Whatever sentence Stuart Hall had received it would never have been long enough to satisfy the Twitter tricoteurs. It was always inevitable that these high minded guardians of morality would denounce the sentence and the judge who passed it as a disgrace to his profession.
The speed with which the Ministry of Justice managed to release a transcript of HHJ Anthony Russell QC’s sentencing remarks suggests that the judge himself realised he would be pilloried in both the press and in social media, and he was right.
A typical reaction came from the ex-footballer Robbie Fowler, who told his 528,515 Twitter followers that Judge Russell should be gaoled along with Mr Hall. Mr Fowler’s views on morality and the law deserve to be taken seriously: he was recently in the news for participating in a jolly football match with the Chechen dictator and allegedly blood-soaked Putin puppet, Ramzan Kadyrov. Of course it is perfectly possible that Mr Kadyrov is innocent of the terrible crimes he has been accused of, such as arranging for the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politovskaya and personally torturing his captives by peeling strips of skin off their backs. We shall probably never know as it is unlikely he will ever face trial. But given Mr Fowler’s self-righteous call for His Honour Judge Anthony Russell QC to be banged up, perhaps he should explain why it was acceptable to participate in a propaganda stunt with Mr Kadyrov.
Inevitably politicians, starting with Emily Thornberry the Shadow Attorney General and Harriet Harman the Shadow Home Secretary have demanded that the sentences should be reviewed – in effect a prosecution appeal. The speed with which they leapt to criticise the judge almost suggests that they had decided to complain before the sentence had been passed: not so much a case of jumping on a bandwagon but installing themselves in its box seat before it had even started to move.
The Attorney-General Dominic Grieve has said that he is considering referring the case to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it was unduly lenient. It is perfectly proper for him to consider it but I hope Mr Grieve shows the backbone to refrain from making a formal reference to the Court of Appeal; and if he does appeal it would be wrong for the sentence to be increased. Mr Hall’s barrister, Crispin Aylett QC, is a superb advocate but the fruits of his advocacy in this case were modest. A 15 month sentence is not particularly lenient for a man of eighty three in poor health; particularly when one bears in mind that for the majority of the offences the maximum punishment was only two years imprisonment.
One person in particular emerges very well from the day’s events: Patricia McMillan, the former chair of East Cheshire NSPCC. She wrote a reference for Mr Hall, referring to his work as a charitable fund-raiser. Although the full text of what she wrote does not seem to have been reported, it shows great personal courage that she was prepared publicly to stand up for him. She must have been aware that in doing so she was exposing herself to widespread vilification. A fair sentencing process always involves balancing punishment for the crimes that a defendant has committed against the more attractive aspects of his character. There is almost nobody about whom nothing good at all can be said and there is a real danger that in high profile cases of this sort ordinary people will simply be terrified into silence rather than say anything remotely kind about a defendant. In speaking up for Mr Hall, Ms McMillan was performing an essential public duty, and she should be commended for doing so.
As for the wretched Mr Hall, even if he comes out of prison alive, his ruin is complete. And complete ruin is surely punishment enough.