Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment published on the Internet
Issue Number 37
14th November 1999

Reflections on the Gary Glitter Case
by Sean Gabb

Paul Gadd, performing under the name Gary Glitter, was a very popular British singer in the early to middle 1970s. Even as a child, I had no liking for rock music. But I did notice and like Gary Glitter. It was not for his songs, which were as unmemorable as all the others of his day. What made me notice him was the wild extravagance of his dress—all sequins and tight trousers—thrown carelessly over a figure that was always verging on the fat. What made me like him was the pleasant and self-deprecating manner in which he handled television interviews. He seemed surprised at his popularity, and even a little contemptuous of the public taste that had raised him so high.

I lost sight of him after about 1974, and gave him no more thought until I heard last year of his difficulties with the criminal law. Apparently, he had bought a computer from PC World, which is the largest computer retailer in the United Kingdom, had used this for a while, and then had taken it back to have its various faults put right. The repair engineer had discovered a number of pornographic images on the hard disk and called the police. Mr Gadd was charged with possession of child pornography under the Protection of Children Act as amended in 1988 and 1994.[1] Sometime after this, a middle-aged woman came forward and accused Mr Gadd of having seduced her when she was fourteen and of having kept her as a "sex slave" for the next twelve years.

The case reached its end last Friday the 12th November. The Jury cleared Mr Gadd of all charges in connection with the middle-aged woman, but he had already pleaded guilty to the child pornography charges, and the Judge sentenced him to four months in prison. The radio journalist who reported all this to me gloatingly predicted that it meant the end of Gary Glitter. Bearing in mind the number of young and not so young women who danced and cheered in the public gallery and outside the court as the news of his partial acquittal, and his ability to survive all the changes of fashion in the past quarter century, I am not so sure. Gary Glitter will be banned from every radio station in the English-speaking world, but his live concerts will never be less than standing room only.

Now what I find so interesting about this case is not the personality of Gary Glitter, but how it illustrates the best and the worst about the British system of justice. Let me begin with the middle-aged woman.

It is absurd that charges of seduction can be brought so long after the alleged event. I do not wholly share Peter Tatchell's belief that the age of consent should be lowered to fourteen, and I do believe that adults who have sex with young people under a certain age should have to face criminal charges. But there surely ought to be a time limitation on bringing such charges. To let them be brought without any limitation is an abuse of justice. A child who complains immediately after an alleged assault should at least be listened to. An adult who complains 20 or 30 years after the event should be laughed at. I would say that anyone who spends so long brooding over something that might at the time not have been so terrible, but which with the passing of years becomes increasingly trivial, should not be seen as a reliable witness. At the very best, dates and places and other facts become blurred in the memory of all parties. At worst, elaborate lies can be told against which there can be no easy defence.

The injustice is heightened by the anonymity guaranteed by law to the accuser. Someone who stood up in court three centuries ago and accused an old woman of cursing his sheep was known to the Jury and had his name reported in the newspapers and the court records of the day. The middle- aged woman who accused Mr Gadd was unknown to the Central London Jury who assessed her evidence, and her name cannot be published anywhere. I do not know if she was lying.[2] But the fact that no one will ever know her name must have been an incentive not to tell the truth. Except she still had to give her evidence in person, the procedure was borrowed straight from the Inquisition. This corruption of process is an achievement of the feminist movement, aided by politicians and civil servants who instinctively hate the old notion of equality before the law. The next step - already demanded, though not yet granted—is to reverse the burden of proof, so that the defence will need to prove innocence.

