even though where the damage is enormous and the perpetrator on £45 a week benefit we sometimes have to take a realistic view. There is a list of suggested injury compensation awards in the Bench Book at page 183 of the pdf file. We may sometimes make a compensation order as a sentence in its own right where criminality is not too high but a victim has suffered a loss.
A court is obliged to consider compensation, but it remains one of the decreasing number of areas where we pretty much have a free hand. If property has been damaged the police may put in a compensation claim, but they often don't and we are thrown back onto Mark 1 Common Sense, which suits me fine. As ordinary citizens members of a bench of magistrates are well placed to make a fair guess at the cost of putting something right, and also, on occasion, to scale back an inflated claim.
Many years ago there was an incident in a pub in which a young man hurled various things across the bar, breaking bottles and glasses, and then scuffled with the manager, ripping the latter's shirt. The victim put in a claim for nearly £2,000. We went through it line-by-line, and found that every bottle on the optics had allegedly been broken, and that every one was full at the time. Funny, that. The manager claimed £140 for his shirt, and various bits and pieces behind the bar came to a hundred here and a hundred there. Unfortunately for him we knew that ten days after the incident the pub had undergone scheduled refurbishments, being gutted and refitted, so the claims to replace various shelves and wooden mouldings referred to stuff that would have been in the skip within a fortnight. Nevertheless the pub was still entitled to reasonable compensation, so we set our own figure of about a fifth of the claim. Nobody seemed surprised.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Price of Fame

A District Judge at an East London court has remanded Pete Doherty, a pop singer, in custody on drugs charges today. I have nothing to say about Mr. Doherty or about today’s bail decision but I do sympathise with any court that finds itself dealing with someone famous.

We have seen a few such cases, and the first indication that something is up is usually a posse of journalists and cameramen outside the court. We can rely on our court staff to sort out access to the press seats (which will never hold a quarter of those wanting to get in) and organise some sort of pooling arrangement. A couple of local policemen will keep an eye on the crowd, and it is usual to get the case on as early as possible so that the court can then quickly get back to normal and crack on with its daily business.

Magistrates are ordinary people, who read the same papers and watch the same TV as everyone else. The bench will have to brace themselves to treat the case in exactly the same way as any other. The pressure of a full press gallery, and the certainty that the court’s decision will be on the day’s news is a stern test of the magistrates’ training and experience, but they can cope with that.

What happens when the case gets before a jury can be another matter altogether.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Well I Never

Someone asked me the other day why I decided to call the blog 'The Law West of Ealing Broadway', when I have only the most tenuous connection with the place, mostly to do with changing trains on the way into London. I am told that the 'Ealing Gazette' picked up the 'Times' piece and ran a story based on the fact that it was of local interest!

Well of course it was a dim memory of Paul Newman playing Judge Roy Bean in the film of the same name, and the Judge's motto 'The Law West of the Pecos' that made it spring to mind. That was all I knew about the fellow, until the other day I looked him up here.
It turns out that he really existed, and that his courthouse, that also served as a saloon and a jail, has been preserved as a tourist attraction. Apparently he was well known for serving drinks to passengers waiting while their train was fuelled and watered and holding on to their change until the last minute. When the train whistle blew, and the customers swore at him in their hurry to get their change and go he would fine them the exact amount of the change for using bad language.

They don't make them like that any more.

Brian and the ASBO

Thank you for the many comments on the case of Brian. As I expected, the range of sentences ran the full gamut, from releasing him straight away to five years in prison. I shall draw a veil over the more gung-ho posters who preferred capital punishment.

Some people wanted to see him put into compulsory rehab, either in or out of prison. Such facilities are almost entirely non-existent and for short prison sentences offenders are simply warehoused until their release date, because there is no time to organise anything but the most perfunctory programme. This may change in the medium term with the introduction of ‘custody plus’ adding supervision in the community on to the end of a prison sentence.

It’s the ASBO that’s the problem. He was given his when they were still relatively new orders. Since then the higher courts have issued guidelines that discourage their over-use and the imposition of unrealistic conditions. He was ordered not to be drunk in public, and he probably breached that when he walked out of the courthouse door, since he is drunk pretty much all of the time. He probably would not be given a similar order today, but the order is in place, and that’s it.

