Justice: RIP?

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

- W. H. Auden

This week, Levi Bellfield received a whole life sentence for the murder of Milly Dowler. Milly was abducted on 21 March 2002; her remains found on 18 September 2002.

Until her remains were found, police categorised Milly as a missing person. The Crimewatch programme which featured news of her disappearance included a direct appeal to her.

As is normal in any inquiry featuring a young missing person, several lines of enquiry had to be followed by the police, including ascertaining whether there was any reason she may have run away and/or self harmed, or if, in the event that something nefarious had happened, whether someone known to her, including her parents, could be responsible (child victims of homicide being more likely to die at the hands of a parent than a stranger).

As is usual, statements were taken from Milly’s parents and sister, initially as to her movements on the day in question, and about her general character and demeanour, in order to assist the police in making appropriate enquiries.

Those statements are evidence. Any statement taken by the police has to be given to the defence. The defence then decides if they want to question the witness, or agree the statement, in which case it is then read out in court. In every case, it is a judgement call as to who is called to give live evidence, and who is not. The balance that has to be struck is whether a witness will further the case you are putting, or whether they will actually damage it.

Often, the last people a defence barrister will want the jury to see is the parents of the murdered schoolgirl. It brings out normal human emotions, and does not do a defendant any favours. Why then, in this case, were the parents in the witness box?

Before I go on, let me make this very clear. I am terribly sorry for the Dowler’s loss. I cannot imagine the pain and heartache that attaches to the murder of a child, especially a teenager who at the time of her death, didn’t have, on the evidence presented to the court, the best of relationships with her parents, as is so often the case with teenage girls.

However, what we cannot afford to do, in our desire to demonstrate compassion and empathy to the parents, is sanctify them to the extent that the trial process is compromised, and to that end, I make no apology for what I am about to say.

Going back to why they were in the witness box, well, Dad didn’t help himself.  Bob Dowler lied to the police about his own whereabouts on the day of Milly’s disappearance, initially not telling them that during his journey home, he pulled off into a motorway services where he spent some time looking at porn.

Those initial lies were coupled with the fact it was he who received the call from Milly to say she would be late, and he who then later left a message on her phone saying “Where the fuck is Amanda”.

The police asked to search the family home, as is perfectly normal and routine in the circumstances. When informed of this, Dad had to warn police that they would find bondage material and fetish porn during their search, and indeed told them where it was.

Police also found notes written by Milly about the ‘dad issue’, which where later explained as referring to the fact she had found a bondage porn magazine in her father’s room.

Culuminatively, all of that turned the police spotlight onto Dad, and he was questioned as a suspect.

When a suspect is questioned, the evidence is recorded, and then transcribed. That too will have been presented to the defence.

As will the contents of any search, which is the ‘physical’ evidence. This will have included items the police ‘seized’ during any search – in this case, the sexual items, the porn, and Milly’s own notes.

Milly’s notes included a letter to her parents. That letter said:

“Dear daddy and my beautiful mummy, by the time you find this letter I will be gone, up there or down below you.
“I have always been that way – below other people.

“I am sorry, you deserve a better daughter so I have left.

“If anything, you should be happy and you can concentrate on lovely Gemsy, without me getting in the way.

“You should have had an abortion or at least had me adopted, then at least I wouldn’t have made your life hell as well.

“I think it would be best if you try and forget me. It’s nothing you have done. I just feel I had to go. Please don’t let any harm get to any of you.

“Mum and dad, please look after Gemma. I am sorry but goodbye.”

Put yourself in the shoes of the defence barrister. Your client is telling you he isn’t guilty. He has read, and seen, all the evidence against him. He asks you to look at the following:

That Dad lied about his whereabouts;

That Dad had bondage and other fetish items in the house, along with fairly hard core porn;

That it was Dad who took the phone call from Milly, no other member of the family having spoken to her since she left for school;

That there were letters found in her writing, referring to the ‘Dad issue’;

That there was a goodbye note written by Milly;

That the two post-mortem examinations were inconclusive as to cause of death;

That there was no forensic evidence linking your client to Milly;

That there were no eye-witness accounts or CCTV showing the two together;

That some of the witnesses were inconsistent about what they considered Milly’s movements to be that afternoon;

That your client is already serving a whole life sentence and will never be released regardless of whether he is convicted of this crime.

