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11 September 2013

I see on TV this morning that Michael le Vell of Coronation Street fame was acquitted of rape and assault charges after the jury deliberated a bare four (or five, reports claim both)   hours. And when you add in going out to the jury room, sorting out who’s sitting where, hearing from the court official about meal breaks, where the toilet is, being warned at length about not discussing it outside the jury room etc. etc. then  selecting a forewoman/man, and getting started, and once done, having lawyers and others informed that a decision has been made and recalling them to the courtroom, the jury (and judge) coming back and getting seated again, then the time of actual discussion and deliberation by the jury could be down to three hours – or even less.  Three hours to decide if the evidence presented was convincing! And clearly it wasn’t. Evidence that had been even moderately convincing would warrant a day’s discussion. And since when do twelve widely different people agree on something – anything – in three hours? In this case, when it’s clear virtually from the moment they were seated in the jury room that there wasn’t a believable case to answer and so said all of them.

I am not necessarily saying that Le Vell, was innocent. What I am saying, is should this prosecution have ever been brought? This trial in all its ramifications has gone on for two years from start to finish. It’s almost certainly cost Le Vell a fortune, huge anxiety, and caused massive stress for him and his friends, family and employer. Then the jury considered all the evidence that they heard over 7-8 days – and rejected it in three hours. There’s only one reason for a rejection that’s that fast. And that is that no member of the jury believed it. Not that half thought it was reasonable and were argued around. Not that one was a holdout and dug his/her toes in for a day. No, three hours, just long enough to talk it through with each jury member speaking for an average of fifteen minutes. And then – consensus. “We don’t believe any of the evidence presented, we don’t believe any of the witnesses, or the victim, and we’re in no doubt about it. There’s either insufficient evidence or we don’t believe the evidence.” So why on earth did the British Prosecuter bring a case so thin a jury took a mere three hours to dismiss it?

Perhaps for the same reason that other cases have been brought in the past. Because Michael le Vell is a celebrity. It may be that it was argued thus…If we don’t bring a case the plaintiff will say we were prejudiced because the accused is a celebrity. Justice must be seen to be done, therefore we’ll charge this guy and let the jury decide. Did anyone protest that there was insufficient evidence, that very probably the jury would acquit? If so, the reply was likely to have been that so long as it went to a jury, the prosecuters were in the clear, they’d displayed a determination to prosecute no matter how well known the defendant. Did someone point out that a case would cost the defendant a very large sum of money for lawyers, stress, anxiety, appalling media intrusion, and possiblydamage his relationships with family or friends? If so they probably received the same reply. That so long as it went to a jury, the prosecuters were in the clear, they’d displayed a determination to prosecute no matter how well known the defendant.

The trial took a week, and must also have cost the Crown Prosecution Service a small fortune, not just over the trial, but also in the two years leading up to the trial. The question that troubles me is – would this case have ever gone to trial had the defendant been an ordinary mechanic in a garage? Or would the CPS have looked honestly at the probable outcome and decided against bringing such a case, on the grounds that it would be a waste of taxpayer’s money. Le Vell has been pilloried by the media because he drinks and has one night stands. If these things were criminal offences I have little doubt that a solid percentage of the UK Bar Association would be in the dock too – as well as large numbers of the ordinary British population – or the population in any country including ours. But they weren’t charging him on those counts. They were charging him with child rape, indecent assault on a child, sexual activity with a child and causing a child to engage in sexual activity – in a case where there was no physical or forensic evidence or psychiatric reports, where no one else ever reported unease at having him around their children, and where no child porn was ever found in his possession. And one point, he was charged with child rape. This implies full penetration – of a 6 year-old-girl by an adult male. I should have thought that such on-going activity at this age would have produced clear physical damage. Something that her mother should have noticed, and even possibly this would have produced scarring that would still be evident to a medical expert. Yet there was no evidence given on any of this.

And, interestingly, the CPS did originally decide not to prosecute because of insufficient evidence, then a year later the CPS head changed her mind – possibly because the plaintiff and her mother threatened to make a fuss in the media as I understand it.  Celebrities have always been easy targets. I suspect that in this case, Michael Le Vell has been another such. Which also leaves me wondering now about the other celebrities who have been changed  in the wake of the Jimmy Saville furore. Are the cases against them as weak? Just how honestly guilty are they? Or are the real charges they face, those of being a celebrity, a male, and being able to produce a media frenzy that makes the CPS look impartial? I guess we’ll be seeing about that…

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