So we run through the structured sentencing process:-
How serious is the offence of its type? Being drunk – not very. Breaching the ASBO, serious because of repetition and failure to respond to previous sentences.
Is a fine or discharge appropriate? No, he has already been imprisoned twice. Breach of an ASBO is a serious either-way offence.
Is it serious enough for a community penalty? Certainly, but he has been declared unsuitable, so we may not impose one.
Is it so serious that only custody is appropriate? That’s the tricky bit. It probably isn’t, but what else can we do?
Are our powers sufficient or shall we commit to the Crown Court? Following the higher courts’ current thinking the judge is unlikely to give much, if any, more time that we can, certainly nothing like five years. We decide that we will reflect his guilty plea by not sending him upstairs, so the sentence will be six months (of which he will serve half).

If you cast your eyes to the top of the blog, you can see the bit that says where my views differ from the letter of the law I will impose the letter of the law. That’s what’s happening here. A pathetic drunk, of low intellect, will have received a total of eighteen months' imprisonment for offences that normally attract sentences right at the bottom of the tariff, usually a fine. There will be no treatment, and he will not be ‘cured’. He will leave prison clutching his discharge grant and he will head for the nearest off-licence. This cat-and-mouse will go on until his ASBO finally expires or he saves all of us a lot of trouble and succumbs to the drink. Prison is an expensive resource (estimates vary, but £750 per week may not be too far off the mark) and Brian may be lucky and avoid the bullying that is often the fate of the vulnerable and the gormless, or he may not.

Of course, while he is inside decent citizens will be spared the sight and sound of him reeling in the street hurling foul mouthed abuse at all and sundry, and that is a plus point. But is prison really the best that we can come up with?

So those of you who said that there is no answer were, I am afraid, spot on.

On the Wireless

Jeremy Vine (BBC Radio 2) has just trailed the fact that his programme will be doing a piece about magistrates on Friday 27th January. He usually has a rather tabloid take on the news, so I may just end up muttering undeleted expletives at the radio, but I am glad to see anything that improves public awareness of what the courts do and why they do it. There is still a vast chasm of ignorance between the public and the criminal justice system, so I hope that the programme's millions of listeners get a fair picture of how we operate.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Er- Not Quite According to Plan Then?

The ever-readable policeman seems to think that CPS Direct (the 24/7 hotline that advises police on the correct charge) isn't working all that smoothly. It sometimes seems that every time one part of the criminal justice system is reformed the Law of Unintended Consequences will ensure that something else will go awry.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Time For You to Have a Go Again

It’s time for you to be in the hot seat again. This case is a composite of some typical ones, and I am going to ask you how you will deal with this man who has just reoffended. Most magistrates will have seen a case like this one.
Brian is in his forties. The years have not been kind to him, and homelessness and alcoholism, combined with the fact that he has always had learning difficulties, have left him looking old beyond his years. He is accompanied in court by an ‘appropriate adult’ which is standard procedure for children and for adults who may have difficulty in understanding what is going on and in expressing themselves. He has a criminal record going back about 25 years, almost entirely for minor public order offences, predominantly being drunk and disorderly. He lives in hostels some of the time, in abandoned houses some more of the time, and in Wormwood Scrubs during periodic incarcerations. When drunk, which is most of the time, Brian can be a really unpleasant nuisance, staggering about the streets swearing and abusing total strangers. The public react to him with alarm, getting away from him as soon as they can, and I am sure that most local citizens want to see the back of him.
He is in custody, having just been arrested again for drunk and disorderly, but for the third time in nine months he has also been charged with breaching an Anti Social Behaviour Order. About 18 months ago a court granted an ASBO that banned him from being drunk in public. For each of the two previous breaches he has been sentenced to six months in prison, of which he will have served half.
He pleads guilty, and his solicitor asks you to sentence him today rather than waiting for a pre-sentence report, as the court will have all the information that it needs without one. The solicitor reminds you that Brian is entitled to a reduction of sentence of one-third for his plea of guilty. The clerk addresses you and reminds you that you should consider whether to commit to the Crown Court for sentence in view of the repeated breaches of the ASBO. Your maximum power today is six months. At the Crown Court a judge can impose up to five years.
You retire. One of your ‘wingers’ is very new to the bench, and asks what is the usual penalty for a drunk and disorderly. You explain that it is usually a conditional discharge or a fine, and that any fine is often cancelled out by a night spent in the cells. You explain that it is the breach of ASBO that you need to consider.
Your decision. Do you:- Send him up to the Crown Court for a sentence longer than six months? Give him six months straight off, and tell him that the credit for his plea lies in the fact that you did not send him upstairs? Fine him? Give him a Conditional Discharge? (Community Penalties are not available because on a previous occasion Probation reported that he has been given, and breached, the whole range of such penalties).
Tell me what you would do, and we shall return to the subject in a day or two.

