Neil Wilson probably thought that he had escaped lightly on Monday when he walked out of Snaresbrook Crown Court with a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to a single count of sexual activity with a child and 2 counts of possession of images of extreme pornography possibly involving horses or dogs. There was some suggestion that he may also have possessed images of child abuse, but puzzlingly the press reports do not suggest that he was actually sentenced for such an offence.
Unfortunately for Mr Wilson his good fortune quickly turned sour with the news that the Attorney General is considering a review of his sentence. As I have observed recently on this blog, and as Stuart Hall recently learnt the hard way, if the Attorney General decides to appeal against a lenient sentence he has an extremely good success record.
In fact a non-custodial, or at any rate a suspended sentence, is by no means unusual for a single sexual offence against a teenage child. The official sentencing guidelines suggest that for “contact between the naked genitalia of the offender and naked genitalia of the victim or another part of victim’s body, particularly face or mouth” there should be a sentencing range of 1 – 4 years after a trial. There was no trial in this case, and an early guilty plea normally merits a reduction of about one third in the length of a sentence. If Judge Peters thought that the proper sentence after a trial was one of about 12 months, then the 8 month sentence he actually imposed is readily understandable.
Sentences of that length are often suspended. An 8 month suspended sentence combined, as it was in this case, with attendance on a sexual offenders programme may well be better for society than a 2 year immediate sentence which would have Mr Wilson banged up with other sex offenders for 12 months before being released with no attempt made to address his underlying motivation to offend. Courses such as the Thames Valley Sex Offender Programme exist to try to get people like Mr Wilson to change their attitudes and behaviour. Many believe that they do an excellent job.
Moreover, there are grave dangers in expressing any opinion about the leniency of the sentence relying just on press reports. I have seen nothing, for example, which sets out in any detail what it is that Mr Wilson is said to have done. We can probably guess what was involved from the court reporter’s traditionally coy euphemism that “she performed a sex act on him” but we don’t know for sure. As a result it is simply impossible to say whether the sentence was broadly commensurate with the guidelines. Nevertheless, even if it was not, it would not have been such a newsworthy story – and would probably never have come to the Attorney General’s attention – had both the Judge and Prosecutor not said various things that, out of context at least, sound remarkably foolish.
Prosecuting barristers opening a case in court face many pressures. Sometimes, of course, they have had the papers for many weeks with plenty of time to get to grips with all the complexities and subtleties of the case. At other times, and probably more often than most members of the public realise, the barrister has been handed the papers that morning, often as one case among several, and he or she has to do the best job possible after a quick skim reading. That is, of course, far from ideal.
In such circumstances a slip of the tongue or even a serious misunderstanding of the case is understandable if not forgiveable. We should not be too hard on Mr Colover: in a system which depends on oral advocacy there is not an advocate who has practised in any court who has not occasionally said something stupid. There must be many who are thanking their lucky stars that their mistakes were made away from the ears of the press.
One does not know if something like that happened, but if reports are to be believed the prosecutor Robert “Bob” Colover did make a bit of a mess of opening the case. According to The Times Mr Colover told the Court:
“The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.
“She appeared to look around 14 or 15 and had the mental age of a 14 or 15 year old despite being younger than that.
“There was sexual activity but it was not of Mr Wilson’s doing, you might say it was forced upon him despite being older and stronger than her.”
Being as charitable as one can, and even making allowances for simple human error, it does seem rather hard, though not entirely impossible, to imagine how the girl could have “forced” herself onto Mr Wilson; and to describe her as “predatory in all her actions” was surely absurd. It is also difficult to see why Mr Colover made a reference to her having a “mental age of a 14 or 15 year old,” or indeed what he could have meant by it.
Nevertheless, teenage girls do sometimes seek sex with older men. If the girl in this case had in fact been actively seeking sex with Mr Wilson, then it would not have justified his behaviour but Mr Colover would have been failing in his duty had he not mentioned the fact. Contrary to popular belief, in England and Wales it is not the function of the prosecutor to strive to obtain the heaviest possible sentence but to present the facts clearly and fairly.
Perhaps I should let Mr Colover explain the job of prosecuting counsel in his own words, given, of all places, in a video art installation, at the Cob Gallery Camden Town in 2012:
“… people often say,well, you’re the prosecuting barrister,you’re representing the victim, and the victim’s your client, no, that’s wrong, the victim is the state’s witness as to what happened but they’re not represented by the prosecution barrister.”.
Matters were compounded when Judge Peters, perhaps picking up on Mr Colover’s words, said when passing sentence:
“On these facts, the girl was predatory and was egging you on.”
It is not entirely clear what he was referring to by the expression “on these facts,” or indeed whether he even accepted them. It certainly sounds as though he may have had some misgivings about the matter. But save in exceptional circumstances judges have to deal with cases as they are presented to them by the prosecution and the defence. It is very rare, especially when the judge has not presided over a full trial, in which he is entitled to say “despite both the prosecution and the defence saying x, I think the position is y and I will sentence you on what I think, rather than on what has been presented to me as agreed facts.”
The press and social media mob is now in full cry, and it is a terrifying sight. Mr Colover and Judge Peters are denounced as “scumbags” and “nonces” by people with little knowledge of the case and less of the law.
They are not nonces or scumbags: Mr Colover’s only known vice seems to be a weakness for flying kites on Streatham Common. And unfortunately for those who would like to blame as much as possible on a public school and Oxbridge education, Judge Peters went to a state school and was educated at the solidly red brick Leicester University.
They are human beings, and sometimes human beings make mistakes. But that of course would not be much of a story.
Since this was originally written the Attorney General has confirmed that he will indeed be seeking to review the sentence.
Mr Colover’s opening and the judge’s sentencing remarks have now been published. You can see them here and make up your own mind. Three things strike me from a quick reading of the transcript:
1. Mr Colover does appear uneasy about his own use of the word “predatory.” It also rather sounds as though he used it after having talked to the police.
