Simon Danczuk vacates the moral high ground

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk made his name by campaigning against child abuse, and in particular by exposing the sexual misbehaviour of one of his Parliamentary predecessors, Cyril Smith. He now faces political and perhaps personal ruin after his own sexual behaviour has been criticised, ironically enough in The Sun, a paper for which he wrote regularly.

Danczuk: campaigned against VIP paedophiles
Danczuk: campaigned against paedophiles

His immediate problem is that in July of this year, not long after his marriage to the selfie-obsessed Karen broke up, he was approached on Facebook by a teenager called Sophena Houlihan. Miss Houlihan asked about the possibility of working for him in his constituency office. As she put it:

I was keen for a career in politics and he is a very high-profile MP and I was in awe of him.”

That there are teenagers, or for that matter people of any age, who are in awe of Mr Danczuk may seem surprising viewed from the South of England, but in Rochdale and Greater Manchester generally, he is the very embodiment of a VIP.

The two started to exchange messages, and in a midnight conversation on 14th August, Mr Danczuk asked her how old she was. She told him that she was 17. He replied “Good for you.”

Miss Houlihan had posted a picture on Instagram of herself in a dress. Mr Danczuk was very taken with it and he told her so.

Just before last year’s Labour Party Conference he asked for another picture, and she responded by sending him one. Apart from the detail that she was wearing a “white body suit,” no more details have emerged of what the picture showed. Whatever it was, it seems to have inspired Mr Danczuk to even greater ardour. We need not go into details, and in fact the Sun, claiming to be a respectable family paper, has – as lawyers like to say – “redacted” some of Mr Danczuk’s words. It suffices to say that he described himself variously as “horny,” “hard” and keen to meet and perhaps to “spank” Miss Houlihan. Many of these messages were sent in the small hours of the morning, perhaps when Mr Danczuk was not distracted by the attentions of his then girlfriend, Claire Hamilton.

Unfortunately for him, Miss Hamilton did eventually discover the messages and this led to her unceremoniously dumping him.

Now that all this has been made public it is difficult to see how Mr Danczuk can ever regain the moral high ground that he claimed immediately after his exposure of Cyril Smith. He appears to be heading towards, and perhaps below, the moral ground occupied by the former MP Harvey Proctor, who was prosecuted for the consensual spanking of a 19 year old male prostitute, at a time when such things were still illegal.

He has been suspended from the Labour Party and, even more ominously, Greater Manchester Police are said to have become involved.

Mr Danczuk’s local police force now takes a highly censorious line on sexual misconduct: earlier this week they spent some time unsuccessfully trying to track down a man in his fifties “in lycra cycling shorts with an erection” seen loitering near a busy tram stop.

This could worry Mr Danczuk. He turns fifty this year, and in one all important respect he fits the description very well. According to The Sun one of his messages to Miss Houlihan was: “you would not believe how hard [redacted] right now.” Fortunately for him this message was sent last September, rather than last Tuesday when the mystery man was sighted. Two things, however, put him in the clear: first, he is very rarely seen in lycra (he favours brown suits); secondly, given his local celebrity status, Mr Danczuk, lycra clad or otherwise, would have been immediately recognised at a Manchester tram stop.

If Erection Man was a priapic politician it is far more likely to have been Ken Livingstone, the Labour Party’s new defence policy supremo who, unlike Mr Danczuk, would not be recognised by that many Mancunians. Despite now being in his eighth decade, Mr Livingstone still has a comparatively youthful appearance (he could just about pass for 59), and he has previously claimed – on this issue there is no reason to disbelieve him – to be “like a broom handle in the morning.” What is more, for many years now the former Mayor of London has made no effort to conceal his enthusiasm for trams. It is easy to imagine him getting carried away while admiring Manchester’s smoothly efficient urban trams.

It ought to be made clear that it is not – yet – a criminal offence to possess an erection at a tram stop, although if the man is ever identified and caught I am sure the police will want to craft an ASBO to deter him from ever again becoming sexually excited in the vicinity of trams, and for that matter any other busy public transport hubs.

Anyway, back to Mr Danczuk. Just as having an erection at a tram stop is not in itself an offence, so it is not an offence to exchange sexual messages with a seventeen year old girl. According to a “source close to Danczuk” the Greater Manchester Police have already concluded that there is “no case to answer”. The use of unattributable sources is a classic politician’s technique, so we should approach this assertion with caution. There has been not yet been an announcement from the police.