Another Odd Job

As I have said before, we are sometimes asked to decide on something that is well out of the ordinary.

On one occasion, it was to decide someone's age. The someone in question was an illegal immigrant from a third-world country who had committed a criminal offence. He claimed to be 17, which makes him a youth in legal terms. The Youth Court only sits on two days a week in my courthouse, and this was not one of them. If we had been sure that he was 17, we would have remanded him over to the next youth court. The prosecution, however, challenged his age, and I could see their point. I am no expert, but he looked well over 20 to me - more like 24 if I had to guess.

So our bail decision was to send him to the youth court and ask them to determine his age for legal purposes. We had no firm evidence of his age - in fact there may even be none, as some rural areas in poor countries have no system of records. Quite a few such people give their date of birth as 1st January, 19XX, which is a convention for their being fairly sure about the year, but having no idea about the date. This chap was a mystery.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Stuffy Nose

I was at a meeting the other day and over coffee I got chatting to a JP who sits at a court that hears cases from a busy airport. He told me that he had recently seen a woman who had been stopped carrying one-and-a-half kilos of cocaine, estimated street value £75,000, through the green Customs channel. The drug was concealed partly in her knickers with - wait for it - the balance concealed in her rectum and her vagina. These smugglers are known to Customs as 'stuffers' as opposed to 'swallowers' who swallow packages of drugs and retrieve them as nature takes its course.

If any of you move in the kind of social circles where a post-prandial toot of Colombian marching powder is de rigeur, next time you see someone snorting coke up his nose why not tell him that it has quite possibly spent 24 hours up a Caribbean lady's bum? Afterwards, of course.

I Wonder What My Chances Are?

The Prime Minister made a speech about crime about ten days ago:-
Mr Blair claimed that under the criminal justice system, in theory, the police charged the accused, the prosecutor prosecuted and the court decided the outcome, but that was not what happened in reality. "In practice, the person who spits at an old lady on her way to the shops is not prosecuted because to do so takes many police hours, much resource and if all that is overcome, the outcome is a fine. The result is the police do not think it is worth it; and so it doesn't happen."
That seemed a bit odd to me, so I have just looked up the sentencing guidelines in my Bench Book. Spitting is Common Assault. The guideline is a community penalty. Among the potentially aggravating features listed are “spitting”, and “victim particularly vulnerable”. The outcome is therefore unlikely to be a fine, but rather a community sentence and a bit of compensation for the old lady. Perhaps if the PM spent a bit less time hobnobbing with coppers prosecutors and Home Office advisers and talked to one or two magistrates he might be able to form a more balanced view.
I don’t live too far from Chequers, and I am usually free for Sunday lunch. The email’s in my profile. No need to fuss, no special dietary needs or anything.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Police Tackle Priority Crimes

News Report:-

Police confirmed tonight that Pete Burns, the 1980s pop star locked up in the Big Brother house, was only monkeying around when he told his housemates that his fur coat was made out of gorilla pelt.

Hertfordshire Police officers, following up on complaints from the public, confiscated the fluffy black and white coat in an unlikely raid last night on Elstree studios.

Burns had been warned that he could face up to five years in jail or an unlimited fine for breaching international rules on the trade in endangered species.

But Sergeant Jamie Bartlett, the force's wildlife officer, told Times Online tonight that Natural History Museum experts had confirmed that the coat was not made of gorilla - although it might be made of the threatened colobus monkey, which it more closely resembles.

"It's not gorilla," Mr Bartlett said. "It's got nothing to do with Appendix A of Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

"Until I know what it is I can't say if there's been a more minor offence, but it's not gorilla, which is the main thing everyone's been worried about."

What can I or anyone say to cap the absurdity of that report?

