Aug 12, 2013

The press blogger, the feminist campaigner and Jack of Kent

SubScribe, a journalism blog, has a post up about the Mark Neil Wilson trial case, in which the prosecutor and judge referred to the 13 year-old victim as "predatory" and "sexually aggressive" (in case you've been living under a rock, here's a link to the EVB campaign against such language). This blog post was tweeted out by David Allen Green today, so that probably means that lots more people will be reading it, and possibly nodding their heads sagely and saying to themselves "yes yes, this is a lot more complicated than I had originally thought".

But I don't think that's true at all, because at least with regard to the fundamentals of EVB's complaint, none of the additional facts revealed by the blogger really change the conversation. Without quite coming out and saying it, the writer insinuates that there was something untoward, premature, not to say - ahem - hysterical about the reaction to the Wilson case. The Times is mentioned as having "its own child abuse agenda" - not a pretty sentence however you parse it. The fact that 45 thousand people signed EVB's petition is returned to and reiterated, almost as if to subtly signal: "too many! Too fast! By the law of averages they must have not known what they were talking about!".

Should we, asks the blogger, "celebrate [EVB's successful campaign], or worry about kneejerk politics?". Er, the former, thanks - but we all know that when a rhetorical question like that is left hanging, the intention is usually on the side of "go ahead and worry". People don't usually ask rhetorical questions to reassure. Declarative statements are better for that purpose.

I think what is particularly egregious is this embedded series of tweets from George Pavlou, the reporter who originally "broke" this story, quoted without comment:

The implication of including these tweets in an article criticizing media coverage of the story is that Pavlou is in some way right, that he is exposing something obvious that the rest of us, notably the EVB campaigners and petition signers, have missed. This impression is further strengthened by the immediate reference to a blog post Pavlou approves of as "calm and reasoned" - presumably, one can't help thinking, in contrast to the hysterical and ignorant reaction from others.

Here's how I think this story played out in Gameoldgirl's head: the original trial was mis-reported, which lead to an overheated, uninformed moral panic among campaigners, and the suspension of the prosecuting QC.

But that's not how it happened. The story may well have been mise-resported, or under-reported; but the one salient fact about it that never varied is that the judge and the prosecutor did refer to a 13 year old who was inappropriately touched by an adult male as "predatory" and "sexually aggressive".

Let's just get one thing straight here: even if Nigel Wilson had been a straight up reincarnation of Mother Theresa wrapped in a bunny rabbit saving rainbow cloud, a thirteen year old girl could not have been described as a sexual predator. However she behaved, whatever she did in order to maintain and prolong his interest in her, she is legally and morally incapable of being the aggressor.

It frankly doesn't matter if the sentence meted out to Wilson was lenient or strict. It is of no possible relevance who went to the police and whether it is correct to think that reluctance to be a complainant is evidence of guilt on the part of the alleged victim of sexual misconduct (on which: are you fucking kidding  me??!). All of this clever-clever journalistic fact dredging stuff is neither here nor there. The QC and the judge in this case described a young person by negative epithets she is incapable of being. They may as well have called her a werewolf, or a witch (actually, not a bad parallel there). They were wrong to use these words, and the 45,000 people who joined EVB's stellar campaign were right. It really is as simple as that.

I don't think Gameoldgirl necessarily meant harm here; like George Pavlou, I'm sure she thinks she's doing a service to "the facts". But she's not. She's falling into common victim blaming tropes and providing tacit support to people who would openly accuse victims of child molestation of being manipulative little Lolitas egging innocent men on. I think the tone - and quite a bit of the content - of this blog piece is ill advised, and I wish David Allen Green hadn't given it a wholly undeserved signal boost.

It is further notable - and notably absent from all the reporting on this case, including Gameoldgirl's - that sexually aggressive and promiscuous behaviour in young women is often a response to trauma. Attention seeking from predatory men is not a cause of abuse, it is a symptom of prior abuse. In this sense there is every chance that the QC and the judge have committed a double and devastating injustice against this young woman.

