Comment: Heads must roll for the porn trial

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Ian Dunt: 'It takes bravery to get involved in something as messy and awkward as extreme porn. But that's when principles are truly tested.'
Ian Dunt: 'It takes bravery to get involved in something as messy and awkward as extreme porn. But that's when principles are truly tested.'

In the end, Simon Walsh was found unanimously not guilty on six counts of possessing extreme pornography. But before a jury acquitted him, the legal process had demolished his professional and personal life. He lived under the shadow of the charges for months.

The prospect of three years imprisonment and inclusion on the sex offenders register will do wonders for your career and social life.

His crime had been to have a few photos in his email server of fisting, an unusual and not altogether pleasant sex act. If you are one of the readers who made Fifty Shades of Grey the most successful British book of all time, you will recognise it. In fact, it is perfectly legal to perform, but possibly not, under the insane and draconian legislation of the last Labour government, to own pictures of.

Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 outlaws images of act which are "likely to result in serious injury to a person's anus". Today a jury decided fisting does not satisfy that criteria. When the law was passed, Home Office spokespeople insisted it would not affect the BDSM (bondage, sadomasochism and all that) community. It was drafted so broadly it was quite plain it could, but officials insisted that police and prosecutors were not prurient enough to use it that way. ACPO even promised not to go around looking for it.

This is why we don’t pass broad legislation: because authorities cannot be trusted. Never underestimate the ineptitude of prosecutors and police. Just months after failing to prosecute Micheal Peacock for possessing similar material under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, they turned their attention to Walsh. Some believe they had a grudge. Walsh, a City professional, had previously prosecuted police accused of disciplinary offences.

They found nothing on his work computer. They found nothing on his home computer. So they had a look on his email account server and eventually found something – although by doing so it appears they may have contaminated the evidence, by making it impossible to assess whether the attachments had actually been opened.

Walsh's jury, like Peacock's before him, acquitted. At least they did not have to go through the indignity of the obscenity trial jury who were forced to sit in front of the video porn for several hours. "They were quite shocked initially [but] they started to look quite bored very quickly," an official said.

The British public is clearly of the opinion that what someone watches in the privacy of their own home is up to them. People are entitled to watch whatever strange, graphic pornography they choose, as long as the actors give consent to appear in it and are aware what they are giving consent to.

The law does not care about consent. It was passed in a typical populist panic by Labour following the murder of Jane Longhurst, whose killer, Graham Coutts, admitted being addicted to violent internet pornography. Any act which would cause "serious harm to the anus, breast or genitals" was banned, as was depiction of scenes in which someone's life was threatened or animals were interfered with.

The law should not exist, not least because British prosecutors are plainly too irresponsible to interpret it sensibly.

Just weeks ago, Kier Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, was found to have stopped his staff from dropping the case against Paul Chambers, whose joke about blowing up Robin Hood airport was turned into a two-year Kafkaesque nightmare. First the Twitter joke trial, then the obscenity trial and now the porn trial. It is clear there is something seriously wrong at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Its misjudgements are so pronounced, its behaviour so vindictive and its morality so out of step with the British public, that we urgently need an investigation. The home affairs committee should be dragging Starmer in himself to explain why a man was hounded by the authorities under a moral assessment which chimes better with Victorian Britain than the country we live in today.

Unfortunately, politicians usually only value privacy and free speech when it’s mainstream and harmless. It takes bravery to get involved in something as messy and awkward as extreme porn. But that's when principles are truly tested.

The Home Office, the police and the CPS are responsible for this appalling abuse of power. Heads should roll.

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