In the spotlight
On 30th January 1649 King Charles I, King of England, alleged ruler by Divine Right and therefore supposedly answerable to no earthly being, was executed for high treason following the defeat of the Royalists in the English Civil War.
One of the signatories to his death warrant was Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan Protestant who thereafter became the Lord Protector of England, having helped to effectively abolish the monarchy. When he died in 1658 he was buried with massive pomp in Westminster Abbey after a state funeral.
Then the monarchy was restored and Charles II came to the throne. Charles had the remains of Oliver Cromwell disinterred on the anniversary of his father’s execution in 1661 and dragged by a rope through the streets of London. The body was hung at Tyburn and then quartered and decapitated. The whereabouts of Oliver Cromwell’s head became a mystery which endures to this day.
Clearly public perceptions of Oliver Cromwell changed dramatically during and after his death! Times changed, social conditions changed and viewpoints also changed. He remained the same person with the same history, but just a few years separated vastly different perspectives of him and the responses of the ordinary people in the street who on the one hand adulated the great man and equally then vilified him in barbaric fashion.
This ability for the masses to turn so suddenly and so barbarically went running through my mind last week, with the controversial documentary about Sir Jimmy Savile. Here is a story that doesn’t need to be put before a gimlet-eyed High Court judge in a sombre trial or before a man who could defend himself and would have the right to do so before he was convicted of any offence at all. Instead, with a baying media howling for his blood, the blood of the BBC, the police, anyone and everyone who may or may not have been in any way involved with him, the women now appearing on our televisions and in our newspapers can recount every incident that they say happened forty years ago and there is no one at all to gainsay them. All the sympathy in the world is being directed their way.
Of course, there are also are plenty of other minor, practically forgotten celebrities now ready to jump on the media bandwagon to provide the requisite window dressing, to sympathize, to wring their hands in sorrow, to admonish. But the awkward fact remains that there is no one to test their evidence, to ask the tough questions, because the only man who could possibly do so is dead. As far as we know there is not one single shred of independent evidence to corroborate any of the accounts of what exactly went on all those years ago. And even if there were, it would still have to be tested in a court of law.
Yes, just as King Charles dug up Oliver Cromwell, the media has disinterred the remains of Sir Jimmy Savile. They have equally royally hung, drawn and quartered him too around the world. I spoke to one Croatian woman recently who said it is even in the Croatian newspapers! Even our media-conscious Prime Minister has called for some sort of enquiry.
I take a different view. I refuse to give up on the Rule of Law. There has been no trial and like it or not, Sir Jimmy Savile has been convicted of no offence. Moreover times have changed since the star-struck 1970s. Girls did throw themselves at TV stars but society’s reactions then, rightly or wrongly, were different. Remember Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman and the 18 year-old bride he had been dating since she was 13? When I was a teenager in the 1970s I wasn’t flocking to appear on Top of the Pops or trekking out to visit a top DJ in hisLondon hotel room. But plenty of girls clearly were and continued to do so long after these incidents all allegedly took place.
Let me make it clear, I’m not excusing any sexual misconduct for a minute. I’m a 21st Century lawyer and for me abuse is abuse;- so long as there is a defendant alive to answer the charges. But perhaps, just perhaps, our society was really quite different forty years ago and that is the real reason they all stayed quiet. We will never know for sure.
What about the Rule of Law? The law that protects every one of us, the very fabric of our democratic society, that protection we all enjoy: that we are all entitled to be heard in a courtroom and we are all innocent until found guilty in that courtoom?
It seems we haven’t progressed at all since the 17th Century. And because I as a lawyer strongly believe that the Rule of Law should always prevail, it is disappointing to say the least to see another lynch mob baying once again over the rotting corpse of a dead man.
For all those reasons I would far prefer to say RIP Sir Jimmy Savile.
Photo of Sir Jimmy Savile with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown by Downing Street under a Creative Commons licence.
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Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
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