A Guest Post by David Aaronovitch

David Aaronovitch

David Aaronovitch


Earlier this year BBC Radio 4 broadcast two programmes in the Analysis strand, which I made together with a BBC producer, Hannah Barnes. Ritual Sexual Abuse: the Anatomy of a Panic part one was broadcast on the 25th May and part two went out a week later.

I was asked to make these programmes because I had expressed a concern in various writings that some of the new accusations of historic VIP abuse of children, and the way in which sections of the media were handling them, were reminiscent of the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s and early 90s. During that time it was widely alleged and believed that a substantial number of Satanists and other cultists were or had been involved in complex rituals –involving child sexual abuse and even child sacrifice. Then, by the mid-90s the panic subsided. I felt that by analyzing that past panic we might better understand some aspects of the present. Continue reading

Cyprus Paedo scare: a near kidnapping or a near lynching? Mark Williams-Thomas must get to the truth.

As the Euro teeters yet again on the edge of complete collapse and Greece faces up to the possibility of economic Armageddon, the British press have been even more exercised about another issue in the Eastern Mediterranean: a Romanian paedophile ring operating in a Greek Cypriot hotel.

The suspected paedophile gang has apparently been preying on children staying at the Anastasia Beach Complex Hotel in Protaras.

Hard facts are difficult to disentangle amongst a vast amount of often contradictory reports, rumour and speculation. It probably doesn’t help that some of the guests at the hotel were enjoying a wedding party at 8.30 p.m. last Tuesday. Continue reading

Who is more ridiculous: the Naked Rambler or the CPS?

My client Stephen Gough, an ex Royal Marine better known as the Naked Rambler, has now been in prison, largely in a segregation unit, for the best part of 9 years. Once the remission rules are taken into account, that is the equivalent of a sentence of nearly 18 years. It is about what you would expect to get if you committed a rape of an eight year old child. By my very rough calculations the cost of imprisoning him (ignoring altogether legal and police costs) for those 9 years has been about £330,000.

His offence has been that he won’t wear clothes in public.

Who is being the most ridiculous here: Mr Gough or the Crown Prosecution Service? Continue reading

Theresa May wants to ban pleasure

I had rather naively thought that a central part of Conservative philosophy was that, unless there is strong evidence of harm that can be prevented or alleviated by Government action, it’s usually best to let people live their lives without interference from the state. Theresa May’s Home Office thinks rather differently. It proudly announced last month that since 2010 it has banned more than 500 new drugs, as though this were an end and a self-evident good in itself.

Well, we now know it was not an end, it was a beginning, and 500 banned substances were just a taster. In its Psychoactive Substances Bill the second reading of which is to take place in the House of Lords next week, it has made proposals to ban all “psychoactive substances” apart from a few defined exceptions.

Did you know that tea was a “psychoactive substance”? Well under this new law it will be, and you will be allowed to drink it only as a special exemption from the normal rule. Continue reading

If Michael Gove listens to Daniel Hannan’s honeyed polemic on Human Rights he really will get into a muddle

Daniel Hannan is one of the most persuasive advocates of repealing the Human Rights Act. In this week’s Spectator he was at his most eloquent and self-confident best, urging Michael Gove to see off the “powerful, wealthy & articulate” lawyers that prefer the rule of Strasbourg to that of the English common law, and warning of the “vicious” response to be expected from lawyers who, he asserts, might say – and even believe – that they are “defending the independence of the judiciary,” but are in fact motivated by the need to pay their mortgages and school fees, which are currently funded by a “multi-million pound industry … around human rights law.”

Daniel Hannan: eloquent as always

Daniel Hannan MEP: always eloquent

That last bit about money is rather a cheap shot. The notion that the Human Rights Act has spawned a “multi-million pound industry” is pretty far fetched. Very few cases are brought because of the Human Rights Act, and in the field of criminal law, where I practise, virtually none at all. Although the Act occasionally crops up during a criminal trial, its abolition would make no difference whatsoever to the volume of my work, or to my income and nor would it make any difference to that of the vast majority of my colleagues, very few of whom, incidentally, could begin to afford school fees out of their earnings at the bar, which have shrunk steadily since the Human Rights Act was passed. Continue reading

Repealing the Human Rights Act is not as easy as it seems

The new Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, is probably the cleverest man in Mr Cameron’s new Cabinet.

