John Bowie – It’s been hot here in London, but the criminal courts have seen the hottest time in many years with the hacking charges last week and Rolf Harris this. If that’s not enough, Monty Python are reuniting as if this is one big, teary return to the 70s. Murdoch, News of the World, Rolf Harris, Monty Python. All we need is a Second Coming of the Beatles at Abbey Road and we’d be all made up.
And the weather has been sublime, which is always pleasant. Apart from last weekend, that is, when I attended a quintessentially British event celebrating the appointment of the High Sheriff of West Sussex, as you do. More of that below, but in terms of the busy criminal courts, the papers are full of the Andy Coulson conviction and Rebekah Brooks’ acquittal in Britain’s most expensive criminal case.
The defence of the case cost an estimated £50m with £40m spent by taxpayers on the prosecution, including the involvement of 195 police officers involved in the hacking investigationns which, when added to the Leveson Inquiry into the Press and the various ongoing police investigations does beg some serious questions beyond just privacy and media issues. The Leveson Inquiry followed terror attacks in London in which 52 people died and, as one newspaper pointed out, while invasions of privacy are odious and distressing, not to mention illegal, they do not kill people.
But the left-leading Guardian maintained an effective campaign against the Murdoch papers, including Andy Coulson, producing evidence of various misdeeds that lead to the high profile, highly expensive Leveson inquiry followed by the “Trial of the Century” which terminated with Coulson’s convictions, Brooks’ acquittal and evidence about such salacious matters as her race horse training husband Charlie Brooks concealing his lesbian porno collection.
Andy Coulson is due for sentencing and, like today’s celebrity criminal, Rolf Harris, faces time behind bars. Rolf, of course, faces a hefty term for his 12 convictions for sexual assault.
Rolf Harris’ conviction is another thing and this morning in London every newspaper has the now-published Police mug-shot of the animated little artist-entertainer whose fingers tapped on more than British Paint tin tops.
The high profile Harris conviction will be of some relief to the Crown Prosecution Service, which has seen even more high profile losses, not just with Rebekkah Brooks and her race trainer, but also William Roache and the failure over Nigel Evans whose case was tossed after a four hour deliberation.
The CPS is well served in difficult times and has needed to weather severe budget cuts, but there is also a culture of, as their laywer in the hacking trial, Greg McGill, said: “This has been a lengthy and complex trial which was required to explore a culture of invading privacy”.
All of which indicates a “culture” of political activism rather than legal functionality. Organisations like the CPS and our own Crown Law and Crown Prosecutors are there to pursue criminal prosectutions rather than to push for heady “causes” and to become inveigled in politically-charged issues that confuse their roles. The Kim Dotcom and John Banks balls-ups come to mind.
The Sheriff’s Function
Attending the High sheriff’s appointment in Sussex at the weekend was an opportune time to observe some of the vestiges of history that is maintained in British life today. The role is now ceremonial and largely based on raising money for charity rather than collecting taxes in a rapacious, Sheriff of Nottingham manner. The ceremony was one of several, held at the sheriff’s magnificent deer park, which incidentally was the source of much of New Zealand’s red deer progeny, and conducted in an air of bonhomie, humour and charity. The Sheriff, however, was appropriately dressed in tights, jerkin and sword, almost as if he was a Monty Python stand-in and with full-scale English eccentricity.
Staying in the Chelsea townhouse of a retired Magic Cicle solicitor, whose main home is a substantial pile in Surrey, evidences the cost of life in London. A media executive with whom I lunched the day before, a former Murdoch executive who lives “10 minute s down the road” because he can’t afford Flood Street where we’re fortunate enough to be staying, says the price of the five story digs would be circa £7 million. I choked on my raggout. We’re actually not far from Rebekah and Charlie’s and a throttle-sound away from Charles Saatchi’s I’m told by our hosts.
Interesting, for this expensive piece of turf a hop skip and jump from King’s Road, many of our neighbours’ homes are empty. The real estate is increasingly owned by Russian, Indian, Chinese and Africans who, according to another observer, are infrequently here and frequently laundering.
As anyone in London knows, however, it can be difficult to hear an English voice or accident. I witnessed a leggy blond, who I assumed to be a Trinny-type, nearly bowled by a man in a convertible Bentley. She shouted in what sounded like Russian and he shouted back in Arabic. Whatever happened to some good, old fashioned Cockney rhyming slang abuse? Where do we go to hear that these days? West Auckland?