2. The girl’s behaviour was unusual and Mr Colover could not but describe it. In my view it was relevant to sentence.
3. The consideration that Mr Wilson would receive treatment far more effectively if he retained his liberty seems to have been a point heavily relied upon by the defence.
97 thoughts on “If Robert Colover made a mistake it does not make him a scumbag”
Excellent piece. Thanks for writing it. Now if only the lynch mob and the journos could read it …
Thanks for the comment Dan, good to have a favourable one from a Meisterblogger.
This morning, psychotherapist Richard Thomas @RichardThomas37 retweeted my tweet that damaged underage girls often throw themselves sexually at older men.
You might find further remarks from Mr. Thomas valuable, you can link to them on twitter.
I don’t think anyone is disputing that “damaged underage girls often throw themselves sexually at older men” and that the man here, as the adult, is responsible. Or that the word ‘predatory’ shouldn’t have been used in that context, if indeed it was.
It would be better if a psychologist’s report was mandatory. Look at what Eddie Shah said He needs to talk to a psychologist. At length.
What Eddie Shah said was spot on and I applaud his courage to speak the truth in the face of all the prejudice there is in society these days against men. These young people certainly do need help, preferably from their parents (for balance, one of each gender hopefully) . Failing that, from social workers or psychiatrists. But this should never prevent the adults they fixate upon from receiving a fair trial, or barristers from fulfilling their legal duties to mention all pertinent fact during the trial. Let’s start dealing with the real issues instead of the cowardly copout of just blaming men for everything.
Jack, you need to check out the above link on the age of consent. Any girl under the age of 16 is deemed a child, anyone who has sex with a child can go to prison, even if the girl is complicit.
There is a huge difference in understanding between a fully grown man and a child of 12, 13 or even 16! Many kids who chase older men are looking for love, security, even a father figure.
In such a situation, it is up to the adult to behave like an adult, and the responsibility is entirely not the girl’s.
Yes I know what the law currently say and I believe the age of sexual consent needs to be lowered.
As to your other point, we must all be responsible for are actions. What sort of message do you think it sends out to our young people is we show them that they can do whatever they like and some man will pay the price for them? That is no way to bring them up. They must be taught that actions have consequences or else we are paving the way to anarchy.
As I have said before on here, these teenagers need help but they won’t get it by teaching them they can behave irresponsibly and someone else will carry the can.
Robert Colover is a disgusting and abhorrent vile human being, his presence is detrimental in Society, the UK and the UK Law Association. I can only hope that more of the Elites Lawyers are banned from law in the UK for extremely evil and shocking comments.in a trial.
Good trolling Dan Brown. There is no such thing as a ‘UK Law Association’ or ‘Elite Lawyers’. There are valid comments to made in opposition to the views of this blogger. You have made none of them.
Not sure this is the most helpful comment on this topic.
Today’s development is very sad. It ends the right to a fair trial in this country. When lawyers are gagged, unable to defend their clients, we are living in a totalitarian state.
He hasn’t been gagged and he can still defend anyone who wants to instruct him, Jack. All that has happened is that Mr Colover has resigned from the CPS list of prosecutors for rape and serious sexual offences. It’s unfortunate for him but I think your comment is somewhat over the top.
No, not over the top. He told the truth about the girl and was forced to stop working in cases of rape allegations. In this repressive political climate, any lawyer who speaks up for a defendant in a rape case risks wreaking their career. How can this be a free country when defendants can’t be fairly defended? What ever happened to the principle of The Truth, THE WHOLE TRUTH, and Nothing but The Truth? For that matter, whatever happened to free speech? Sacrificed on the altar of so-called ‘political correctness’. A very sad day indeed.
I think you’ve missed the point that he was prosecuting, not defending.
Yes I know he was prosecuting but that only make it worse. Even the prosecutor didn’t believe the plaintive. Nor did the judge. Look, I feel sorry for the girl but this is much bigger than just one case. This is a basic principle of law. Today its a case of alleged child abuse, tomorrow it could be anything. If barristers can’t argue their case for fear of offending someone then justice is in the waste bin, its over, this is no longer a free country. Anyone who accuses another of any offence must be prepared for their accusation to be challenged. This includes looking into their motive for bringing the accusation. It also includes an examination of their character.
Anyone who thinks Colover was telling the truth hasn’t done their homework – the transcript contradicts such a point of view and it has now been made clear that so did all other documentation and experience in relation to this case.
What is really worrying is that he is still free to make equally false claims about victims when defending. And far worse is the fact that we have lawyers behaving worse than this who have never been taken to task. Mr Colover has been made the scapegoat to let the disgraceful excuse for a judge in this case and others like the appalling Khan and Blackwell off the hook.
“Anyone who accuses another of any offence must be prepared for their accusation to be challenged. This includes looking into their motive for bringing the accusation. It also includes an examination of their character.”
She didn’t make an accusation/complaint. And he admitted what happened. You don’t actually have the first clue about any of this, do you?
Is it now wrong to tell the truth, THE WHOLE TRUTH and nothing but the truth in court?
No. But then Mr Colover did not speak the truth – he just voiced his opinion which was ill-informed. For example, where did he get the idea that the victim had a mental age in advance of her chronological age? From her school? From psychometric testing? Or maybe just from his own ideas that children don’t behave that way until they are older? We don’t know from the reporting, but we do know that calling a child ‘predatory’ flies in the face of all that is known about sexually exploited children and adult offending behaviour.
Tony I think you should read the transcript now it is available.
He did not use the expression “mental age” at all.
Then he should bloody well have hesitated longer and long enough to choose to do the right thing. It is not an accurate description of what he subsequently describes. And he should say sorry. It’s really not that difficult – someone capable of such long speeches should be capable of uttering two measly syllables.
Thank you. The transcript is enlightening and, as you say, Mr Colover does not talk about her mental age. I have fallen into the trap of accepting media reporting when all that is said is that she appears and acts older than her years in the view of the officer in the case.
