Tag Archives: law

An extravaganza of comic political ego unleashed at the Edinburgh Fringe

Scots comedian Des McLean is Tommy Sheridan

I am at the Edinburgh Fringe to see comedy shows, so what better this afternoon than a 90-minute play about a disgraced Socialist leader?

Especially as that leader is the OTT, almost cartoon-like, Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan and the play – I, Tommy – is written by Rab C.Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison.

It is a rollercoaster of a story and this is a humdinger of a production.

Just to re-cap, Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) was accused by the News of the World of going to a swingers’ sex club in Manchester. Tommy sued for defamation, the newspaper paid damages, but then Strathclyde Police investigated, prosecuted Tommy for perjury at the original trial and Tommy was imprisoned. He has now, enterprisingly, in the last few weeks, tried to reclaim the moral high ground by painting himself as a lone hero facing the disgraced, Murdoch-owned, phone-hacking behemoth of News International.

So he’s an anti-hero? Is that why Ian Pattison chose to write the play and negotiate what was a potential legal minefield?

Ian Pattison at Edinburgh Fringe this week

“It’s the character,” Ian told me when I asked him this week. “And the story. It’s the story of a small political party that appeared to be on the brink of if not great things then considerable things. They had six MSPs in Holyrood (the Scottish Parliament) and looked set to build, but then they imploded when Tommy decided to take on the News of the World over these sex allegations.

“A wiser course may have been just to admit it, if he did it, – but, of course, he insists he didn’t – and take a year in the sin bin. That’s the traditional method of dealing with those kind of things if there is truth in them. But Tommy decided he was going to clear his name and took them on. And that was the point of no return. Once you go down that path, well, nobody can quite tell how things will unfold. But certainly from the SSP’s point of view, it was the beginning of the end for them. So it was that kind of trajectory which interested me.”

The play is fast, lively and funny – the story of a Scots ‘Tam O’ Ranter’… Ian has captured the rabble-rousing rhetoric, the sometimes meaningless sloganising and soundbites of a populist politician in full flow.

It’s a barn-storming performance by Scots comedian Des Maclean, gifted with a brilliantly written script. It is also a play of surprising depth about a charismatic real-life character in a story filled with almost child-like optimism and lechery.

“It was such a big story,” Ian Pattison told me, “and Tommy was such a popular guy. He managed to get his side of events all over the press, whereas his party co-workers – the other SSP people – were not as charismatic as a group and made a political decision that, if they couldn’t support Tommy, then they wouldn’t oppose him, which left a media vacuum which Tommy was able to fill with his own version of events.”

I, Tommy + SSP – Sex, Socialism, Perjury

There is a running motif throughout the play of Tommy’s somewhat eccentric mother singing To Dream The Impossible Dream, which pretty much sums up a story so OTT it would be ridiculously unbelievable if it were not true.

I mean, for heaven’s sake, Tommy went into the Celebrity Big Brother house with rap singer Coolio and Mini-Me from the Austin Powers films! You could not make it up.

The play is introduced as “an afternoon of broken dreams, backstabbing and treachery” and you could also add an awful lot of laughter.

Ian Pattison has only met Tommy Sheridan once – shortly before the play emerged.

“Well,” Ian told me, “I suppose you would want to get an idea of what it might be going to be like.”

“What was Tommy like?” I asked.

“Very polite,” replied Ian.

So far, Tommy Sheridan has not sued.

He is too canny for that.

Ian Pattison has cleverly avoided the potential legal pitfalls and Tommy Sheridan has emerged as a morally ambiguous anti-hero in Ian Pattison’s first Fringe production.

Why is it Ian’s first Fringe outing?

“At this stage of the game,” he told me, “I just wanted to see what else I would like to do and, never having done the Fringe, this seemed like a good opportunity. Probably not a sensible move for a man of my advanced years, but I seem to be still here and vertical, which is always a bonus.”

If this does not become a movie or a TV production, then Tommy Sheridan is not the fascinatingly charismatic (if ultimately failed) politician portrayed in this extravaganza of amoral egotism.

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Comedy critic Copstick on the drunken rape victim and the convicted footballer

Kate Copstick thinks the victim was not necessarily innocent

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is out in Nairobi at the moment. She wrote about her work there in this blog a couple of months ago.

She runs a charity – Mama Biashara – which helps HIV positive Kenyan women to set up small businesses, thus making them financially independent. She wants, she says, “to give them a hand up, not just a hand out.”

But she has been keeping in touch with what has been happening back in Britain and has sent me the thoughts below. The thoughts she fearlessly expresses here are hers.

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Yet again, as I skirt those strange little rivers  with the iridescent  scum and the unmistakable smell that run through most slum areas in the wet season, as I sit with another group of women for whom abuse is as much a part of their day as is hunger, despair and worry for their children, I feel  the rage bubbling up like a serious case of acid indigestion.

Back in Britain, some idiot Welsh twat – 19 or 20 depending on which rag’s clichés you read – went out, got absolutely shit-faced, went to a hotel room with some footballers and shagged. Only she says she can’t remember it. And  they end up in court charged with rape and now one of them is in jail for five years. No violence, no suggestion that anyone poured intoxicating substances down her poor unwilling throat. 

