Saturday 10 August 2013

Colover Crisis

Sometimes, just one word chosen tells you all you really need to know.  In this case that word was 'predatory' .

Neil Wilson, 41, had admitted sexual activity with a child of 13. The trial had been held, he had pleaded guilty and was entitled to consideration at sentencing for his cooperation with the authorities and his recognition that he had been entirely in the wrong to groom the child in order to encourage her to perform a sex-act on him.   He had moved from Romford, the place of the offence, to York, suggesting that he had wisely moved away from the victim. 

At the sentencing hearing all these  facts were already agreed, the defence had already had all the disclosure it required, and the defender, Rebecca Blain - a solicitor advocate - was able to make her case that her client was very low risk and could therefore be considered for a non-custodial sentence.

That was for the judge, his Honour Judge Peters QC sitting at Snaresbrook Crown Court  to consider.
Summary So Far

- This was a sentencing hearing.
- There was no dispute about the facts, there was a guilty plea which had been accepted.
-  The convicted person had a representative who was the proper person to make decisions about what should be put before the judge from her client's point of view. The defender already had all the disclosure they needed to enable her to do that job.
Then things went weird.

The prosecutor, Robert Colover, an experienced barrister was appearing for the CPS.  His job at the sentencing hearing at Crown Court is specified within the CPS document:
The Role of the Prosecutor at Sentencing
The prosecution advocate represents the public interest, and should be ready to assist the court to reach its decision as to the appropriate sentence. This will include drawing the court's attention to:
  • any victim personal statement or other information available to the prosecution advocate as to the impact of the offence on the victim; 

Instead of representing the public interest Colover suddenly took it in his head to try to act for  Wilson, who was not his client, and decided on a strategy of blaming the victim, rubbishing her character, saying it did not much matter as she was already damaged goods, and that in any case the hot little minx was gaggin' for it.
“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.”
This is not a victim's personal statement. It is victim-blaming.

Note please that the appointed defender did not consider that was what she wanted to say on behalf of her client.  Rebecca Blain did not think it necessary to discuss the victim.  If she had done so, she would have had to give notice of that as the protocol for this is also available from the A-G's office
Pleas in Mitigation

The prosecution advocate must challenge any assertion by the defence in mitigation which is derogatory to a person’s character, (for instance, because it suggests that his or her conduct is or has been criminal, immoral or improper) and which is either false or irrelevant to proper sentencing considerations.
So not only did Colover try to act for the wrong person, he did so by playing an antique 'blame the victim' card in defiance of the properly appointed defender and the A-G's advice.
At this point Honour Judge Peters QC failed to spot that Colover had strayed disastrously from his brief.  Instead of politely ignoring the irrelevant remarks from the prosecution and concentrating on what the defender wanted to put forward for consideration,  Judge Peters decided to take Colovin's remarks on board as if he was acting for the defence and repeated:
 On these facts, the girl was predatory and was egging you on.
The only explanation I can think of for this is that since Colover is well-known and deeply respected, the judge simply accepted what he said instead of recognizing it for the aberration it was. However, another explanation might be that Judge Peters failed to recognize that the female solicitor as the relevant defender, what with her bein' a girlie and moreover one 'o them new-fangled solicitor advocates.

Rebecca Blain is listed as a partner at DPP Law and appears on the duty solicitor rotas.   The practice in which she is a partner gives no profile, possibly as a protective measure although she has done nothing other than her job properly in accordance with the A-G guidelines. 


Robert Colover, representing the public interest, forgot who he was acting for and indulged in victim-blaming which, if the defence had tried it, would have been his duty to challenge as per the A-G's advice. Possibly he was unwell or became hopelessly confused as he more commonly works for the defence.

Rebecca Blain, defending,  did her job properly.  Due to irrelevant remarks made by Colover and the Judge, her client is now facing more uncertainty rather than having the case settled as the sentence may be reviewed.

His Honour Judge Peters QC, despite being a QC, became confused as to who was making the plea in mitigation, possibly because it was a lady solicitor.-advocate.  Since the contentious and irrelevant comments came from a hitherto respected barrister who more commonly appears for the defence, the judge threw the legal advice out of the window and joined in with the victim-blaming.   His is  the worst failing because he is supposed to be running that hearing. 

The victim has been blamed by a prosecutor and a judge, which will do wonders for encouraging other victims to come forward.

Perhaps it is not only fear of being called raaaaycists which has made the CPS tardy in applying the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to deal with grooming gangs.  It appears they have been fighting uphill against a judiciary which regards preying on children for sex as as not really a proper crime at all.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps if the young girl's character is as intimated Colover was acting in the public interest, just not in the girls interest.

JuliaM said...

One can only imagine how the fightback by Eddie Shah and the mother of the lads is going to be received by the progressives...

Me? I find it rather refreshing.

TheFatBigot said...

Much as I love you Mrs Raft, on this occasion you make an unwarranted assumption.

Neither you nor I knows the content of Mr Colover's brief. It is entirely possible that it included specific instructions about the character of the victim and that those details were not disclosed to the defence.

If that was the position, Mr Colover was obliged to bring such information to the attention of the court because it might have been considered by the judge to be relevant to sentence.

A prosecutor is not, of course, an advocate for the victim, he is a minister for justice and justice requires a defendant to be sentenced against an accurate and full picture of the circumstances surrounding his offence.

Neither you nor I knows whether Colover had instructions in accordance with his submission, nor do we know whether his submission represented the truth.