Having now seen the transcript it appears Mr Colover may well think he is delivering the views of the office in the case when saying, “I think the officer would agree that she may well be what is described as predatory.” Of course we don’t know if the officer would agree or not.
The transcript is also enlightening because Judge Peters is seen to be working to ensure a treatment programme within the restrictions of the system.
Nonetheless, it is still the case that ‘predatory’ is the wrong language. Who was seeking to exploit who here? When the defendant bought her cigarettes, invited her home, and maintained later contact it was not for benign reasons.
Exactly. It’s blindingly clear who the predator was and it was not the girl. Sadly the transcript shows Mr Colover in a worse light than I had anticipated – he more or less says ‘I’m going to say something that is morally unjustifiable’ and goes ahead and says it. There is no question of a fluff or an error. And as to Mr Peters, I feel slightly queasy. People are always saying that 13 year old girls look 15. They don’t. That’s what 13 year old girls looks like. Get used to it.
Perspective and context. Thank you
I would rather have 100 Robert colover’s in the court room that “approved only Judges and Barristers” which seems to put more emphasis on popularity in agreeing with and appeasing the public than pursuing justice.
“there is not an advocate who has practised in any court who has not occasionally said something stupid”.
Yes, barristers say silly and even stupid things.
And yes, I’ve had papers thown at me and have been expected to just get on with it.
Yet, there are certain turns of phrase which do not feature in my discourse.
That this particular turn of phrase “slipped out” of the Prosecution while describing a 13 year old child victim troubles me.
So allow me to call bs on this one.
There once was a little book, written by a barrister. It was called, “Eve Was Framed”. I wish more people would read it.
Agreed, a slip of the tongue or ‘stupid remark’ is always forgivable. Making lude or suggestive remarks to a 13 year old girl fits neither description.
Church St lawyer, I entirely agree with what you say here. There are two serious oversights in this blog. First, No criticism of the judge directing the jury and referring to the defence barristers opinion about the victim as ‘facts’ they must take ‘as fact’ when they were ‘opinion’. Second, no analysis of how such unconscious collusion could happen in a court of law. I can only surmise that the author is also suffering the same malaise. I’ve heard 3 year olds be referred to as sexually precocious as part of defence in child sex abuse cases. The law does need to be examined but more importantly, its our assumptions that need forensic examination. Justice for victims can only be a good thing for everyone, including the defence.
Sadly all comments and the column lack objectivity, I would rather have a 100 of them than 1 of him, he would have only read his papers an hour before due to pressure and not a week earlier when they were received. Is it now wrong to tell the truth etc etc
Sadly a 13 year old girl is a sexual preditor with a 41 year old man (objectively I didn’t think that was possible)
When would it begin to be objective, 12 year old with 30 year old or a nine year old with a 20 year old
Shame on the Column and shame on the subjective comments and for reference I am not a lynch mob but an objective citizen.
I thought 13 year olds were victims and not predators.
Thanks for the comment Karl, but I’m a bit lost with some of it. I think the general thrust is that we should be objective as far as possible which seems like a sound principle generally. Maybe in the morning your thoughts will be a little clearer.
Shame on the column. The girl was thirteen, a child. Shame on you.
Because the barristers are concentrating only on the legal aspects, not the psychological aspects, which is wrong. It should be mandatory for barristers to read a proper psychologist’s report, if so, they wouldn’t make stupid, cruel remarks.
Colover was ill informed, which is reprehensible for someone in his position.
Edited by Matthew
Here’s a comment I wrote earlier today as I signed a petition, and writing as a layperson: “the prosecuting lawyer was only doing his job in explaining the situation, but the language he chose to use had the effect of blaming the victim”.
So neither of the privileged males in this case is a scumbag. Such a pity then that on this public occasion they used the language of victim-blaming scumbags. Notice how I labelled the behaviour and not the people. Is it really beyond the author of this blog and the commenters to realise what a gross error of language occurred in this case?
I’m surprised that some one going under the title of “barrister blogger” doesn’t seem to understand the nuances of language…it is one thing to say that the child — because that is what she was at the time of the act — acted in a way to invite sex. It is different to call her a predator. Connotatively,if we are being careful with our language here, predators are usually better positioned than their prey.
The comments have resonances of men and women (judges too unfortunately) who say when a woman dresses provocatively she is asking to be raped.
Of course, we women know to our cost that a great many men feel that way.
I hope I do understand something of the nuances of languagae Carole. I don’t think my piece is actually defending the use of the word “predator.” Unless the case was wholly exceptional (and there’s nothing to say that it was) I think it was an extremely foolish choice of language: foolish because it is wrong.
I admit I don’t know what “connotatively” means.
An adverbial form of connote/connotation.
I agree also!
The Courts should be about ‘The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth’ even if unpalatable. Clearly Defendants like this young girl need loads of support but also appropriate Legal boundaries. Healing and appropriate reprimand,
This girl is a victim, not a defendant – and you make the point very well that the system and sadly some of those observing it seem to have got this all the wrong way around. She shouldn’t need to defend herself. She committed no crime. Can we all be clear about the fact that any previous sexual experience of someone aged 13 would be prior abuse of someone aged 13 at the most – quite possibly younger. Unless we’re saying she was a sexual abuser of younger children, which doesn’t appear to be the case. If an abuse victim of that age is acting out sexually that is all the more reason why she needs protection, not exploitation, from adults.