If she had got that drunk and hit someone, then her drunkenness would not be a defence. If she had driven a car and crashed it she would have been committing a crime. But she didn’t. She lay down and got shagged. And suddenly she is the innocent victim. She was too drunk. She doesn’t remember. She couldn’t have consented. If he claimed the same thing … no, can’t see it would establish his ‘innocence’.

I studied law. In Glasgow. Scots Law is based on Principles – like justice, fairness … It comes from the fine heritage of Roman Law. In that law there is something called a Res Nullius. It is something which has been abandoned.  Deliberately or negligently abandoned. It belongs to no-one. Because its erstwhile owner has – deliberately or negligently – abandoned it. It cannot be ‘stolen’. Because it has been abandoned. It cannot be ‘criminally damaged’. Because its owner has given it up. It cannot be raped.

OK, I have had some pretty indiscriminating sex with some pretty indiscriminating people. There is not much fun to be had from shagging a girl who is off her face on something plentiful and probably vodka-based. But surely it does not amount to one of the worst crimes on the statute book?

The women I work with have plenty to complain about. But they don’t. And no-one speaks for them. Maybe some of those who shout so loudly about the rights of stupid girls, well over the age of consent, to incapacitate themselves, make their way into what is blindingly obviously a sexual situation and then be treated like a priceless Dresden china doll should consider that they are not the ones in need of help, rights-wise.

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Filed under Drink, Kenya, Legal system, Sex

Private Eye magazine – shining a light on a naughty world

How soon current affairs become history.

I’m sadly old enough (just) to remember the satirical magazine Private Eye starting up. At the time, I was not a vast fan. It seemed to me a bit too much like privileged public schoolboys biting the Establishment hand that paid their fees. But it has been admirably bitey over the years, publishing what other publications would not dare to print.

If it was not always part of the Establishment, it is now.

Yesterday, I went to a talk by Private Eye co-founder and former editor Richard Ingrams to plug the publication of a new book about the Eye. Ingrams now edits The Oldie.

According to Ingrams, Private Eye struck lucky early on because, just one year after it started publication, the Profumo Scandal broke: ideal fodder for the new satirical magazine.

The people at Private Eye knew absolutely nothing at all about the details of the scandal or what had happened but, again, they struck lucky by encountering Claud Cockburn, a writer who did know all about it, had copious contacts in very high places and who edited a special Profumo edition of Private Eye for them.

Once people think you know everything, then they will tell you almost anything: a great bonus if you are in the market for printing secrets or, at least unknown facts.

The Profumo Scandal eventually brought down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Party government… although, yesterday, Richard Ingrams claimed Macmillan had actually resigned “by mistake” because he thought he had terminal cancer and, when it turned out he did not, he was more than a little angry.

Private Eye was also the first publication to name notorious London gangsters the Kray Brothers after the Sunday Mirror had published an article linking the Krays with showbiz peer Lord Bob Boothby; the Sunday Mirror had not named Boothby (who had also been having a long-term affair with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s wife).

But, while Richard Ingrams was away on holiday, comedian and Private Eye owner Peter Cook edited the magazine and he named the Krays, then perhaps wisely left the country. With Ingrams still on holiday, the next issue’s guest editor had to take all the flak – pundit Malcolm Muggeridge.

Also involved with the Krays was Labour MP (and rumoured Soviet spy) Tom Driberg who liked a ‘bit of rough’ and one of whose criminal boyfriends stole from Driberg’s flat a newly-written draft of The Times’ obituary of Harold Wilson, the then very-much-alive British Prime Minister. He sold it to Private Eye for £10.

Shortly afterwards, Richard Ingrams was at No 10 Downing Street and asked Wilson: “Would you like to see what your obituary in The Times will say?”

Wilson apparently responded: “They never liked me.”

Private Eye, established by public schoolboys, was now part of the Establishment to such an extent that the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret would phone up their Grovel columnist Nigel Dempster with unflattering tales of Princess Diana, knowing they would be published.

People thought the Eye had gone too far when they printed items about Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party, trying to have ex-lover Norman Scott killed… until Thorpe was arrested and tried for attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. (He was controversially found not guilty.)

And then, of course, there were the legendary and seemingly endless writs for libel.

Corrupt newspaper publisher Robert Maxwell’s last writ, just two weeks before he ‘fell off his boat’, was about an ‘outrageous’ libel the Eye had printed about him dipping his fingers into his companies’ pension funds. Which proved to be true.

And the most famous series of writs, of course, was the James Goldsmith case which backfired. The day after Lord Lucan accidentally murdered his nanny thinking that it was his wife, his influential chums at the Claremont Club in Mayfair got together to talk about how they could best help the missing peer, who had done the proverbial runner. Private Eye published a story that millionaire financier, publisher and political wannabe James Goldsmith was at this meeting although it later turned out he had, in fact, not been present – he took part by telephone.