Instead, according to the Sun, Rochdale Police’s specialist sexual abuse unit has been called in to investigate.

What offences might they be looking for?

It is a common misconception that the law criminalises the possession and distribution only of indecent pictures of children under the age of 16. In fact since 2003, under the relevant legislation, a “child” has been defined as a “person under the age of 18.” If he had asked Miss Houlihan to send him an indecent photograph of herself then he would be in very hot water indeed. At the time in question she was 17, and he knew it.

Much depends on the picture that he solicited and received. Before Mr Danczuk could be convicted it would be necessary to prove that it was “indecent.” One person’s tasteful nude is another’s erotic art and even an erotic picture is not necessarily “indecent.” The question is whether the jury consider it indecent: see R v. Dodd [2013] EWCA Crim 660. All we know about it is that Miss Houlihan was wearing a “white body suit”. That does not mean he is automatically in the clear: just as a picture of a naked child is not necessarily indecent nor is one of a clothed child necessarily decent, but it seems to point away from it. Probably wisely the Sun has not published the picture, although a number of papers have published a picture of her posing a provocative cleavage in a way that is rather reminiscent of Karen Danczuk: I assume that she was 18 when that photograph was taken.

At the less serious end of the scale of child pornography offences is the simple possession of an indecent image of a child. Under S.160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 it is punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.

There are, however, other possible, and more serious charges.

S.1 of the 1978 Act makes the distribution of an indecent photograph of a child an offence. Nobody is suggesting that Mr Danczuk distributed such a picture, or had any intention of doing so, but if the photograph that he asked Miss Houlihan to send him was indecent then she could be guilty of the offence. It is inconceivable that she would be prosecuted, but there might be scope for prosecuting him for an offence under S.48 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, of intentionally inciting child pornography (again “child” in this context means a person under the age of 18). It carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. An alternative might be S.44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 for doing an act “intended to encourage the commission of an offence.” In fact, a deliberate attempt to persuade a seventeen year old Miss Houlihan to send an indecent image would be an offence in itself, even if no such image was sent. The Rochdale sexual abuse unit will presumably want to comb the exchange of messages very carefully.

Although the possible sentences for offences relating to indecent photographs of children are very severe, in practice even if – and it is of course a very big if – he were to be charged and convicted it is almost inconceivable that Mr Danczuk would be gaoled in relation to a single photograph of a seventeen year old.

Finally, as was kindly pointed out to me by Graham Smith, he may be investigated for the offence of sending an “indecent or obscene electronic communication” under S.127 of the Communications Act 2003. It is a summary only offence with a maximum sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment.

What of the political consequences?

Under the Representation of the People Act 1981 an MP imprisoned for 12 months or longer is automatically disqualified from the House.

If an MP has not been convicted but has behaved disgracefully the House of Commons has a very rarely used power to expel its own members. Its own proceedings are expressly excluded from the Human Rights Act, although not from the oversight of the European Court of Human Rights, raising the potential for an interesting constitutional wrangle. Strangely enough, an expelled member is at perfect liberty to put his case to the voters at the consequent by-election, as the radical John Wilkes did successfully in 1769. In this century the power to expel where there has been no conviction has been used only once, against the former Daily Mirror journalist and Labour MP Gary Allighan in 1947, who was found to have falsely accused some of his fellow MPs of having sold confidential information to the press.

The Labour Party has suspended Mr Danczuk, and Mr Corbyn has announced that there will now be an “independent investigation” into his behaviour. The last such suspension was of Andrew Fisher, who remains a senior aide to Mr Corbyn despite having allegedly urged people to support a “Class War” candidate against the official Labour candidate at the General Election. It is unlikely that the same indulgence will be extended to Mr Danczuk, a forthright opponent of the current leadership.

The Labour Party’s disciplinary process is so complex that I will leave it for another post. Those who are interested can start by reading the 2013 Constitution, which should sate their appetite for the time being.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

28 thoughts on “Simon Danczuk vacates the moral high ground”

  1. With respect this comes across as over-censorious. I am not endorsing what Danczuk appears to have done but the only morally dubious thing (even though I am a lawyer I think one can leave the law behind sometimes) he has done is to exploit his status. Which I concur is wrong. But his highly moral and quite brave exposé of Smith and other does need, in mitigation, to be set against this.