As to the comments of the barrister – well, actually, in my experience there are two types of malapropism that we come out with under pressure – we use a word that is similar in sound/shape to the one we mean, producing a nonsense utterance, or the wrong name/noun. Hence ‘I’ll have that melon – er, sorry, mango’ or ‘John, sorry, Joe, can you come over here please?’ Since neither Mr Colover nor the judge said ‘sorry, I mean… ‘ we have to assume they meant what they said and thus believe that it is possible for a child of 13 to predate upon a forty-something man. I suggest they get a better dictionary. And if it was a fluff, we might reasonably have expected a public apology for such an offensive malopropism in such a public arena. None has been forthcoming. The author of the article says that he used what was not ‘child-friendly language’ in error but that was not the case – no ‘child-friendly language’ would excuse the intention behind the word ‘predator’. It is the meaning, not the language, that is unacceptable. I fear we must therefore conclude that actually, that is what he thinks. And it is not fluffing one’s lines but holding that view, that a 13 year old acting out sexual can be held to have predated upon a mentally competent middle aged man, that is a genuine symptom of being a scumbag.
I’m sorry, but this is really not good enough. Barristers need to get their act together on tackling this issue, and giving excuses like these just demonstrates that you do not understand the scale of the problem in your profession. Whilst it is clearly the case that Robert Colover is currently being made an example of and publically ridiculed, the source of public anger comes from a whole series of unfortunate cases in which the language and questioning used by barristers has been potentially very damaging to the child victims. In turn this affects the rule of law as victims are deterred from giving evidence. On one point I do agree with you – name calling does not help the debate. Robert Colover is not a scumbag – but he does need to be re-educated. I’m sure his suspension will allow him time to take some specialist training in this area.
There seems to be something of a perception that barristers are inhuman creatures who enjoy publicly humiliating damaged children. It is rubbish. Most of the barristers I know who do child sex cases, absolutely loath doing them. They hate cross-examining child witnesses who may have suffered horribly. When they are cross-examining them it is because they have to. Sometimes witnesses lie. Sometimes children lie, or make mistakes. The Criminal Bar Association and many of the Circuits have put a lot of time and effort into training barristers how to cross-examine children appropriately, using a style of language and questioning that is appropriate to their age. But it is extremely difficult. In the stress of listening to the child’s answer, thinking of your next question, observing the rules of evidence and remembering which topics you have covered and which you still need to cover it’s hardly surprising if sometimes you slip into language that is not particularly child friendly.
If I may say so, JC, I fear you may have slipped into slightly imprecise language yourself. When cross-examining children in court one cannot assume that they are all “victims”. They may be or they may not be. But they are being questioned as “witnesses” not as “victims”.
Hi Matthew, thanks for your response, and I’m glad to see your willing to enter a sensible debate (at this point that’s quite brave of you!)
In relation to your last point, I believe this was a sentencing hearing so the use of the word “victim” is appropriate. In discussing past cases, where the defendants have been found guilty, then again the word “victim” is correct. But these are all semantics.
The use of the word “predatory” was not, however, a mere issue of semantics. It was plain wrong.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I fully realise that the barristers and judiciary have a difficult job to do, and I fully support the legal system and the need to cross-examine child witnesses. It may well be as you say that many of your professional bodies have already put considerable effort into getting this right, to deliver a fair trial for all (both defendant and witness). But clearly they have not solved the problem yet. I hope they do before meddling politicians fuelled by a public outcry make a mess of it.
All the best, JC
JC is right and I’m afraid you, like many of your profession, are trying to defend the indefensible – and I’m afraid the rest of us have had enough of it. We could call day night but it would not change objective reality. What’s more, this line about ‘doing what they have to’ sounds dangerously close to ‘only following orders’ – and we have long since established that that is no excuse for doing what is fundamentally immoral.
We have in very recent times had a very young victim confronted by a barrister demanding that she ‘repent her sins’. We have had a brave and talented woman told, with unforgivable arrogance, by a judge in court that she was experiencing ‘catharsis’ when told, mendaciously by a lawyer who had not witnessed what happened to her, that she was a liar, and that woman is dead. It is not only her abuser who has her blood on his hands. We have lost other, much younger women in consequence as much of their disgraceful treatment in court as well as the abuse inflicted upon them.
We have now witnessed a young girl who appears to have assaulted no one called a ‘predator’ in what was essentially a grooming case with her as the victim, first by the barrister and then even more inexcusably by a judge. And then we have had on the back of that the appalling Barbara Hewson claiming that damaged children are, in effect, ‘no better than they should be’ and the shameful comment of Felicity Gerry, entering into the same sort of defence of the offending colleagues as this blog, describing abuse victims as ‘corrupted’.
How precisely does any of this go to show whether victims might be mistaken or complainants lying? It doesn’t. This is simply dishonest, immoral mudslinging by the wealthy, safe and privileged against the most vulnerable, defenceless and abused members of society. There is no excuse and the only ones who can’t see it are those working in the legal system that has lost its way and abandoned all notion of its proper function as a justice system. So they are closing ranks and we see articles like this popping up all over the web, inventing excuses that have nothing to do with the real motivation, which is sympathy for a colleague and the fear that ‘there but for the grace of God go the rest of us’.
But just as we no longer have any truck with the excuses of irresponsible investment bankers, I hope that the tide is now rising against arrogant lawyers who think they are entitled to be exempt from normal moral standards. And whilst some of those who comment on this sort of article may not construct or punctuate shining prose, their ability to cut through the cant seems better developed than that of too many of the educated lawyers.
Justice must be just for ALL and that means telling the truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. The truth shall set us all free, lies, coverups and pussy footing around, trying not to offend people will not.
You are right, Mathew, when you say, “But it is extremely difficult. In the stress of listening to the child’s answer, thinking of your next question, observing the rules of evidence and remembering which topics you have covered and which you still need to cover it’s hardly surprising if sometimes you slip into language that is not particularly child friendly.”
It’s not easy, and the courts are poor at remembering those exact same problems for police officers conducting ABE interviews.
But this was not a slip and the language appears calculated because Mr Colover suggests that others might agree. Calling the child predatory did not arise out of the stress of cross examination and it is not a question of child friendly language. However gently Mr Colover sought have the child share the blame, he would be wrong and he showed a worrying lack of understanding of the dynamics of abuse and of who was exploiting who. It’s that simple.