Now add to that the Bar Code of Conduct, in particular Rule 708 (g), which states a barrister:

must not make statements or ask questions which are merely scandalous or intended or calculated only to vilify insult or annoy either a witness or some other person;

And Rule 303 (a), that a barrister:

must promote and protect fearlessly and by all proper and lawful means the lay client’s best interests and do so without regard to his own interests or to any consequences to himself or to any other person;

Finally, remind yourself that this murder trial was presided over by a High Court judge. A senior judge who had seen the evidence, has read it, and who had undoubtedly, whilst able to keep his mind open, formed a view of the case. A senior judge who was able, at any point in the questioning of any witness, to stop the barrister and tell them they were out of order.

Hopefully, you will begin to understand why Jeffrey Samuels QC, who represented Bellfield, ran the case in the way he did. His client asserted his innocence and wanted his case ran on the basis that Milly ran away and was later murdered by an unknown other. There was evidence to suggest she could have run away; there was evidence that she was distressed by her father’s porn magazine; there was evidence to suggest her relationship with her parents was not as good as it could be. There was suspicion around the father. There was no direct evidence coupling Bellfield and Milly. There was no forensic evidence at all.

Hopefully, you will also be able to see why the judge deemed the line of questioning to be relevant to the case in question, and why he didn’t stop the barrister pursuing the line of questioning.

I am terribly sorry that the Dowler family were not prepared for trial by Victim Support. I am very sorry that they were not prepared for trial by the police, and I am very sorry they were not prepared for trial by the Crown Prosecutor, who, while not able to coach his witnesses will have been absolutely and completely aware of the line the defence was likely to take.

What I am not sorry for is the line of questioning they faced. That very line of questioning demonstrates that our justice system works. That a defendant will receive a robust, thorough and proper defence on the evidence available to his representative, no matter how distressing, or distasteful, or painful to the witnesses that may be, makes me proud of our justice system.

The press would have you believe that the Dowler family did not receive justice, because they were distressed by the case presented by Bellfield. I say they absolutely received justice. That evidence was forthrightly and strenuously tested so that they can be sure who killed their child.

The press want the trial system changed. The Victims’ Commissioner wants to look at making changes, and the Director of Public Prosecutions has come out saying he wants to ensure that the same does not happen again.

We are running the risk of being governed by knee-jerk tabloid reaction. Imagine you were accused of a crime. Wouldn’t you want a proper defence, a thorough defence, a fearless defence? Or would you want a barrister who visits you in your cell and says ‘I’m sorry, I can’t ask that question. Someone might get upset’.

By all means, put reporting restrictions on trial. Put the press on trial; but don’t put justice on trial. Those details could have stayed inside that court room, where, it could be said, they belonged. But the very press who are calling for the barrister’s head on a platter and a noose around the justice system’s neck, are the very press who disseminated that information in all its gory detail for public consumption. There is such a thing as restraint. But restraint should never be forced on the team responsible for ensuring a proper, robust defence is run. Justice demands that.

Milly Dowler is dead, the third victim of a man who should never walk the streets again. Don’t let justice be his fourth victim.

(a huge ‘Thank You’ to @seeyouatthebar who filled in some of the criminal procedure points)

*Roy Greenslade wrote a piece on this post in the Guardian here.

 

Do me a favour, love.

This may at first appear to be a post about clothes. It’s not. It’s about ‘feminists’* doing my nut in.

Last week I had a post in my head. I was going to write about feminists and sartorial disinginuity, following the row caused by lawyer Nick Freeman saying that if women dress like sluts and act like sluts, they shouldn’t be surprised if they are treated like sluts.