That is just as well because he faces formidable problems: prisons groaning at the seams with frequently suicidal inmates, civil and criminal legal aid in a state of near collapse, criminal barristers threatening to strike, and many demoralised police officers wishing that they were allowed to do so.

Intractable though these problems may be, they are insignificant compared to those that face Mr Gove should he try to implement one of the few concrete promises included within the Conservative Manifesto: repealing the Human Rights Act. Continue reading

If Miliband erects his pillar in the Rose Garden he may be sent to prison

Ed Miliband announced today that he has commissioned a giant 8′ 6” limestone slab bearing Labour’s “six election pledges” that is to be installed in the Downing Street Rose Garden if he becomes prime minister. He has promised, or perhaps one should say “pledged,” that the stone will be visible from offices inside Number 10 to remind him to keep his electoral promises.

It seems the height of hubris to have commissioned the massive monument before he has won the election.

When the pledges were first announced in March there were only five, as shown on his pledge card:

Labour PLedge Card March

To these, Mr Miliband has now added as something of an afterthought: “Homes to buy and action on rent.”

Be that as it may – and arithmetic has never been Mr Miliband’s favourite subject – there are a large number of legal problems which suggest that installation of the Miliband Menhir will never happen. Continue reading

Lord Janner: Was the DPP right? What can the complainants do next?

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced that Greville Janner will not be prosecuted for sexual offences against boys in Leicester during the 1970s and 1980s.

Greville Janner: Alzheimer's disease is incurable

Greville Janner: Alzheimer’s disease is incurable

The CPS says the case passes its “evidential test.” They believe they have evidence which makes a conviction more likely than not. The reason for not proceeding is that, in the view of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, a prosecution “would not be in the public interest.”

The announcement has been greeted with outrage. According to one, unnamed, complainant quoted on the Leicestershire Police website:

This animal is still being protected because [of his status] and isn’t able to stand trial. They say that it’s not in the public interest, but isn’t it in the public interest to know what his victims have gone through at the hands of this man?”

It seems quite unprecedented for an investigating police force to quote someone describing an unconvicted individual in such terms.

There are two questions:

Why did Ms Saunders find that a prosecution was not in the public interest?

What can those aggrieved by the decision do about it? Continue reading

Mr Grayling’s Court Catering Charge Will Prove Hard to Swallow

Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister has not let the dissolution of Parliament or the appalled objections of lawyers stand in the way of ever more absurd ruses to squeeze money out of Court users.

Last week he announced plans to charge defendants a flat rate, non-negotiable charge merely for being convicted, irrespective of the seriousness of the charge or their ability to pay. This will be as high as £1200.00 for any Crown Court trial.

Justice Minister Chris Grayling

Justice Minister Chris Grayling

Last night, in a bold attempt to take the war to critics who have attacked his plans, Mr Grayling announced the introduction of what he describes as “further much needed efficiency savings” in the criminal justice system.

Top of the list is a new “Catering Charge” which, Mr Grayling said, was a closed canteennatural development arising out of the closure of all court catering contracts which took place in January. Continue reading

The so-called “Hampstead Satanic Cult” should be a warning to the credulous

Lovers of paedophile and Satanist conspiracies have been having a wonderful time recently with their claims that a Satanist paedophile ring has been operating from Christ Church Church of England Primary School in Hampstead, a beautiful part of North London not far from where I used to live.

Christ Church Hampstead

Such scares blow up from time to time and they always turn out to be nonsense, or at least, if they contain a grain of truth, to be hugely exaggerated. However on this occasion I have paid more than passing attention because the school in question happens to be where two of my children learnt to read and write and where they spent seven exceptionally happy years.

I have had no involvement with the school since 2008, but the Head Teacher and many of the other teachers and staff, as well as the Parish priest, are the same now as they had been then. Continue reading