I am not a lynch mob but a social worker dealing with young people and adults as they cope with the aftermath of sexual abuse. It is not only the initial abuse that scars them, but the court experience which frequently, as in this case, seeks to find fault in the victim as an explanation for the behaviour of the perpetrator and blames children for their own abuse.
Barristers and judges have the privilege of participating in the process of justice on behalf of all of us. Yes, we all make mistakes, but we should also account for them. If this report is true, these two men have fallen short of the high standards expected and have let down the child in question, victims of sexual abuse and the general public. Those doing this vital work must do better.
Good article, dude.
Without knowing the facts it’s hard to make a contribution.
One would assume that Bob didn’t make up the “predatory” nature of the girl’s behaviour. Likewise it seems unlikely that the Judge would have adopted such a strong word without there being some evidential basis for it.
I think it highly unlikely that the remark originated from not having enough time to read the brief. It was a Monday afterall. Bob is an experienced and very capable pro. He’s not a rhinocerous either. It seems most likely that his instructions would have referred to the girl’s promiscuity – perhaps a report of some kind. If that was the case it is particularly unfortunate that the CPS should then hang him out to dry. There does seem to be a very disturbing unwillingness on the part of some of those who have rushed to criticise Bob to recognise that we do have a real and growing problem with sexualised children. Plainly there are many who have been brought up with no idea of where the boundaries lie. The Defendant’s crime was to take advantage of that, but (again without knowing the full facts) we should be careful to absolve the girl of ALL responsibility on the grounds of her age alone.
That said, I would probably not have chosen to use the word “predatory” but I do think that the Judge should have been presented with all the facts that were pertinent to an understanding of why the man did what he did, and how he came to be there. Did he lure an innocent 13 year old into the “sex act” or was she an enthusiastic participant who was no stranger to such activity?
I agree-I have known Bob Colover as one of his instructing solicitors for many years. He is indeed a pro and he certainly does not conform to the stereotype which is being foisted on him by people who are unaware of the full facts and context. If he did make remarks that were inappropriate they should be set against his long career in which he has helped numerous defendants and always acted with courtesy to the court and his opponents.
I’m sure it will be of great comfort to a 13 year old abuse victim that she has been slandered in full public view by a cuddly, clubbable man who is no doubt careful to avoid such grossly offensive sexist claptrap in front of any wife or daughter he may happen to have and who is no doubt a great chap with whom to fly a kite or share a bottle of Pomeroy’s finest Chateau Thames Embankment.
If you want to see what someone is really like, look at how they treat the people at the bottom of the pile, not their friends and colleagues.
Well said. Nuff said
Amazing how many people feel able to comment on this story without knowing the facts of the case, which have not been reported.
I find it impossible to condemn Colover for the use of the word “predatory” without knowing what it was he was talking about.
And I find it impossible to conceive of any circumstances where a child may rightly be described as ‘predatory’ in this context, whatever Mr Colover was talking about.
Of course we see some young people behaving in ways that put them at greater risk of exploitation, but that does not make them predators. Quite the reverse – it makes them more vulnerable to adults who will claim they had no choice and members of the legal profession who believe them.
Surely the question of whether someone is predatory or not is one of fact, not of law, and wouldn’t bear upon a defence, but would bear upon sentencing when all relevant matters are considered in the round?
Emily Thornberry MP has as her sole argument the public policy goal of preventing witnesses from reporting assaults.
Yet I don’t see how observing what may be the case, that a minor may be sexually aggressive, can be other than apt in a sentencing scenario. We all know minors who aggressively steal, vandalise, verbally and physically abuse, and no doubt many of them try to gain other things too they shouldn’t have, like sex.
Yet if someone is predatory, then, this ridiculous contention which is implied, that somehow children are factually beyond moral reproach, is surely in public policy terms a licence for such children to misbehave. It is simply unsupportible, and damaging, even, to contend that a sexually aggressive minor has no moral duties whatever.
Agree about the sentencing- cant bear this ignorant mob justice the media are fanning- but was interested to see blogger could use no similar reasoning to justify the phraseology used to describe the girl. Where sentencing guidelines and due process are important points to mention, “Just slipped out” and “don’t have loads of time to prepare” are not excuses powerful enough to silence a debate on typology of victimhood. In these cases the prosecution sets context and importantly, the point here is that any mistake by Mr Coldover was compounded and endorsed by judge’s remarks rather than called out as a mistake- this is worrying and left unchallenged leads us back into midcentury and not too far away approaches to sexual offences where barristers felt free to mention the clothes a woman wore or the fact she’d previously had a sexual partner in rape cases, reflecting the prevailing attitude towards women of their time. The prevailing attitude to abused children is that they cannot be labelled as “predatory” by a court and it is quite right that he is called on it. all of us in highprofile jobs are called on mistakes, especially such insidious, nasty ones which go uncorrected by authority (the judge).
that is the most helpful account i’ve seen, thanks.
That’s very kind of you Mary, and very sorry to hear about your trolls.
Helpful piece & very sorry to see what’s happened to a respected member of the profession. As an aside, interesting to see the word “privileged” in comments on members of the criminal bar. Cross reference your piece on legal aid & average criminal barrister earnings. Who’s going to be paying for the “specialised training” one wonders?
I came upon this blogpost by chance. It’s really bizarre.
We have the blogger himself, who in responding to a comment now says that it was an “extremely foolish choice of language: foolish because it is wrong.” However, the best he could manage in the post itself was that the language “out of context at least, sound remarkably foolish.”!! If only he’d managed to use the word ‘wrong’ in the original post.
The sentence? The process here was to take the minimum recommended sentence, remove a third for pleading guilty [why? Is there any legal defence to sex with a thirteen year old], then suspend it. The blog post defends this process of minimising at every stage.
As to the comment which says “Clearly Defendants like this young girl need loads of support but also appropriate Legal boundaries. Healing and appropriate reprimand, ” Priceless!
A teenage girl who deliberately sets out to ensnare a man is NOT a ‘victim’ .