This statement, repeated by him on television (well, This Morning), led to fairly widespread condemnation of him. Although I have my own views about him, and the manner in which he tried to get the message across, I have to say I broadly agree with him, and in shocking news, so do years of research.

It is, in my opinion, wholly disingenuous of feminist commentators (amongst others) to dismiss his remarks as simple misogyny. It is disingenuous because it ignores centuries of behaviour and the vast swathes of research into the messages humans give out via their attire and body language.

If we stop to take a moment and think of our own behaviour, it is easy to see how Mr Freeman arrived at his point, whether that is how we dress and behave at work as opposed to at the weekend; or indeed, how we would dress for a first date, as opposed to a year down the line when (certainly in my case) he has seen me not get out of my jammies all day because I have been working at home, and not bothered to shave my legs for a week (the point being that the initial preening of the ‘pick me as your mate’ phase has passed, not that I am a slattern) (but yes, I am a slattern).

In short it is wholly intellectually disingenuous to even attempt to suggest that while a sharp suit and a confident stride leads one to think of a successful business woman, going out with your stockings on show and your boobs out shouldn’t lead one to think of a slut or an easy lay, or whatever the current terminology is.

Anyway, while thinking of that post, I tweeted:

Will the feminists remove my ovaries with a spoon if I write about Nick Freeman and clothes?

That led to a bit of banter, and me declaring that I honestly didn’t know what a feminist is, and going on to say:

I’m being serious. When I look at the information I find online, I find it bewildering, and don’t see anything I identify with.

That being where I am on feminism, I was hugely encouraged to hear that Caitlin Moran, a Times columnist that I have huge respect for, had written a book on the topic. Hurrah, thought I, something I may actually understand, and possibly identify with.

Before I got to reading her book (which would involve ordering it, which I also haven’t yet done), I noticed her saying she was going on Newsnight. She was accompanied by Kat Banyard, who runs Feminista UK, and Brooke Magnanti PhD, perhaps better known as Belle de Jour, the former prostitute. There was also a comment from Laurie Penny.

Caitlin Moran was, as would be expected, desperately funny, and should now change her byline to ‘known for mentioning clown porn on Newsnight’. While I completely agree with her two life mottos (live and let live; when my head hits the table, please order me a taxi), just as I couldn’t identify with Laurie Penny and Kay Banyard, I couldn’t identify with some of what she had to say either, particularly in her message to her daughters, whom she apparently makes feel sorry for the female pop stars doing their ‘botty botty dances’.

The piece ostensibly started about vajazzling – that is women having their pubic hair waxed, and then replaced with stick on shiny things. There was a VT, which was innocent enough, and then Laurie Penny, giving her opinion that:

… Control is the main problem here. Women are always expected to be in control of their sexuality and somehow present themselves as being sexually continent…

Er, what? It is, in fairness, not rare that I haven’t got a clue what she is saying when she speaks, but what? What does that even mean? Who is doing the controlling? And why is it a Bad Thing that women are expected to be in control of their sexuality?

How does that accord with the message from the Slutwalks (at the London one, Laurie Penny spoke) that men should be able to control their urges and not go raping women? Isn’t both sexes being in (respective, self) sexual control what that was all about?

Anyway, the programme then switched to the studio where the guests sat around Paxo. Seconds in, and Kat Banyard was saying:

It is wrong that women live in a society where they are compelled to do that.

Again, what? Compelled? Who are these poor dears that are compelled to vajazzle their vejayjays? Where are they? Sure, I know plenty of women who tear off their bikini line when about to do the annual two weeks on the beach, but compelled to fully wax and replace with stickers? Really?

They then had a brief meander through pornography, which is apparently either all about sexual violence or features West Coast Americans (great, I can’t even identify with the porn they watch, which bears no relation to the porn I watch); they moved onto ‘modern day feminism in an overtly sexual society’. Although I was starting to feel like I was back at uni having wandered mistakenly into the Wimmins Studies class, I kept watching.