We are told, often correctly, that some of our fellow citizens are afraid to leave their homes, that drug crime is rampant, and anarchy rules our sink estates. So the 'Wildlife Officer' (what's wrong with having a few 'lowlife officers'?) sits down with museum experts to investigate the provenance of a coat. Yes, that's right, a coat. Meanwhile, in court today, I have been forced to adjourn a number of cases because the 'overstretched' police haven't provided information to the CPS in time to allow a trial to proceed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Great Legal Jokes (no. 94)

He, in a few minutes ravished this fair creature, or at least would have ravished her, if she had not, by a timely compliance, prevented him.

Henry Fielding (1707 - 1754) "Jonathan Wild"

(Mr. Fielding was a Justice of the Peace, but not such a famous one as his brother).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Shoppers Lifted

The latest Government scheme to take the nasty expensive courts, with their habit of asking awkward questions, out of the 'lower' end of the criminal justice system and to allow police and prosecutors (dear God, if you had seen the CPS staffers that I have seen, you wouldn't let them impose a penalty on your dog) to impose penalties on those who either admit guilt or are intimidated into an admission without any need to trouble a lawyer to come and advise them or who are just plain stupid, treats shoplifting as a simple little bottom-end crime.

Well, up to a point, yes. The vast majority of shoplifters who appear in court are drug addicts desperate to fund their next trip to la-la land. Drug treatment, and only drug treatment, has some chance of sorting them out. Deterrence has no meaning to someone who is an hour overdue for an armful of diamorphine or a noseful of cocaine hydrochloride.

There are, however, a few persistent professional shoplifters (that is not to say that the proceeds don't end up in Afghanistan or Colombia eventually, just that the thieves are relatively organised). London is a magnet for these people, with its plethora of shops selling the highly-resaleable designer goods that offer a lot of value per item nicked.

One such crew commuted down from Glasgow on a cheap day return, and hit Oxford Street. They were good at their work, and in a few hours they had cleared over £10,000 worth of stuff from the rails, undetected. They packed the loot carefully and repaired to the terminus to await their transport home. At this point human frailty took over to spoil their day out. One of their number stole £9 - odd of stuff from W.H.Smith in the concourse, and was captured. The police approached the group, who had been noticed on CCTV, and searched them. After a night in the cells the group appeared before magistrates who popped them off to the Crown Court to be dealt with.

That's almost a little morality tale, isn't it?

Magnus Linklater in The Times gives a good account of the dangerous direction in which we are heading.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Just What Are Our Rights?

In a comment on the Gay Horse thread, Anonemouse links to the Bill of Rights. Now I know that some of the anti-speed camera lobby are giving this clause a go:-
And several grants and promises made of fines and forfeitures before any conviction or judgment against the persons upon whom the same were to be levied;
All which are utterly and directly contrary to the known laws and statutes and freedom of this realm;
and I shall be interested to see how they get on.

I haven't, however, seen anyone lobbying to get this one enforced:-
That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Drunk Young Man Gets Away With It

The BBC reports on the authorities' shameful failure to prosecute and to punish the posh drunken yob who accused a policeman of having a gay horse.........It's no good, I can't keep this up.

This case is as devoid of commonsense as a case can be. The serious point is that the drunken graduand was given what the police call a 'whizzer' - an £80 fixed penalty disorder ticket. He had the backbone to insist upon fighting the issue in court before magistrates. The CPS have, by that insistence, been forced to confront the ludicrous triviality of the case, and have at last had the sense to drop it. The traditional phrase, used by magistrates and lawyers alike, is "It's a load of crap".

The lesson behind this nonsense is that when police officers, who have a necessarily monochrome mindset and approach (and oh no, that is not a criticism, I assure you) are empowered to dish out fixed penalties, the pressure of the moment may lead them into a hasty decision. They have my genuine sympathy. A court can look at all of the circumstances in its own time, and reach a balanced decision. A copper who is cold tired wet and fed up may not enjoy the luxury of doing so.

Government thinking is solidly in favour of more summary powers for everyone from the PC on the beat to Council functionaries, to the dog catcher. If you want a fair hearing, go to a court. That doesn't mean that you will always like the decision, but the people making it are impartial, and are doing their best to be fair.

report Here

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bang to Rights

Occasionally the language used in witness statements leads one to suspect that the police officer taking it down has imposed his own literary style on the work. I did see one though, many years back, where the officer had meticulously recorded the words of the interviewee, so much so that the flavour of the conversation shone through.

