R v Walker

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R v Walker
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.svg
Court Crown Court
Full case name Regina v Darryn Walker
Decided 29 June 2009
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Esmond Faulks

R v Walker was an English Crown Court case that was a test of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. It was the first such prosecution involving written material in nearly two decades and set a precedent for using the act to prosecute web fiction.[1] In December 2009, the defendant, English Civil Servant Darryn Walker was charged with publishing an obscene story on the Internet contrary to Section 2(1) of the Act. Media controversy was generated because the story in question was a real person fiction text horror story describing the imagined murder of the members of British pop group Girls Aloud.[2] The case was abruptly abandoned on its first day and the defendant was cleared of all charges.[3]

Background[edit]

On 26 July 2007, UK tabloid newspaper The Daily Star reported that it had discovered an online text story about British pop group Girls Aloud that it described as "a chilling story detailing each singer's gory death in scenes that could be straight out of a horror movie", characterizing its author as "a vile internet psycho" and "a cyber-sicko". The news story said that The Daily Star had reported the content of the hosting website, "Kristen Archives" (a subsite of the ASSTR archive), to the Internet Watch Foundation, and that the IWF had traced the site to the US. It also claimed that Interpol had been notified to help track down the site's operators and the writer of the story. An IWF spokesperson was reported as saying that since the site was hosted in the US, it fell outside the organization's remit, but that they were aware of the site. The spokesperson added that the site also contained "child abuse fantasy stories" and that they had passed on details of it to the British police.[2]

Decision to prosecute[edit]

The story, entitled "Girls (Scream) Aloud",[4] had been posted from within the jurisdiction of the UK on a website hosted in the US. Although submitted under a pseudonym, the posting included a traceable email address. Officers from Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Unit decided to take action over the story after consulting the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and on 25 September 2008 it was announced that the author, Darryn Walker, was to be prosecuted for the online publication of material that the police and the CPS believed was obscene. It was the first such prosecution for written material since the landmark obscenity cases of the '60s and '70s, and was expected to have a significant impact on the future regulation of the Internet in the UK.[1]

Trial[edit]

Walker appeared in court on 22 October 2008 to face charges of "publishing an obscene article contrary to Section 2(1) of the Obscene Publications Act 1959". He was granted unconditional bail, and his case was initially set for trial on 16 March 2009.[5] However, at a directions hearing in January, the defendant made it known that given the seriousness of the case he would be represented by a QC (Queen's Counsel), following which the Crown Prosecution Service gave notice of its intention to similarly employ a QC, and the trial was postponed to 29 June 2009.

Outcome[edit]

Walker appeared at Newcastle Crown Court on 29 June 2009 but the case was abandoned on what was supposed to be the first day of the trial, following the introduction of evidence from an IT expert. The CPS said that it had originally charged Walker as it believed that the story in question could be "easily accessed" by young fans of Girls Aloud. This was because of the definition of obscenity used in the act, which requires prosecutors to prove that those exposed to the material were previously unaware of its obscene nature. Those who actively seek out such material are deemed unlikely to be corrupted by it.[6] However, the IT expert showed that the article could only be located by those specifically searching for such material. A spokesperson for the CPS said that the prosecution was unable to provide sufficient evidence to contradict this new evidence and therefore took the decision that there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. Judge Esmond Faulks, presiding, returned a formal verdict of not guilty to the charge of "publishing an obscene article".[3][7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ozimek, John (6 October 2008). "The Obscene Publications Act rides again". The Register. 
  2. ^ a b "Sicko plots to torture, rape & kill Girls Aloud". Daily Star. 26 July 2007. 
  3. ^ a b Hughes, Mark (30 June 2009). "Blogger who wrote about killing Girls Aloud cleared". The Independent (London). 
  4. ^ Sinclair, Blake. "Girls (Scream)Aloud". Kristen's Putrid Story Archive. Alt Sex Stories Text Repository. Archived from the original on 16 July 2007. 
  5. ^ Ozimek, John (22 October 2008). "Date set for internet 'obscene' publications trial". The Register. 
  6. ^ Peter Beaumont and Nichi Hodgson (7 January 2012). "Obscenity law in doubt after jury acquits distributor of gay pornography". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  7. ^ "Man cleared over Girls Aloud blog". BBC News. 29 June 2009.