I see that it’s not just the US that has misogynists.
And this blog post is actually quite embarrassing to the profession (from an attorney on the other side).
Good objectivity, but I’m not sure you got the balance quite right. It is more than a mistake to call a 13 year old girl predatory, whether or not you are the defence or the prosecution, as it is not just a judgement of her intent, but also his vulnerability. Fair enough, she could be called predatory with respect to other children, but he was the adult in this relationship, creating an imbalance weighted in his favour, and as such should have behaved in that way. If he had acted like an adult with a child, he should not have perceived her actions as predatory.
Moreover, the advocate, particularly of the prosecution, should have only stated that he may have perceived her as predatory, but that it was not his prerogative to think it. Overall, I think Bob ballsed up beyond forgiveness, and only hope that all state-funded lawyers (and other for that matter, but particularly those representing the state’s interest) will get appropriately sanctioned for similar mistakes in future. When that is your job, it is a mistake you cannot afford to make.
If a surgeon makes a mistake it can be life-threatening, and as such they should be sanctioned. It may not be so obvious in the courts of law, but a barrister calling a child a sexual predator is unlikely to help her rehabilitation… and consequently her whole life.
It is more than foolish to label victim a ‘predator’. As for lynch mobs,perhaps the normal public has had enough of the poor judgement of the judiciary.This case will stain that young girls life for the rest of her life mentally and emotionally.A 13 year old girl should never be to blame.Too may abusers and their families blame the victim as it is.Mine was a serving police officer who later on got a job on the child protections squad. Do you think he got that job out of wanting to prosecute peados? I know not.He was never prosecuted and all they said was he had an exemplary career as a police officer. THEY WERE NOT THERE WHEN HE ABUSED ME!
Police told me to move on…………HOW my life is ruined and I was abused from age of 11,13 and again when an adult when he stuck a pillow over my head.His prior career protected him……How can such a man be an abuser NOOOOOO the girl must have made it up……..I was there,that 13 year old girl was there when abused NO EXCUSES EVER and start PROTECTING CHILDREN NOT MAKING EXCUSES TO LET THEM FREE.
My personal opinion as an abused little girl forever stuck in the mind of a very miserable adult.
[This comment expressed strong disagreement with Bingobrewtea. I have edited it because it is potentially defamatory]
Mr Scott the abuse that you record had been directed against the judge and Mr Colover is not right. Nor is criticising a sentence that is within normal parameters. But it does not follow that one can accept that there is any justification for calling a 13 year old who has engaged in sexual activity with a 41 year old man a predator. This is just not a silly slip of the tongue, and it is not a question of not using ‘child friendly’ language! It just isn’t the right thing to do and I am not sure kite flying in Streatham is in any sense relevant. In any event this inappropriate attitude is not a problem that is just confined to Mr Colover- it is a societal issue and actually we do need to call it out so that people finally start realising just how much prejudice there is against people who are victims of sexual crimes. I deprecate the abuse that the judge and Mr Colover are getting and not just because the latter flies kites in Streatham but I also deprecate anything that downplays the seriousness of the situation.
I’ve come across this column while researching the issues raised, after reading about them in today’s Times, and signing the petition on change.org. Your commentary has left me even more disturbed about the state of our legal profession. In describing Robert Colover’s use of the term ‘sexual predator’ and other comments as ‘foolish’, ‘mistakes’ and a ‘slip of the tongue’ you compound his offence. Barristers make a living from their words, and must be assumed to choose them carefully. His words were vile.
A well balanced piece which everyone denouncing the judge and barrister would do well to read
seriously?, people make mistakes but this is not a mistake, everyone has a job to do and to excuse comments because of a justice system that is not working as it should is no excuse. For everyone who doesnt understand the people who have called the barrister and judge scumbags, then please put yourself in the place of the 13 year old child, or put yourself in the place of the parents of that chiild. Imagine how you would feel. There appears to be a huge lack of humanity, and more a concern over two stupid mens careers??? I find it difficult to believe that the justice system does not protect victims of sexual abuse as thoroughly as it should do, and as for children, the system needs to change as children require more understanding more support and barristers and judges with a psychological understanding of the differences between children and adults need to sit these cases. Rather than people like the two individuals who clearly demonstrated an ineptitude to this type of case.
Just to note, one assumes in the current climate Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is now no longer stageable as being “non-victim focussed” & “paedo-defending”. In fact perhaps the Bar should fund a production & hand out tickets for free!
Miller’s Crucible is a fine piece of dramatic art and political comment on that is currently being staged in a reasonably high profile production in Melbourne and has also enjoyed a staging in Washington this year. I’m sure the RSC will get around to another revival at some point but they normally leave it more than a decade for modern plays and they covered this one in 2006.
I fail to see the relevance, though, to cheap pathetic public name calling aimed by the powerful inappropriately at a child victim of crime who has no opportunity to defend herself – maybe you can enlighten us all? Unless you are likening the position of the girl to that of Proctor who was accused of something he didn’t do? Because in the light of that transcript, neither Mr Colover nor Mr Peters has been accused of anything they haven’t done.
These sadly misplaced comments by Peters and Colover come at a time when the public are outraged at the cover-up of systematic child abuse by the Police, the Judiciary, legal professionals and the Government. The media debate is no doubt a reflection of public concern about the protection of paedophiles
The full details and explanation of the cover up are properly explained by Andrea Davison in her statement to the Macur Review [link edited]
Perhaps justice loving members of the Legal Profession after reading the statement would donate to Andrea’s defence fund.
Apologies for editing your interesting post but I am afraid I do need to to be careful about links to sites that may contain defamatory material
I worked some years ago in a Juvenile Justice facility in the US where we had a population of teenage girls, some from middle class homes, almost all of whom had prostituted themselves for money, usually for drugs. Some were as young as 13 and reported sexual activity with dozens or even hundreds of adult men in health questionnaires.