Roger was helping the police with their enquiries (now whatever happened to that phrase? It seems to have gone the way of blunt instruments) and when officers asked him to open the boot of his car they found a considerable quantity of the very stolen goods that they were looking for. The conversation was recorded as:-

Roger: "Oh. Fuck me. Look at that". PC: "Is that your property?" Roger: "Course it ain't. You know what it is. Just my fucking luck, ain't it?" PC: Did you steal them?" Roger: "Nah. I'm only the driver. Talk about unlucky. D'you know, if I fell in a barrel of tits I'd come out sucking me thumb".

All in the Same Boat

I mentioned a while back that we had so far received no training of any sort about the Serious Organised Crime And Police Act (hereinafter referred to as SOCA) which makes sweeping changes to powers of arrest and search warrants among other things, and which has been in force since January 1st. Well, according to this policeman most police officers are no better informed than we are.

This is typical of the flood of ill-thought-out and hastily-introduced legislation that has been rushed through Parliament in recent years. If the Government spent a bit of time and money telling the police and the courts what their new laws meant, it would be really helpful.

That's Telling Them

I am grateful to solicitor Richard Miller for the following:-

(The Court of Appeal recently had to interpret some of the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003).

Thursday, 8th December 2005
B E F O R E:
- - - - - - -

paragraph 14 of the judgement is a cracker:-

"So, yet again, the courts are faced with a sample of the deeply confusing provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and the satellite Statutory Instruments to which it is giving stuttering birth. The most inviting course for this Court to follow, would be for its members, having shaken their heads in despair to hold up their hands and say: "the Holy Grail of rational interpretation is impossible to find". But it is not for us to desert our judicial duty, however lamentably others have legislated. But, we find little comfort or assistance in the historic canons of construction for determining the will of Parliament which were fashioned in a more leisurely age and at a time when elegance and clarity of thought and language were to be found in legislation as a matter of course rather than exception."

That's judicial frustration for you - beautifully expressed too!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Judicial Independence? Pah!

There is an article in today's Sunday Times complaining that there is no mechanism for disciplining judges:-

There is no red card system or judicial sin bin for blundering judges who time after time let serious criminals off too lightly. There should be. Repeat offenders should be banned from the bench — by their own colleagues in the Court of Appeal — for extended periods.

Curiously, the writer makes no complaint at all about judges who sentence too heavily, and have to be put right by the appeal court - her indignation is reserved for those bewigged old softies who feature so often in the tabloids.
I got to the bottom of the article, and I found:-

Katherine Raymond is a former special adviser to David Blunkett

Now why does that not surprise me?

Oh Goody, Some More Changes!

The latest issue of '‘The Magistrate'’ trails some of the legal changes that are expected in 2006. As usual, the list is a long one, and includes implementation of Acts that are already on the statute book as well as new legislation.

The remaining sentencing provisions of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act will be implemented. Magistrates'’ sentencing powers for an either-way offence will increase to 12 months from the present 6. Where there are two or more such offences the aggregate maximum goes up to 15 months. All prison sentences of less than 12 months will be replaced with Custody Plus, for a minimum of 28 weeks and a maximum of 51. The court will take a pick-and-mix approach, and part of the term will be served in custody with the balance in the community, subject to whatever requirements the court thinks appropriate, in the same way as we now impose suspended sentences with conditions. We will be given new guidelines from the Sentencing Guidelines Council on the type of case that should be committed to the Crown Court for trial, but defendants retain their right to elect jury trial in either-way cases. Magistrates will no longer have the right to commit to the Crown Court for sentence, except where the offender comes within the '‘dangerousness'’ provisions. This is completely new ground and we will need to rely on our clerks'’ advice for the first few cases until we get a feel for it.

The Road Safety Bill is likely to pass Parliament, and we are expecting to see:-
Mandatory re-tests for repeat drink-drivers
Speeding to carry 2-6 points in a sop to the Mr. Toad lobby
Camera detectors will become illegal
Using a hand-held phone while driving will become endorsable
A second conviction for using a dangerous vehicle will carry a six-month ban (I haven'’t seen one of those for at least five years)
Failing to provide drivers'’ details and careless driving will have increased penalties.

The granting of Legal Aid will be taken away from the courts and given to the Legal Services Commission, although for the time being they are likely to delegate the powers right back to us. The means test that was abolished some years ago because it cost more to administer than it collected, is being reintroduced. This is known as the Grand Old Duke of York syndrome.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 may or may not be brought into force, but the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, with its nasty add-ons including the ones about the power of arrest almost certainly will.