Then there is the partiality with which the law is applied. If ever accused of legal oppression and wasting taxpayers' money, the authorities will hide behind a wall of excuses about having had no choice but to prosecute. "The evidence was there" they will say. "There was a prima facie case against Mr Gadd. It was our legal duty to prosecute and let a Jury decide." This is a lie. The authorities have almost unlimited discretion over what cases to drop and what to pursue. Look, for example, at a recent case in Lancashire. Eleven Asians were charged with the murder of a young white man. Just before the trial started, all the murder charges were dropped. This was not for want of evidence, but because "prosecution would not be in the public interest". It would not be in the public interest because it would mean letting the media report that some parts of this country are sliding into a low intensity civil war between different ethnic groups.[3] Mr Gadd was made to stand trial not because there was overwhelming evidence against him, but because the authorities do not approve of sexual pleasure—unless, of course, it is their own; and then puritanism melts instantly into hypocritical mewling about "diversity", and the sanctity of private life.

Or look at the Mr Gadd's accuser. She had accepted money from The News of the World for her story, and had been promised another œ25,000 if Mr Gadd was found guilty. Will she be charged with contempt of court and sent to prison for two years? I doubt it. Her example will be used to justify further censorship of the media, but she will never be punished under the known, ancient laws against what she did.

I turn now to the pictures found on Mr Gadd's computer. There is no certainty that these were of young persons under the age of sixteen. The police make it their habit to classify all pornographic images they find as of children, no matter how old the models appear to be. They then rely on threats of exposure in the newspapers and castration in prison to force a confession to something else. It may be that Mr Gadd held out too long. Or perhaps he really was guilty under the law. We shall never know, as he confessed to possession at the last minute, so the pictures were not shown in court. But let us assume that these pictures were of children. This being so, are there any credible reasons for why possessing them should be illegal? In asking this, I take the standard libertarian position that an act should be criminal only so far as it can be shown to have caused an identifiable individual harm that would be recognised as such by a reasonable person. What harm did Mr Gadd cause to anyone?

One answer is that if Mr Gadd had taken them himself, they would be evidence of a crime. It would be the same if he had procured somebody else to take them. That would make him an accessory to a crime. But the crime here would not be possession: possession would be no more than evidence of a crime. In any event, there is no claim that he ever knew the models or the photographers. He appears simply to have downloaded them from the Internet.

Another answer is that looking at such pictures somehow encourages attacks on children. There is a vast literature on the alleged inflammatory nature of pornography, and I will not refer to it beyond saying that I have yet to be shown a causal connection between pornography of any kind and sexual violence. But I will observe that if Mr Gadd, as we are told, spend up to twelve hours a day downloading his pictures, he can have had little time for doing much else. And I will observe that if possession of child pornography is to be banned because it might provoke attacks on children, possession of all pornography ought to be banned for the protection of everyone else. And once we have done this with pornography, we should extend the ban to most kinds of religious and political literature. I have no idea how many sexual murders there have been in the past five centuries, but I doubt if they amount to even a thousandth of one per cent of those committed for the greater glory of God or the welfare of the masses. To imprison Mr Gadd because he had some smutty pictures, and let others go for having copies of The Bible or The Communist Manifesto, is at the very least inconsistent.

An answer still less convincing is that by downloading the pictures, he was somehow encouraging their production. This might be the case had he been paying for them. But I am not aware that he paid for anything. So far as I am aware, he downloaded from various newsgroups and open access web sites. And even if he had paid for some of the pictures, it is hard to see why there should be laws against possession of what he had bought. I have numerous objects in my home that I strongly suspect were made with child labour. This computer is running on electricity that I am sure was generated from coal mined at least partly by Colombian children. In a sense, therefore, I am encouraging the exploitation of children. But I stand no chance of being arrested and put on trial. What is the difference between Mr Gadd—assuming he paid for the pictures—and any of us who pay for children to be treated in a manner that we regard, perhaps rightly, as criminal? Indeed, it can be argued that it is less harmful for a child to be photographed in a warm studio over several hours than to be worked day after day in a factory with unguarded machinery all around. The real difference between Mr Gadd and the rest of us is that the exploitation he may have encouraged gave him sexual pleasure, and the pleasure we derive is not sexual. It is not harm to children, therefore, that is the real object of prohibition, but the nature of the enjoyment that others derive from it.