According to Kat Banyard, over the past 5 years, we are seeing a ‘real resurgence in feminist activism at a grass roots level’. Crikey, how did I let that pass me by? Oh, wait. Looking at her website, what she means is they protest outside Playboy clubs. Because clearly, the women who work there don’t have their own minds, and can’t actually choose to work in that environment.

Kat went on to say that there is a ‘sex object culture’ which is pushed in women’s faces via ‘lads mags’ when they go to their local shops, which is hitting women extremely hard.

So to summarise so far, women should be able to walk down the streets in their underwear to get the message home that they should be able to wear what they want, when they want, without anyone taking any messages from that, but they are not allowed to wear similar clothing to earn money in either a club or a magazine, because that is wrong and gives out the wrong message. Confused, much?

At this stage, just as last week with the sartorial disinginuity, I was starting to feel patronised. I want feminism, or at least, feminism that I can believe in, to be about freedom. Freedom to be a botty botty dancing pop star or a business woman on the board (or anything in between) as I see fit. Freedom to own my body, and do what the hell I want with it, be that getting my baps out on the front cover of Zoo, selling it to fund grad school, or covering it up in a burka. Indeed, freedom to pour wax over it, either for sexual pleasure al la Madonna or to remove hair I don’t want.

The more I look into it, the more I feel that feminism doesn’t currently have an intellectual argument. What they are saying is illogical and often contradictory. It bears no relation to my own little corner of the world. I’m fast coming to the conclusion that not only do I not understand what they are saying, they don’t either.

So yeah. In my quest to try to find feminism I can identify with, it seems I most identify with an alleged misogynistic male. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I suddenly feel compelled to go and do some lady gardening while internally debating whether I should get my tits out to give the message that I can wear what I want, or put them away lest I become part of the sex object culture and make other women feel insecure.

*Not fully understanding what a feminist is, I have no real idea if it is feminists who are doing my nut in, but that is how they self identify.

 

 

 

 

Slutwalk: Just more noise, in an already noisy space.

Slutwalk London 2011: Beforehand, I wrote about it and I defended it frequently, particularly on Twitter; then I attended it, and helped steward it. But once the speeches started at the rally in Trafalgar Square, I let go of my stewards’ balloon and left. I was done.

Initially I was really excited by the Slutwalk movement. Here were real people, not politicalised, agenda driven groups, but everyday, ordinary people, suddenly interested in the concept of rape, and the issues surrounding it.

Judging by the very ordinary people I spoke with at Hyde Park Corner, many of whom were on their first march (like me), that excitement was shared. For them, as I, this wasn’t about gender, or skin colour, or political beliefs – it certainly wasn’t about clothes, or ownership of words like ‘slut’. This was about the fact that putting a uninvited penis into an orifice is all too common, and actually, we would rather it didn’t happen.

That excitement was short lived.

Twenty years ago, when I was doing my ‘A’ levels, I came across groups like Women Against Rape. I inwardly groaned when I saw their banner on Saturday, along with the English Collective of Prostitutes, the Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP), the Socialist Worker Party (SWP) and other groups.

Why?

Because they are noisy and they are disingenuous. They don’t actually achieve anything, other than yelling about their own agenda and perpetuating the myth of what they want us to believe rape is about. When you add noise to noise and myth to myth, nothing gets heard, and progress isn’t made.

I’m sure I will get a lot of comments telling me exactly what these groups have achieved (with little evidence to corroborate it).

However, Slutwalk is necessary because the very groups which claim their agenda is rape are the very groups that fail victims of rape.

Rape is not a feminist issue, or a female issue. Rape is not a male issue. Rape is not a black issue, a religious issue, a sex issue or a power issue. Rape is not about reclaiming the night; it is not about what survivors wear; it is not about being a slut, a whore, a granny, or a chav. Rape is not a class issue. Rape is not a disabled issue, or a mental health issue.

Rape is all of these things, and none of them. Rape is about penetrating a vagina, anus and/or mouth with a penis, knowing that the person being penetrated does not consent.