If he did have those instructions he cannot be faulted.

Whether they were true or untrue would not be known to him, his duty was to be fair to the defendant while putting forward all facts within his instructions that the judge might consider relevant to his decision.

If, on the other hand, he went out on a limb drawing his own inferences from instructions capable of more than one interpretation, he might have been in error.

lilith said...

I think you are right about Judges

Woman on a Raft said...

Hi JuliaM

I imagine this post perhaps made you uncomfortable. Apolgoies, but I think it is important to recognize that one of the reasons it was so hard to get to grips with the grooming gangs was not only a reluctance to tackle a cultural issue, but also a deep vein of victim-blaming in our own society.

The groomers had every reason to suppose they could get away with it. The message was being sent 'This is not really a crime, so long as you stick to damaged children between 13-16. They don't count. If you get caught, just say they led you on.'

The MO in the Wilson case is exactly the same as in the grooming gangs. First, find a 13-16 year old who is easy to recruit. There is always some foolish child hanging about to be picked up. All it takes is a few cigarettes and a patina of approval and understanding, a seemingly sympathetic ear that the child is really all grown up and need not bother with difficult things such as maths homework.

It only takes about a fortnight, maybe a month, to increase the gap between the child and their family and peer group, to split them off from the herd, so to speak. After that, they have gone so far that they will be too enmeshed to return even if they are beginning to realize that something is wrong.

Then, in order to protect their own self-image and obtain what they regard as affection, they will go to extreme lengths of compliance. They will then engage in what ever abasement or associated criminality the abuser chooses.

It seems obvious to me that the person to blame is the adult seducing the child, not the child being seduced regardless whether that adult is Neil in Romford or Achmed in Oxford.

JuliaM said...

True enough, but was there any grooming in the Shah cases? From what little was publicised about the trial (odd that?) it doesn't seem so.

If so, perhaps it wasn't done by Shah himself but by others before him.

What's a man with a taste for younger meat (and that's generally a biological impulse, after all) to do, ask for birth certificates?

Woman on a Raft said...

The Shah case involved allegations of rape which raises different legal issues around consent. The three defendants replied that the complainant had never had sex with any of them, although she had met them on a few occasions. The coverage seemed to be thin until I changed the google criteria to base it on the other defendants, Susan Davies and Anthony Pallant. I have not checked other search engines, but the range of returns is acceptable, including details such as the first jury having been lost and the case restarted after four days.

Shah would be very well advised to stop involving himself because he was acquitted, which was reported widely. The way it reads is that he was a victim of a person who became imaginative in midlife. All his comments are doing is opening the idea that he might have other questions to answer.

Wilson was s.9, sexual activity with a child, where consent is not at issue. Wilson, aged 41, agreed that this had happened and pleaded guilty. All that matters is the established fact that a qualifying act took place, with slightly different conditions for if the victim is under 13 or 13-16.

As for ladies who want toyboys or girls, yes, I'd check the age. I do not see the difficulty. I'm in control of my own genitals and I'm capable of operating an effective age-based door policy, should such an unlikely situation arise. I would start by asking them if they remembered where they were on the day of Princess Diana's funeral and if they say 'Who?' I would seek further clarification.

JuliaM said...

"Shah would be very well advised to stop involving himself because he was acquitted, which was reported widely. The way it reads is that he was a victim of a person who became imaginative in midlife. All his comments are doing is opening the idea that he might have other questions to answer.."

But perhaps he's fed up with seeing this sort of nonsense case come to trial, tired of the same old progressive arguments that claim false rape accusations are 'very rare' when we know they aren't, and - to borrow a phrase - mad as hell and not going to take it any more?

Woman on a Raft said...

I expect he is. That does not mean his comments are in his personal interests.

The trouble was, Shah was sexually adventurous, deceitful towards his wife, had affairs and used prostitutes. That's up to him, but having done so it made him vulnerable to other claims.

One of the defendants, Susan Davies, was a long-term intermittent associate of his. She worked as an escort and serviced Shah. This is not disputed. They also seemed to be friends. In some ages she would have been more like his mistress, only not exclusively.

It is settled that Davies took the complainant as a girl to meet Shah and Pallant (a closer boyfriend) serveral times at hotels. Davies later berated herself for this poor judgment.

Now, if you are an escort and you take a child to meet your rich patron, as was admitted to be the case, it might cross some people's minds that this is not purely a social visit or a matter of showing off your powerful man-friend.

If later that child, as a woman, alleges she was sold and raped at those meetings, the jury may reject that account - as they did - but it will seem possible to the CPS that there is a case to be laid before a jury to decide the matter.

So I would not describe it as a nonsense case but rather a very good example of what you yourself often emphasize - that actions may have predictable consequences.

In particular, if you take a child with you when you go out on the game, it might look like procuring and your friends and clients might look as if they've developed new tastes when you are merely baby-sitting as a favour.

For the avoidance of doubt, all three defendants were acquitted of all charges.

That is why Mr Shah should back away from this subject. He was acquitted can only damage himself by revisiting it because it will remind people what the case was about.

JuliaM said...

"...but it will seem possible to the CPS that there is a case to be laid before a jury to decide the matter. "

Maybe so, but as we've seen so many times, when 'grooming' is suspected, the CPS no longer confine themselves to what seem possible, do they?

It's about time the tide was halted. Or we've no longer any right to sneer at the Dark Ages and witchtrials.

Anonymous said...

Note that the comments attributed to the man were not his - nor spoken. See the transcript.