And so that law has no justification. Its only consistent purpose is to make a crime of certain fantasies. Its most likely effect is to give the police unlimited power to destroy anyone they do not like by planting evidence. If I am accused of murder, a body must be produced. If I am accused of even a victimless crime like selling drugs or pornography, some objective evidence must be produced in court—either witnesses or a paper trail showing payment of suppliers and laundering of the proceeds. But a law against possession of certain images makes it ridiculously easy to get convictions on the basis of planted evidence. Let the police "find" the wrong sort of image on my hard disk or among my books, and there is no need to prove how it got there. And so we have another law that moves us further away from the ideals of the old Common Law and towards the practice of the Inquisition.

I did say that I would mention what is good about the British system of criminal justice. This is Trial by Jury. So long as twelve ordinary people have the unrestricted right to find someone not guilty even in the face of the evidence, we still live in a reasonably free country. The authorities in this country have turned democratic accountability into a joke, and can make whatever laws take their fancy. But the enforcement of these laws will always be partly restrained by the need to persuade a Jury that they should be enforced. I did not follow Mr Gadd's trial with close attention, but I am ready to believe that the Jury acquitted him of the charges brought before it partly because of the oppression involved in laying such charges so long after the alleged event and because of the evident corruption of the only prosecution witness.

I will not say more about Trial by Jury, however, as it is on the way to abolition. The Government is about to bring in a Bill to limit the right to no more than a few hundred cases a year; and this last remnant will be swept away as soon as the Government introduces the Corpus Juris—that is, full harmonisation with European criminal law: no Trial by Jury, no habeas corpus, no presumption of innocence, no rule against double jeopardy, and so forth.

But let us enjoy it while we have it. Paul Gadd is a victim of injustice. But things might have gone worse for him had his computer not broken down until after the abolition of the Common Law. Perhaps he should even be grateful that PC World sells such rotten, unreliable products to its customers. Of course, if he had bothered to learn a little more about wiping and deleting data from his hard disk, he might still be at liberty. But that is another matter entirely!


1. The law has been created as follows:

Section 1 of the Protection Act 1978 reads:

It is an offence for a person -
(a) to take, or permit to be taken, any indecent photograph of a child (meaning in this Act a person under the age of 16); or
(b) to distribute or show such indecent photographs; or
(c) to have in his possession such indecent photographs, with a view to their being distributed or shown by himself or others; or
(d) to publish or cause to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that the advertiser distributes or shows such indecent photographs, or intends to do so.
Section 160(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 amends this Section by adding that
It is an offence for a person to have any indecent photograph of a child (meaning in this section a person under the age of 16) in his possession.
Section 84(2) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 further amends the 1978 Act as follows:
In section 1 (which penalises the taking and indecent photographs of children and related acts) -
(a) in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) -
(i) after the word "taken" there shall be inserted the words "or to make", and the words following "child" shall be omitted;
(ii) after the word "photograph" there shall be inserted the words "or pseudo- photograph....
The wording of the other paragraphs of the 1978 and 1988 Acts is similarly changed to reflect the creation of the new offence.

Section 7(5) of the 1978 Act is amended to read as follows:

(6) "Child", subject to subsection (8), means a person under the age of 16.

(7) "Pseudo-photograph" means an image, whether made by computer-graphics or otherwise howsoever, which appears to be a photograph.

(8) If the impression conveyed by a pseudo- photograph is that the person shown is a child, the pseudo- photograph shall be treated for all purposes of this Act as showing a child and so shall a pseudo-photograph where the predominant impression conveyed is that the person shown is a child notwithstanding that some of the physical characteristics shown are those of an adult.

In this section the laws of Scotland and Ulster are also amended to the same effect.

2 . As an aside, I can say that most girls I knew when I was fourteen would have been deeply honoured to take their knickers off for Gary Glitter. To become his "sex slave" for an entire twelve years would have seemed very heaven.

3. The case was reported BBC Radio 5's Drive programme on the 3rd November 1999. The interviewer was Peter Allen. Robert Henderson, who told me about the case, checked The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, and The Mirror. Not one carried a single word about the story.