We know almost nothing about this case except from press reports from a single source (I think.) We do know that the girl originally approached the man asking him to buy her cigarettes when she was truant from school, so while the use of the term “predatory” to describe the sex act may or may not be right, we don’t have any detailed information on her exact motivation, or whether there was any kind of quid pro quo. Clearly the prosecution was in possession of some kind of information regarding her behavioral history.
I would want more information before categorically condemning the prosecutor and the judge.
(1) At law the age of criminal responsibility is 10 (2) it is an offence to incite a sexual offence under the general law of incitement (3) it can be extrapolated from (1) and (2) that a child of 10 can incite a sexual assault (4) if the law considers that a child can incite a sexual offence why should a barrister be demonised for suggesting that a girl aged 13 can share culpability for unlawful sexual conduct?
I totally agree with you Na. Teenagers who behave this way have problems, and need help. But don’t blame the barrister for mentioning the fact or the poor man they drag into their nightmare world!
the adult in question was described as suffering from any mental illness, so therefore he was aware of the law. He had a choice to have sex with a 13 year old or not.
My point was that it is widely assumed that it is highly improbable that a girl of 13 would be sexually attracted to a man in his 40’s. I agree completely.
However from the little we know about this case, the sexual act seems to have been one performed by the girl on the man, probably oral sex, and not one necessarily designed to give pleasure or sexual arousal to the girl.
Without further information we cannot rule out that the girl was in the habit offering sex acts to adult men for unstated reasons that are not in the public domain.
I can think of a number of examples of what might have gone down, but I won’t cite them here for fear of upsetting people who are easily shocked and causing further controversy.
And another thing:
“They are human beings, and sometimes human beings make mistakes. But that of course would not be much of a story.”
Both judge and barrister are in the business of making their living out of pursuing those who transgress and often sending them to prison. Some of those people, such as child abusers and housebreakers will be calculating villains. Others will simply have made a mistake that breaks a law, and will often have little or no perceptible detrimental effect on others. The ‘mistakes’ that you claim these men [colleagues??] have made have been extremely harmful to that girl and those slanders will be there in the public domain harming her forever. They are also harmful in that they are genuinely and profoundly distressing to other victims of abuse and reinforce the normalisation of abuse in the minds of abusers and would-be abusers, encouraging them to think it’s OK for them to offend.
If these two men are happy enough to send those who have made mistakes to prison or subject them to fines or other punishments (and to get paid for doing so), why do you feel that they should not pay the proper price for their own ‘mistakes’ – which is to be universally reviled if they will not apologise sincerely and unreservedly for defaming a 13 year old victim?
Not colleagues, Jemima. I don’t know either Mr Colover or Judge Peters.
I wholeheartedly agree with many of the sentiments in the original blog. We all make mistakes, sometimes say things we wish we had not, and hope that our characters are not judged on one event – particularly when all the facts cannot be known.
However, Mr Colover’s comments in court have been quoted and are apparently not disputed. This means that we know Mr Colover believes a child may be predatory in a sexual relationship with an adult and that an adult may have little if any power to resist. Both assertions demonstrate a total misunderstanding of the power imbalance when children are sexually abused. Both assertions demonstrate a worrying lack of knowledge of child development and adult sexual offending behaviour. Both assertions are significantly out of step with accepted wisdom.
If Mr Colover does not understand this type of offending he simply should not be prosecuting (or defending) and should confine himself to the kind of cases on which he has clearly built an enviable reputation. We cannot be experts on everything, but I’m afraid Mr Colover has shown he does not even have a rudimentary grasp of what is involved. That is how he managed to create the mess we now face. Furthermore, he managed to seriously damage the character of a child whilst almost rescuing her abuser. Yes, it is his role to inform the court of all relevant information but it is not his role to inform the court using muddled or distorted thinking.
But let us not forget the judge demonstrated that he too had little, if any idea, of the true nature of this kind of criminality. If he had any idea he would have dismissed Mr Colover’s comments as lacking credibility.
As the case has now been referred to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General prudence dictates that we should ‘wait and see’ what their Lordships conclude about the sentence imposed in this sad and emotive case.
It is entirely possible, for example, that the Court of Appeal – on hearing the reference and applying the relevant law – will make no or no significant reduction in the sentence passed by the Judge.
As for the criticisms of the process – i.e. what was said in Court – it would be worth making one point about context. Many of the contributions in the foregoing debate start from an assumption that whatever was said in court was the ‘personal opinion’ or ‘perspective’ or ‘mind-set’ of the speaker. Such an assumption is both wrong in law and in fact. In the English and Welsh criminal justice system what is said in Court and the status of the words used is a highly complex matter.
Counsel ordinarily reflect their ‘instructions’. Prosecution counsel has a duty in a sentencing hearing to set before the Court all salient matters. Counsel also has a duty to use measured language. That is not to suggest they are without discretion. What counsel must not do is place his personal opinion before the Court. Counsel’s personal opinion is always irrelevant.
The Judges task in sentencing is equally complex involving, inter alia, regard for the sentencing guidelines, the basis of plea, personal mitigation and many other factors.
It is also possible, for example, that the Court of Appeal – on hearing the reference – will make no comment on either Prosecution Counsel’s remark or the Judge’s approach to sentence or any observations he may have made concerning the facts as set out before him and upon which he placed reliance.
Both RC and the Judge have no advocate to defend them in the media and must maintain a dignified professional silence whilst the reference proceeds.
What a pity, then, that they did not use appropriate language and maintain a dignified professional respect for someone who was accused of no crime and who had no one to speak up on her behalf other than the man who effectively strumpeted her like something in a misogynist 16th century church court, then.
