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A Peach of an error

In November 2013 Ian Watkins, lead singer of The Lost Prophets pleaded guilty to to attempting to rape the 11-month-old baby of a fan ‘Woman A’ and conspiring to rape the baby daughter of another fan ‘Woman B’. News reports indicate that prosecution footage showed him committing the act and a charge of rape was not proceeded with as it “was arguable” that the full offence was not made out. This must mean that the footage showed him in the act of attempted penetration of the baby. The conspiracy to rape another baby appears to relate to graphic online chat between the defendant and the mother. It has included reference to drug use by the defendant and towards the child. Crown counsel also indicated on the date of the guilty plea that a laptop seized from Watkins’s home was password protected. He does not appear to have been prosecuted for failing to provide the password which was “cracked” by experts who found reference to child abuse and a cache of extreme pornography. The case has been the subject of enormous publicity. Photographs of the defendant with a former celebrity girlfriend have been published with the story no doubt causing her real distress. One celebrity mother, Peaches Geldof was plainly so outraged by the behaviour of woman A and woman B that she took to twitter and revealed their names. It is, of course, a general right to publish fair and accurate reports of criminal proceedings. However, this right is restricted by statute in a number of circumstances for good reason – in this case recognition that rape is more personal, traumatic, and stigmatizing than other crimes[1].

 Both of these babies are the victims of sexual offending (directly and indirectly). Under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 (SO(A)A 1992) no publication is permitted to identify victims of certain sexual offences during their lifetime. This includes name, address, place of work, school or pictures and applies to attempted rape and conspiracy to rape. Generally to identify the mother identifies the child, although this is not always the case. To identify a victim in this way is a summary offence carrying a maximum of 6 months imprisonment. There have been calls for this to be amended to a much longer period of time. The protective reasons are obvious particularly for children. Ms Geldof has apologised but not in the fullest terms and she of all people should know the importance of a name.

 It cannot be assumed that these children will be adopted or given a new identity. The public, including Ms Geldof will not know the available family members to care for the children nor the intervention by social services. Even if identities are changed, imagine how hard it will be for those children, as adults, to come to terms with their past and the conduct of their natural mother – protecting their identity is vital so that proper consideration of their future can be considered without the glare of publicity. It is for this reason and others no doubt that South Wales police are now investigating the publicity issue. It is well known that laws are in place to protect victims of sexual offending. The recent rape trial of footballer Ched Evans saw an adult woman being pursued and revealed on twitter but the rule of law, in this context, applies online and the reasons for those laws should provoke sympathy not publicity. However, the restriction relates to victims NOT defendants. Woman A and Woman B were the accused and it is they that Ms Geldoff identified.

 The legal situation is not straight forward. Ms Geldoff did not tweet the identity of the children. The court has the power to prohibit publication in mainstream press (not social media) of particulars that might lead to the identification of a “child or young person concerned in the proceedings, either, as being the person by or against, or in respect of whom the proceedings are taken, or being a witness therein” under s39 Children and Young Persons Act 1933. That will only apply here if such an order was in place on the basis that the children were “concerned in the proceedings”. Such an order is unlikley to have been requested by the prosecution as the victim anonymity will apply. Breach of such an order is dealt with as a contempt. In Re Press Association, The Times, December 5,2012, CA it was held that there is no power in the Crown Court to restrict identification of the defendant, even if that might identify the child although in that case the child was not a victim. See also R v ROBERT JOLLEYS EX PARTE PRESS ASSOCIATION [2013] EWCA Crim 1135

It seems Ms Geldoff’s case may still be the subject of significant legal discussion, given that she identified the mothers and not the children. If the Press Association case is applied, it is a decision which seems to undermine the purpose of the 1992 Act which must have envisaged familial abuse as there are special provisions in relation to incest.

 Finally, the Court has a general power to restrict publication under the Contempt of Court Act by issuing an injunction prohibiting publication of defendant’s identities where they are at risk. In ATTORNEY GENERAL v BAINES 27/11/2013  a suspended sentence of 14 months imprisonment was imposed where there was a breach of an  injunction prohibiting the publication of the identities of the defendants (Bulger killers) by posting photographs on social media. The court indicated that there would have been a custodial penalty but for the admission of contempt.

 In Ms Geldoff’s case, it is not currently clear if there was a s39 order or a Contempt of Court injunction in place or whether the press were voluntarily anonymising the female defendants out of care for the children. It also seems that Her Majesty’s Court Service published the names of Woman A and Woman B on the court lists which dilutes the public interest in prosecuting a non-lawyer.

The real issue here is whether naming the mothers identified the children which is highly likely and then the anonymity provisions will apply. Otherwise, in the absence of clear legal authority, the error may be on the part of the legislative draftsman and/or the prosecution and not Ms Geldoff.

 [1] See Deborah W. Denno, Perspectives on Disclosing Rape Victims’ Names, 61 Fordham L. Rev. 1113 (1993).

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2 thoughts on “A Peach of an error

  1. Not only did Peaches give up the identity of the babies’ mothers to her 160000 followers -she continued saying she was right to do so on her instagram account. If she had actually made a mistake and then apologized that would have barely been acceptable – however, she retracted her apology and continued to manipulate her fan base, via instagram.

  2. Pingback: Felicity writes on the law on The Peaches Geldof tweets for The Sexual Offences Handbook blog - FELICITY GERRY

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