A deeper investigation into this case, it would seem to me, would interest itself in these kinds of background details. Clearly the identity and biographical details of the young woman are not available, nor should they be; but some kind of deeper look into what, if any, details of her past were in the case would go far towards demystifying the "acting out" elements of her interactions with Wilson and placing the comments of the judge and the QC in better context.

Implicitly criticizing the widespread popular indignation about these comments will not help this young woman (or the perpetrator of the offence against her, if we assume that he is deserving of hep by virtue of being a fellow human being), and it will not protect other young women in the future. Donating money to EVB is a far better use of our benevolent energies.

ETA: Edited in accordance with Dorian's note below.


  1. I entirely agree with your points, but I got a little bit confused at one point so I want to point out that when, in the third paragraph, you say "the latter", I think you actually mean "the former". The latter is always the last-named thing, and I'm pretty sure you're not agreeing with the "worry about knee-jerk politics" option!

    1. D: You're right! How very clumsy of me. Thanks for the spot, I've changed it now. x

  2. Hi there,

    Please consider the following points in addition to the above:

    I am a legal blogger, and my primary interest is that legal issues are described clearly and accurately.

    There is no broader agenda. When, for example, I challenged the victim-blaming narratives in the Assange extradition case, a number of people said that was a valuable exercise.

    In the Hall case, it was clear that the judge’s sentencing remarks needed to be read carefully. Contrary to what legionseagle implies, the sentence was not doubled by the Court of Appeal. That was because the sentence could not be any longer as a matter of law, just as was explained in the original judge’s sentencing remarks – that is why I said they should be read. Instead the Court of Appeal made one of Hall’s sentences run consecutively rather than concurrently, which was a neat device but it is not an increase in the sentence. I am personally in favour of this approach, but it is certainly not standard, and its adoption by the Court of Appeal was novel. But the point remains: the actual sentence imposed on Hall could not, as a matter of law, be extended.

    In respect of Wilson, there is something very odd happening. Very odd indeed. The comments at issue originated not from the defence but from the prosecution. It is not clear why. A number of lawyers and court reporters have been struck by this oddity. There are now three investigations into why those comments came to be made. It may well be that that the judge and the prosecution are deeply in the wrong here; but we just do not know at this stage.

    The “pattern [that] does seem to be developing” is (I hope!) that as a law blogger and tweeter my aim is to try to get the law right (though sometimes I fail). Sometimes that means people applaud my stuff, as on Assange; and sometimes it means I get posts and comments like the above.

    But I think it is important to get the law right. It is the best starting point for trying to change things.

    All the same, please do forgive me if I get my tone wrong or say the wrong things. I do not pretend to not make mistakes.

    “Jack of Kent”

    1. Hi David,
      My regret with regard to your involvement was only inasmuch as it gave a huge signal boost to something I don't think it worthy of a wider audience. If SubScribe had limited itself to discussing the oddities of sentencing (ie the lagal stuff) and not dipped its toes in Daily Mail style implicit victim blaming, I wouldn't have had a problem with the piece at all. I have a lot of respect for you and this is no way an attack on you. When I say "it's a shame" I really just mean it's a shame. I'm not English, so there isn't a universe of judgement and disapproval hiding behind those words. ;)

      My point is that the judge and the prosecutor were deeply in the wrong *regardless* of why they used such language (an interesting theory I saw this morning is that it might have been part of an "unofficial" plea bargain -

      To try and draw a parallel, can you think of a legally persuasive reason why in analogous circumstances, they'd have used the word "nigger"? I'm not the expert here, but I can't.

  3. Hi Marina - I am a huge fan of yours too!

    You did not link to or post my tweet, which is at

    My actual phrase was "Interesting detailed post on those Neil Wilson sentencing remarks [ ]". I did not say it was "spot-on" or anything similar. But I thought it was interesting. It certainly was detailed.

    The view that it was an interesting post was shared by others. See the replies to my tweet, and also do a search against the url on Twitter.

    What I am trying to go is get the facts and the law right on a controversial case (as I did on the Assange case).