This is beyond a joke – everything we are hearing from the legal profession reminds us that Mr Colover and Mr Peters are people too and have no one to speak up for them. If that is so, they find themselves in the position of that young girl in relation to their treatment of her. But she is a child who did nothing wrong (unless a distressed child acting out on their abuse is to be considered in the wrong) and they are adults, and not only adults but professional educated adults who have excuse whatsoever not to know better. Mr Colover strikes me as the sort of person I would have liked had I met him socially before this came out, but being an affable type is not an excuse for this sort of secondary abuse. And it may be that he is at the moment experiencing the wrath of the country that results as much from the sins of his colleagues as his own, and that is unfair – the truly disgusting Mr Khan should certainly have come in for greater public outrage, for instance. If he is a decent man, he must be feeling miserable over both what he did and the public shame attached, and I wouldn’t wish that for someone who means well if they do the decent thing and apologise. But what he did was not OK and we should not just overlook it or move on. Things have to change so that this cannot happen again.
Mr Wyeth, you make the mistake of thinking that anyone outside your profession actually thinks the Court of Appeal has some sort of privileged authority in knowing right from wrong. It does not. The courts and the lawyers have done plenty of wrong over the years. And where the law and the practices of the courts are wrong and serve neither the people of a democratic country nor justice, they must be changed. Just as we got rid of the preposterous nonsense of judges telling court rooms that women lie about rape (when any rational person might reasonably presume that it is rapists who consistently lie about rape) and with disgusting comment about women’s clothing and relationships. Just as we did away with the non-explicit but very real privilege of the local squire to be believed in accusing any working class person of anything they liked in our courts in the 19th century. Just as we did away with the persecution of women as witches through our courts. In the same way, we must do away with misogynist language in our courtrooms, up to and including the truly disgraceful ‘corrupted’ for ‘no longer a virgin’ in respect of victims, and in this case the misuse of ‘predatory’ for proactive (as they are in no way the same thing but seem to have been horribly confused on this occasion). It is just not good enough for lawyers to sit around claiming that this is the way they have always done things so it must be right and the rest of the population should just jolly well accept that. Nor is it good enough to knowingly do wrong and excuse it on the basis that one was following an instruction.
Lets assume that you are completely correct in each and every one of your various opinions.
Lets also assume that as an experienced foster carer (16 years) and father of two adult daughters I fully understand the points you make and have real, practical and professional experience of caring for abused children.
It remains the position that RC and the Judge are now – as a result of the AG’s reference yesterday- under the scrutiny of the Court of Appeal and that Court has yet to rule – one way or another.
Our common law system of criminal justice has served us well over many centuries and been adopted in many parts of the word. There is a reason for that. The law develops – its is both dynamic and responsive to changes in social values – a feature that professor Amos noted as far back as the 1830’s. The Court of Appeal in possession of all the facts and with written and oral argument of a high caliber on both sides will make its view known in due course.
My contribution to the debate is simply to say ‘wait and see’ what the Court of Appeal has to say.
‘Our common law system of criminal justice has served us well over many centuries ‘
It really hasn’t, you know – not unless by ‘us’ you mean either abusers or lawyers. Has the law in this country ever served victims of crime who dare to lack y chromosomes? The 21st century and we still see ‘slut shaming’ of victims in the witness box, in the rare cases where these crimes are ever brought near a court. Pure wickedness.
If Mr Colover was reflecting instructions that the child was ‘predatory’ he should have exercised his discretion and chosen not to put forward such a claim. He should have described the child’s behaviour in terms that reflect an understanding of the nature of sexual exploitation.
One of two things has happened; either he does not understand who was exploiting who and used the word blindly, or he does understand and, if falling back on ‘I was just following instructions,’ he has misled the court.
Its interesting to see and read the prejudice and misguided thoughts of some of the legal profession; sadly in my experience it is all to common within the legal profession and the “establishment”. If a child yes a CHILD is “predatory” IT IS A SIGN THAT CHILD HAS BEEN ABUSED! I realise “the establishment” likes to blame CHILDREN for luring paedophiles into sexual activity. Lynch mob or not anybody who defends the conduct of Robert Colover needs to consider their own “MORAL COMPASS” I cant call such people “paedophiles” but you may think so ,I couldn’t possibly comment?
Thank you for your helpful comment Alexander. Since you seem to be asking, no I am not a paedophile. Nor am I defending the use of the word “predatory”. If you read this post too you will see that most – although not all – of the criticism of Mr Colover was nevertheless very unfair. https://barristerblogger.com/2013/08/29/criticism-robert-colover-unfair/
HI Matthew.I send out BOOMERANGS to see what comes back and you’ve replied in a gracious manner. Yes I agree the press love to nail people up on such issues. Colover’s mistake was to say what he said although once many years ago I had a Barrister act for me and in Court he might as well have been dealing with another case…..he had not read his brief. This particular case should send a lightening bolt through the “Judiciary” and sadly follows on from the “Andrade” suicide in relation to Chethams School in Manchester amongst other awful cases of this nature. Little Girls and Boys can tell porkies but then so do abusing “Adults”; child abuse is on a par with murder it’s a “life sentence” living with the consequences. I will never forget what my tormentors did to me till my last breath on this Earth………………
I found this blog via Google after reading of Mr. Colover’s resignation from the rape panel, according to the BBC. I am a member of the great unwashed when it comes to legal qualifications. We are usually described as reacting like a lynch mob by the establishment when situations like this arise.
I read the transcript with increasing incredulity at the apparent cluelessness of the judge and shambolic nature of the proceedings.
The girl may well have been prepared to engage in sexual activity with the defendant, but using the word ‘predatory’ to describe her reflects the attitude of Mr. Colover more than correct usage of what he must have known was a highly emotive word in the circumstances. For the judge to conflate that to “seriously egging on” a 41 year old man who picked up a school girl in the street and use that as justification for lenient sentencing is quite remarkable.
A depressing tale all round, not made any better by the huffing and puffing of the press or the circle the wagons mentality shown here by his peers’ comments.
Well Robert Colover’s remarks have now been judged as grossly inappropriate. Not just a slip of the tongue, not just absurd. One can only hope that a lesson has been learnt from this.
This might interest you …