On average, every hour in England and Wales approximately 11 people are raped. Some of them are women. Some of them are men. Some are black, some are white. Some are young, some are old. Some are fat, some are thin. Most of them will know the person raping them. Some will be in their own homes, in their own beds, and being raped by a person who professes to love them.

Very few of them will have been grabbed by a stranger; fewer still grabbed by a stranger because of their attire, or their gender, or their class, or indeed because they happened to be out in the dark. But the rape groups won’t tell you that.

Women Against Rape was founded in 1976. One of the chants yesterday was:

‘However we dress, wherever we go. Yes means yes, and no means no’

which was one of WAR’s first slogans. Thirty five years, and we are still saying the same thing. Why? Because in marginalising the issue – in their case, making this a ‘woman’s issue’ they damaged their voice – so much so that it isn’t heard. It isn’t heard because groups like this are so focused on promoting themselves and their little corner of the rape issue, that the bigger issue becomes, in and of itself, marginalised.

These groups help to keep the problems inherent in rape prosecutions alive. They actively tell victims that they are unlikely to be believed by the police, by the CPS, by the courts. They feed rape myths in their literature. The net result is that victims don’t report rape, and because they don’t report it, the perpetrator is receiving a nod that actually, his behaviour was acceptable.

The truth is, 58% of those rape cases which go to court result in a conviction. Yes, it is lower than the conviction rate generally for the Crown Court, but it is a heck of a lot higher than the 6% those groups will have you believe it is.

Those groups also feed the myth of the ‘stranger’ rape, which leads those who are raped by someone known to them to believe that their rape wasn’t a ‘real’ rape.

They, particularly WAR, are also now suggesting that if you do report your rape, you run the risk of going to prison if you are disbelieved. They fail to point out that firstly, a ‘not guilty’ verdict does not mean ‘innocent’, nor does it mean the victim is disbelieved. Secondly, they fail to mention there there are cases of false accusations which rightly result in convictions for perjury.

These groups don’t widely publicise that since the early 90′s the criminal justice system has made leaps and bounds when it comes to rape. It is now rare for sexual history to be allowed to be adduced into evidence – a judge has to be persuaded that it is relevant to the case before the court. There are special measures for how the victim gives evidence, such as screening from the defendant and video links. The definition of rape has changed, so that it is now an offence to rape a man, and for a man to rape his wife. The judge is now allowed to explain the behaviour of rape victims to juries, so that many of the myths surrounding rape, such as that victims always fight back, are disputed before the jury retire. We have specially trained police officers, rape suites, and specially trained prosecutors and judges.

The law and the justice system have gone as far as they possibly can. I can think of no further provision that could possibly assist a victim in the prosecution of this crime. Now we need to bust the myths surrounding prosecution so that victims are more willing to come forward and report.

I had hoped that the Slutwalk movement was going to be a group that refused to hide from the truths of rape, who told it like it is, and who urged victims to report and in doing so increased convictions.

The truths that need to be spoken are:

That anyone, regardless of gender, skin colour, class and religion can be a victim;

That the investigation is emotionally painful, and involves invasive medical examinations and difficult questioning;

That an anonymous lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will make a decision as to whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial;

That it does not mean the victim is disbelieved if the CPS decide they can’t proceed, it is simply a legal issue;

That if the CPS does proceed, the trial will be very hard and is likely to be incredibly painful;

That the prosecutor acts for the Crown, not the victim, whose role is that of witness;

That a not guilty verdict does not equate to innocence, but simply that they jury could not be sure on the evidence provided to them;

That if he is found guilty, the judge can only sentence within the guidelines, which may not be as long as the victim hopes for;

That all of the above is exactly the same for any crime.

I had hoped that Slutwalk London would be all that. But given that their site now (since 10.6.11) says:

Over 90% of rapes are never reported to police. Of those reported, only 6.7% result in convictions. While most rapists get away with it and are free to rape again, women who report rape are often disbelieved, accused of lying and sometimes imprisoned.

We demand that police and Crown Prosecution Service protect all rape survivors (women, children and men), not rapists.

I guess not; clearly the temptation of perpetuating those myths was too high. Sigh.