    It may well be that there is a basis for outrage; but as it stands, we do not know yet. There is something odd - not quite right - about the reported remarks which go beyond their content. Why was it said by the prosecution and not the defence? It may well be that the judge and the prosecution should be damned; or it could be that the problem is elsewhere. There are now three investigations - the full picture should emerge.

    You can only say that that it is clear that the judge and prosecution are culpable if you adopt what the news reports say. But those reports may be wrong, or there may be a context (eg, it can be the job of a judge to summarise submissions).

    In essence, I am certainly not saying "let's move on". I am just saying, let's be patient for a little while until we know what actually happened. And if when the facts are established and outrage is warranted then go for it.

    (Fwiw, I do not share or commend the sentiments of @G_Pavlou. But his tweets are relevant as he was involved in the reporting and so I can see why they were included.)

    1. Thank you, I'm flattered. :)

      I've just read back over what I wrote and I'm not sure I said that you said that the post was interesting. Did I? Could you point it out please? I don't mind at all editing that.

      Yes, you're right about the judge - we may be getting a distorted echo of him summarizing / repeating what the prosecutor had said. In fact that had been my initial assumption, and why I took a consistent "wait and see" approach to the whole story until I saw the SubScribe blog, at which point I thought an intervention was necessary.

      The thing is though, having read around as much as is possible, nobody seems to be disputing that the words had been said by both men in the context in which they are being reported to have been said; so I'm running with that until further details, as you say, are available.

  4. Hi Marina,

    I'm sorry you didn't like the blog. You may well be right that the tone is wrong, but I don't think I could have been much clearer in the opening sentence which is that there is only one person in the wrong and it isn't the girl.
    I am interested in your comment to David that you would have preferred me to stick to the sentencing aspect - but my only mention of that is to say what it was and how it was changed.
    My concern in this case was exactly the same as yours - the language used by the prosecution and the judge.
    As you say, SubScribe is a journalism blog. The post was designed to examine the press coverage and to point up how much quicker off the mark Twitter was than mainstream news organisations - and especially EVB with the petition.
    And then when newspapers did catch up, they failed properly to report what happened in court. the Independent said the pair 'had sex'. they didn't. Others say the girl was described as 'sexually predatory'. she wasn't. you, yourself, use the phrase 'sexually aggressive' which is not a phrase that came from court.
    I wanted to know why the papers were so slow and why they failed to tell the reader what happened in court. The reports I saw did not give Wilson's occupation, the exact charges, what the defence said in mitigation, what time of day Wilson first met the girl, what time they met on day of the offence, how long she was at the flat.
    None of that may seem relevant to you, as it is an open and shut case that the language is wrong. but from a journalistic point of view it is strange that the report is so short on detail. was it given in court and not noted properly? or was there a deal between defence and prosecution that left them thinking (wrongly) that it was not necessary to go through the events in open court?
    I went back to the news agency for more information and to the reporter, who gave me some background. I don't agree with the sentiments expressed in his tweets, but what he says may offer some insight. The girl didn't complain to the police, took no part in the proceedings and did not, so far as I've been told, even meet the prosecutor. All of that may explain the lack of information coming from the court.
    I haven't looked up the judge, but I have done minimal research on the prosecutor, who was appointed to the Bar in the mid-70s. That means he's probably in his 60s. So it may be a generational thing than he didn't realise that what he said was inappropriate.
    Anyway, the key thing is that I'm afraid you have completely misread my mindset. There is no way that the language would be acceptable from anyone and I thought I had made that pretty clear.

    EVB, which I admire and have written about in the past, were happy with the post and tweeted it when it was posted - and again when Press Gazette published it:

    @EVB_Now Woop! @JohnnyCov Piece written by @gameoldgirl - we spoke to her about it before she wrote it. Pleased its been published :)@pressgazette 11:38 AM - 12 Aug 2013

    these and other points are covered in a post on

    Finally, yes, i'm sure the judge was simply echoing what the prosecutor had said. but had he been more enlightened he would not have repeated the word 'predatory' or introduced the phrase 'egged him on'.

    best wishes.l