As you would expect there are considerable reservations about Custody Plus, not so much with the principle but with the question of resources. The new setup will be complex and expensive, and will be dropped into the lap of a Probation Service (now merged with the Prison Service in an unlikely blending of cultures) that has been under pressure for some years. If it isn'’t properly funded, it isn'’t going to work.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Unkind Cut

We occasionally see prosecutions for animal cruelty instigated by the RSPCA. Court action is usually a last resort, and in most cases rescue of the animals is the first priority. Where cruelty comes to light in time it can be gratifying to hear evidence of some mistreated cat or dog that doubles its body weight in a few weeks once properly fed and given the attention of a vet. We usually impose fines and costs, and the latter can be very high once kennel fees and vets bills are factored in. We also have the power to ban someone from keeping animals for a specified time.

Rarely, there is a case that has to be treated more seriously, as when a dog-fighting ring was uncovered. Men were betting large sums on dogs pitted against each other in abandoned farm buildings, and the evidence included disgusting photographs of walls spattered with blood to a height of several feet, as well as vet's reports on injuries to the dogs that had been seized. My colleagues decided on a deterrent sentence and gave the organisers six months apiece in a judgement that received a lot of local publicity, and we haven't had any recurrence for a long while now.

The oddest RSPCA case that I have seen involved a man who disposed of an unwanted litter of kittens by the traditional method of putting them in a weighted sack and dropping it into the canal. Rather than being charged with animal cruelty he was summonsed for breaching the law against polluting the waterway. Some of my colleagues felt that was somehow rather insensitive to the memory of the deceased felines, but it was certainly a lot easier to prove than a cruelty charge.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It's Nothing New

The previous post, along with a few others on the blog, talks about people who have got themselves into lots of trouble, driven by their sexual instincts. Coincidentally, the newspapers for today have a story about a doctor who was sending sexual material to a young girl, and who now faces disciplinary action from his profession.

As usual, a well-known West Midlands playwright was spot on , about 400 years ago:-

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Double Bluff

This job throws up some bizarre tales occasionally.

Michael, a married man, was taking part in an Internet chatroom for teenage girls, not as himself, nor even as a young lad, but posing as a lesbian girl. He made contact with a 14 year-old American girl, and over a while their correspondence grew more and more steamy and explicit. Eventually, his female alter ego made arrangements to fly over the Atlantic to meet her '‘friend'’. At this point, the American '‘girl'’ who was in fact an FBI officer running a sting operation of which Michael was just one of the targets, tipped off the British police, who searched Michael'’s house and took away his computer. The search revealed an extensive computer stash of pornographic pictures of young girls, some of them well up the ‘'Copine'’ scale of seriousness. In due course Michael was charged with child porn offences. I have no idea what happened to him after that. I do know that he was one of scores if not hundreds of men in the same position.

So we had two mature men, each pretending to be a young woman, dreaming up erotic adventures for the other'’s delectation. We had Michael, with his collection of pornography, who clearly intended to move from his fantasy world into the reality of meeting his imagined friend. Even if she had existed anywhere other than in the imaginations of two grown men, what the hell did he expect to happen when he arrived in the States? I decided not to think about that.

Until this case I had been slightly sceptical about the Operation Ore brouhaha, but afterwards, and now in view of the reported activities of a has-been pop singer in the Far East, I have adjusted my view. Yes, many, if not most enthusiasts for child pornography limit themselves to sad onanistic fantasy, but there are certainly some out there who have every intention of putting fantasy into reality.


One of the people to comment on the birthday thread asks me to go easy on Hanwell. I grew up in West London and what is now Ealing Hospital was, in those anything-but-mealy-mouthed days, known as Hanwell Asylum or, colloquially, the Loony Bin. We used to peer over the wall from the top of the 607 trolleybus and try to imagine strange goings-on among the disappointingly normal-looking people walking in the grounds. Many was the mother, exasperated by the antics of her post-war baby boom children who would cry:- "You'll have me in Hanwell, you will, if you don't stop that!"

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Birthday Boy

The first post on this blog was one year ago tomorrow. We have had around 175,000 visitors, although I am sure that quite a few found us by accident and pushed off into cyberspace as soon as they realised that we were not a firm of solicitors in Hanwell.