    Where I do ask you seriously to reconsider what you wrote is the passage about Harvey Proctor. You imply that Proctor occupies the low moral ground because he did something consensual with a fellow adult that was, by reason of a law enshrining bigotry and persecution, criminal. Did Türing occupy the low ground too?

    1. Actually I think I agree with quite a lot of your comment. I do sound a little more censorious than I wanted to. I also wonder how much, if at all, he may have been deliberately”set up.” No way of knowing really.

      1. ^ It’s certainly possible that SD was set up, but it truly isn’t correct to state that was the first to expose Smith. In fact, Smith was exposed as a sex offender in his lifetime – there were reports about his behaviour in local media in his constituency decades ago, but at the time, the mainstream media (with the honourable exception of Private Eye) didn’t follow up.

        1. Well that’s very true, and indeed the fact that Cyril’s proclivities were already well known didn’t stop Danczuk attending a blue plaque ceremony for Smith 12 months before he so heroically “exposed” Cyril in the HOC.

          What this was really all about was Pakistani grooming gangs and the Labour Party in terms of the toxic combination of political correctness and votes. Smith served as a diversionary smokescreen.

          In May/June 2012 the wide publicity given to the 3rd Rochdale grooming trial meant that the lid could no longer be kept on this ultimate embarrassment for Labour and the left generally.

          Danczuk had been involved in East Lancs politics for many years, like the rest of his colleagues he chose to stay silent on the Pakistani grooming gang issue – which also was in the public domain(eg Edge of the City, Julie Bindel’s Sunday Times article “Mothers of Prevention”). In Feb and Aug of 2010 there were trials of two groups of Pakistani groomer rapists – Danczuk appears to have made no comment. It was only after the 3rd trial that he had something to say, which was pretty much the least that he could.

          So a few months after the conclusion of the 3rd trial we get this flurry of diversionary activity including Danczuk on his hind legs in the Commons “outing” Smith and Watson around the same time “exposing” high level VIP paedo rings –
          complete bs of course based on the vapourings of loons as we
          now know.

          The dynamics as regards Watson and Smith were exactly the same – high levels of Pakistani grooming in their areas and a large bloc vote on which Labour had come to depend, “the vast vote reservoirs” as Denis MacShane put it – if tapping that required a blind eye to the “bad practices” of the Kashmiri community, well there you go. Of course if you are going to sell little girls for votes in effect you need a comforting rationale to do it, and that was provided by Labour and the left’s enormous emotional investment in diversity and multi-culti. Philosophy and expediency combined in a really evil way – and the diversions were the means justified by the ends

          No suprise that Danczuk has himself been exposed as a reprobate, his fellow Paedo Finder General Watson is in all likelihood even worse. But it is a crying shame that he has been caught out over some relatively trivial matter rather than the vile Faustian bargain that he and his despicable Party stuck.

          Incidentally a group of usual suspects was convicted for the usual offences committed in Rochdale at the end of last week

      2. I would agree that it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Danczuk was set up. I couldn’t help feeling that there was a slight disconnect between the rather candid photographs of herself that the young lady has published and her professed ambition of a career in politics. Perhaps times have just changed. Certainly I don’t recall Barbara Castle or Margaret Beckett posing for similar artistic studies.

  2. surely he has not committed any offence ina law? The willing recipient of texts is 17yrs old that makes such exchanges legal if not moral. He campaigned against child abuse and so far I do not see any evidence of child abuse on his part

    1. Drew, While you may not see any evidence of child abuse, the matter needs to be viewed in the context of the current CPS guidance on child abuse:
      “Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example the persuasion to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones with no immediate payment or gain. In all cases those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources.”

  3. “That there are teenagers, or for that matter people of any age, who are in awe of Mr Danczuk may seem surprising viewed from the South of England, but in Rochdale and Greater Manchester generally, he is the very embodiment of a VIP”

    Ouch. To be fair though, that the cast of TOWIE are viewed as the very embodiment of VIPs in the South East of England seems surprising everywhere else.