Goldsmith was supposedly outraged that the Eye printed he had been present at this meeting and had therefore attempted to pervert the course of justice and he went ahead with a two-pronged attack – suing Private Eye for the very obscure charge of criminal libel which could have seen Ingrams imprisoned and the Eye financially ruined… and threatening criminal libel cases against the magazine’s distributors and retail shops which sold it (like WH Smith) in a successful attempt to damage Private Eye’s circulation and sales.

As I understand it (not something mentioned by Richard Ingrams yesterday) this strategy backfired on Goldsmith because his Establishment chums held rather unsavoury grudges against him: he was felt to be ‘not one of us’ firstly because he was French-born and secondly because he was Jewish. It was felt he was an outsider who “did not understand” British culture because, although suing Private Eye for simple civil libel was acceptable and part of a game the Establishment and the Eye played, trying to destroy the magazine was ‘not on’.

And that is still the case.

Private Eye is a valuable self-regulatory asset within the Establishment to keep members of the Establishment from straying too far from generally accepted behaviour. People can stray into corruption within reason but not within plain sight. If they do, they are fair game for the well-connected Eye.

Yesterday, Richard Ingrams told a story about Stephen Ward, the osteopath who was at the very heart of the Profumo Scandal, coming round to, in effect, ask Private Eye how much they knew.

Stephen Ward was, said Ingrams, trying to keep things under control and still believed at this point that the Establishment would stand by him and protect him.

Instead, of course, he was thrown to the lions at the Old Bailey and committed suicide on the last day of his trial on the highly dubious charges of procuring prostitutes and living off immoral earnings.

Private Eye occasionally tries its best to shine a light on a naughty world but one torch is of limited use in infinity.

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Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke and “normal” rape

I should start this by saying I have known three women who were raped.

I have worked with two; and a girlfriend of mine had been raped in her early teens.

I may be biased because I think Labour leader Ed Miliband is a twat, but I’m more disgusted with him trying to make political capital out of rape than with Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke’s comments on rape sentencing – at least from the relevant excerpts I’ve heard and seen of what Ken Clarke actually said – as opposed to what he is implied to have said.

What seems to have happened is that he was defending government plea-bargaining proposals which would offer a 50 per cent reduction in sentences (instead of the current one third reduction in sentences) in return for an early guilty plea for various serious offences including rape.

When challenged about the seemingly low average sentence for rape at the moment, Clarke mentioned that the average includes cases which involve teenagers having consensual sex with each other if the girl is under 16. The example he gave was of an 18 year old boy having sex with his consenting 15 year old girlfriend. Even though she perfectly happily consents, that is legally rape because she is below the age of consent… but that specific boy is likely (quite rightly, I think) to get a lower sentence than some Neanderthal scumbag guilty of what most people would think of as what Clarke called “serious rape, with violence and an unwilling woman”.

I think he is quite right that most people would accept a boy of 16 years and 1 month having sex with a consenting girlfriend of 15 years and 11 months should get a lesser sentence for rape than what people would think of as a ‘normal’ case of a man raping a woman… because it is a ‘different’ type of rape.

The fact that the use of the words ‘normal’ and ‘different’ can be twisted and misconstrued by quoting that sentence out of context exemplify how difficult it is to talk about rape.

Ken Clarke also foolishly said something along the lines that date rape cases can be “complicated” though, indeed, they can be. And he is right that average sentences (which is what he was being asked about) are affected by individual case circumstances because some cases deserve longer sentences than others. In that sense, there are, indeed, ‘different types’ of rape deserving different lengths of sentence. It is not that some cases are less serious but that some cases are nastier.

I asked a female friend about this and she thought that, perhaps, a teenager having consensual sex with a girl under 16 could be legally called something other than “rape”: perhaps ‘unlawful sex’. But it would be very difficult to draft that into Parliamentary legislation because how could you possibly separate a 45 year-old man preying on a 10 year-old girl from a 16 year-old having consensual sex with his 15 year-old girlfriend?

At what point would it change over from a crime of “unlawful sex” to the much worse “rape”? Is the sex performed by a 17 or 25 year-old less predatory than that performed by a 35 or 45 year-old? And at what point is “consensual” relevant? 15? 14? Parliament has decided 16 is the cut-off point. I think in most states in the US it is 18. In Italy, it is much more complicated, as the Silvio Berlusconi case (which I blogged about three months ago) shows.

It is almost impossible to legislate for ‘different types’ of unlawful sex.

But the sight and sound of Labour politicians trying to make political capital out of a very serious matter – trying to score sixth form public school Debating Society type points off each other – is an unedifying spectacle. Far moreso than Ken Clarke making a valid point.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it is particularly edifying to have the government give accused people 17% lower sentences (50% instead of 33%) if they plead guilty early… just to save money.

I’m also not clear if, under the proposals, people would get a 50% reduction for pleading guilty plus the normal (I think it’s) 50% time off for good behaviour… That would mean someone facing a 16 year sentence would get an 8 year sentence and be out in 4 years with good behaviour… a 75% reduction in sentence.

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