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The Trial of Lord Horror
b y J o l y o n J e n k i n s
New Statesman & Society,
New Statesman & Society,
Jolyon Jenkins reports.
Who now remembers Inside Linda Lovelace ? It was one of the best sellers of 1976, not because of any literary merit, but because of the attentions of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Metropolitan Police, who prosecuted its publishers for alleged obscenity. The jury decided that its steamy descriptions of sexual congress would not 'deprave and corrupt' the sort of people likely to buy it, and brought a not guilty verdict. Everyone thought this would be the last prosecution of written material under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The police took the view that, if ILL wasn't obscene, it was hard to see what was.
In 1979, a committee, chaired by Bernard Williams, recommended that the written word should be removed from the scope of the obscenity law, not least because of the absurd spectacle of professors of English in court, trying to find literary merit in works (like Last Exit To Brooklyn in 1968) that had very little. The report was ignored by the new Conservative government.
All this is intended to put in context some of the strange goings-on in Manchester. Last month, a magistrate banned as obscene a novel called Lord Horror, by David Britton. The novel is a fictionalised life of the wartime traitor William Joyce'Lord Haw-Haw'. Britton says it's primarily about art and Schopenhauer, but what seems to have upset the magistrate, Derrick Fairclough, is the virulent anti-Semitism of the central character. "I think that if you are going to do an extreme anti-Semite," says Britton, "you should do it as well as you can. I seem to have done it a bit too well." Mr. Fairclough may also have disliked the appearance in the novel of a character called 'Appleton', obviously based on the former Chief Constable of Manchester. Anderton's speeches are put in Appleton's mouthbut substituting 'Jews', where Anderton referred to gays.
The Lord Horror saga started two years ago when police obtained a warrant to raid the publishers, Savoy Books, and took away 350 copies of the bookSavoy's entire stock. Under Section Three of the Obscene Publications Act, all they needed to get the warrant was to convince Mr. Fairclough that there was enough prima facie evidence that obscene material was being held for gain or publication.
The police then appear to have tried unsuccessfully to persuade the DPP to prosecute. Two anonymous police officers were quoted in a feature in The Observer on obscenity, referring to what was obviously Lord Horror (but not naming it) and complaining that they couldn't get a prosecution. Instead they continued with Section Three proceedings, by convincing Mr. Fairclough that the material was obscene, and should be forfeited.
It's a bizarre procedure. It was Mr. Fairclough who decided Lord Horror was probably obscene in the first place, so he can't have taken much convincing. The police didn't even have to say why they thought the novel would deprave and corrupt.
Besides, Section Three wasn't written with literature in mind. It was meant for pornography, whose publishers may prefer to have their material forfeited, rather than go to the bother of contesting a case before a jury. In 1964, the government law officers gave an undertaking to parliament that, if a publisher wanted a jury trial rather than Section Three proceedings, they would get one. No such offer was made to Savoy Books.
The case also raises the question of what is obscene. In law, obscenity is a quite different concept from offensiveness. However offensive Lord Horror is (and some bits are nasty), it's hard to see how it could deprave or corrupt. If it is anti-Semitic, the DPP may prosecute under the race relations legislation. If it libels Anderton, Anderton may bring defamation proceedings. Either course would allow the issue to be considered by a jury, rather than be measured against the personal morality of one magistrate.
But the vagaries of jury trial are precisely what inhibits the authorities from prosecuting. And there are other signs of the Obscene Publications Act being used in increasingly odd ways: recently the Met, using Section Three, seized the entire pressing of a record by Niggaz With Attitudean American hard-core rap groupbecause of its offensive lyrics. Drug-related literature has also been prosecuted under the acta possibility that parliament never envisaged.
If it can raise enough money, Savoy will appeal Mr. Fairclough's decisionbut there will still be no jury. If it loses, the books will be destroyed. In the longer run, the crazy obscenity law needs reforming. Any new non-Tory government could do worse than dust off the Williams report. •
Savoy note to the above: The Lord Horror obscenity ruling was overturned on appeal on 30 July 1992, after a spirited, day-long defence by libertarian QC Geoffrey Robertson, part of the defence team that won the Inside Linda Lovelace trial in 1976. Although the book escaped the flames, the ruling against Savoy comic Meng & Ecker 1was upheld, probably reflecting, amongst other things, the low status of comic books in the cultural hierarchy.
Several days later, the police raided again, seizing further Meng & Ecker and Lord Horror comics from Savoy shops and offices. The subsequent charges of obscenity were again brought under the egregious Section Three of the Obscene Publications Act; when Savoy petitioned the court for a jury trial, their right as the Act is written, the prosecution informed the magistrate that Savoy "weren't bona fide publishers", a claim the magistrate, Jane Hayward seemed happy to accept. Here in Manchester, it doesn't matter how the law is writtenif the police and the courts want to get you, they will.
|The following newspaper story is offered as an example of the
confidence Derrick Fairclough (now retired) inspired in the MPs of Manchester, and his considered
impartiality when dealing with prosecutions brought against the
From the Manchester Evening News, 1995:
SACK MAGISTRATE IN 'DOG' ROWMPs
by Ian Craig and Jill Burdett
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