  4. He is a Labour MP – what do you expect?
    The ideology of the Left these days has got nothing to do with economic justice, and everything to do with sexual ultra-permissiveness. Morality is labelled “intolerance” and “bigotry”.
    Someone called Harry asks above whether Alan Turing also occupied the moral low ground. The answer to that is an emphatic Yes. Turing was known in his college as a laughable bumbling queer who sexually harassed undergraduates. I have that information from people who were students at his college. He was shuffling and diffident with greasy hair and dandruff. He picked up young men in pubs and drew them into prostitution by offering them money for sexual services. He would never have got into trouble with the police if he had not gone to them and complained about one such young man stealing money from him. The lies he told the police to explain this were his downfall. He should have had more sense. He was, by the way, only one of hundreds of people who worked at Bletchley Park during the war and his contribution to defeating Germany is much exaggerated by the propagandist film starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

    1. Morality in the Tory Party has always been, and still is, based on hypocrisy. Most gay Tory MPs ‘play straight’, get married, and have children. They have accidents though, falling on men in cars, sharing bedrooms with men on trips, or bumping into men at night.

      The Tory morality is pretence, the ones who are not secret gays visit miss whiplash types, or are spanked by Mrs Thatcher ‘nanny types’. The ‘teenager’, sexted by shamed MP Simon Danczuk was dominatrix who sold toenail clippings for £10. She was running a fetish website at the age of 17.

  5. I really don’t think that it’s a wise thing for an MP to be associated with a 17 year old female in the sense of regularly texting the person and then saying that they are going to spank them. It is behaviour on a pretty low level. These people are there and are making law for the rest of us, yet somehow their minds don’t grasp that such laws may be applicable to them. For the reasons that this MP does not have cognition of of how to act, I think he should be expelled from the House of Commons. The fact that he is campaigning against sexual abuse is irrelevant if he indulges in such abhorrent behaviour.

  6. I do not think that the Sun, most Lawyers, MPs, Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill, and many others, can take the High Moral Ground. There seems to be a lot of pontificating going on, from people who’s private lives have yet to be investigated.

  7. So legally, he could go around to her place, the could shag each other mutually, consensually senseless. Whilst of course, being actually naked in each other presence! Legally however, if she sent him a topless photo, taken at their legal sexual encounter, as a memento between these 2 legal hypothetical lovers. One or both of them could go to jail?

    The law is an ass.. as in the MP of course, his constituency should deselect him for being just ‘stupid’. Maybe we should have some retrospective prosecutions of The Sun newspaper, for putting various topless models, topless on their 16th Birthdays, and distributing it. The countdown to their 16th birthdays, was also very dubious.

    Fussing over this, is much more interesting to the media and all, rather than the very real sexual abuse of children that goes on day in and out in this country.

      1. no exactly right, as a tiny bit of fact checking shows.

        “She was just 16 when she first appeared topless on page three of a tabloid.”

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2091544/Sam-Fox-Former-Page-3-girl-shows-figure-bikini-Thailand-holiday.html#ixzz3w7owXqZp

        another.

        Linsey Dawn McKenzie (born 7 August 1978[2] in Brent, Middlesex[1]) is an English glamour model, porn star, and television personality who made her topless modelling debut in the Sunday Sport tabloid newspaper on her 16th birthday in 1994.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linsey_Dawn_McKenzie

  8. In the tv series MASH wasn’t there an attractive lady called Houlihan? Her nickname was Hot Lips….

    Just saying.

  9. An interesting point about possession of indecent photos of peple under 18 but over 16.

    When the age was changed no provision was made for the case of a photo of 16/17 already in somebody’s possession. It should have been. The result is retrospective legislation and I am not convinced that it would pass muster in Strasbourg.

    And then there’s the custodian of the British Library which keeps back numbers of British newspapers including the Sun before 2003 when the girl on Page Three might have been under 18. Is s/he in unlawful possession of those pages?

    The Statute Book doesn’t provide many laughs but there is one here: the provision that it’s not unlawful if the photo is of the holder’s wife!

    1. Yes 2 very good points. I’m not sure that a 1990s Page 3 style topless picture would be found to be “indecent,” whatever the age of the girl. In the unlikely event of a prosecution I guess a jury would almost certainly acquit. Your retrospective legislation point though seems more likely to be of practical relevance.

  10. This blog is just linking things together which are not related to each other.

    Simon Danczuk, , in June 215, said victims’ accounts of their experiences of sexual abuse had left him experiencing flashbacks and unable to sleep.

    “What I’ve experienced is nothing compared to what the victims themselves have experienced, so I feel a bit guilty that I get upset about some of this stuff,”

    “I would say I’ve been suffering from depression to the point where I’ve decided to seek help for that,” he said.

    This may have led to the breakdown of his marriage, and later events.

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