Presenter Justin Lee Collins found guilty of harassment
TV presenter and comedian Justin Lee Collins found himself in the media spotlight earlier this week for all the wrong reasons: he was convicted of a campaign of harassment ‘causing fear of violence’ against his ex-girlfriend.
Thirty-eight year old Collins was sentenced to 140 hours community service and told to pay prosecution costs of £3,500. It would be fair to say the verdict has met with a mixed response. His former girlfriend Anna Larke is reported to be pleased with the verdict, but campaigners against domestic violence have complained that the sentence is too lenient.
Collins, who rose to fame presenting the Friday Night Project, was found to have subjected to Larke to a host of unpleasantries during a seven month relationship. She said he coerced her into shutting down email and social media accounts, insisted that she always sleep facing him, told her to throw out DVDs featuring actors she found attractive, and forced her to write down details of her previous sexual relationships.
The court was played a secretly recorded argument between Larke and Collins during which he verbally abused her and also allegedly used racist language.
Collins denied being a racist, saying the argument was completely out of character. He claimed Larke had been obsessive and jealous towards him and written down details of previous relationships voluntarily. He described his relationship with Larke as “absolute hell”.
It seems likely that Larke would have agreed with that assessment at least. After the verdict her family released a statement:
“We will not rest on our laurels in the wake of this good news and intend to go out into the world and use this experience to empower women to stand up to domestic abuse.”
That is a very commendable ambition. No one reading the court proceedings could doubt that the relationship must have been quite an ordeal. But the next section of the Larke family statement made me wonder whether, foronce, public perception may be lagging behind the law.
“We will also be campaigning to have emotional abuse properly recognised in law…”
Anyone who read our story on domestic violence last month will know that the government has already announced plans to significantly broaden the legal definition of domestic abuse to include not just physical violence, but also intimidation and coercion – precisely the kind of behaviour of which Collins was found guilty.
As we reported, the new definition will read, in part:
Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:
Unfortunately for prosecutors in this cse, the new definition is not set to enter law until March next year.
In the meantime, Collins was found guilty of harassment, an offence originally created to target stalkers. This is defined by the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act. ‘Fear of violence’ is covered by section 4 of the Act, and is defined as:
(1) A person whose course of conduct causes another to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against him is guilty of an offence if he knows or ought to know that his course of conduct will cause the other so to fear on each of those occasions.
(2) For the purposes of this section, the person whose course of conduct is in question ought to know that it will cause another to fear that violence will be used against him on any occasion if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct would cause the other so to fear on that occasion.
Reading the case, I could not help but wonder why Collins only received 140 hours community service and not for example, six months incarceration. It is a question that is difficult to answer. It is possible that a character reference from Collins’ ex-wife Karen may have contributed – she testified that he had never been violent towards her.
Judge John Plumstead at St Albans Crown Court clearly thought the sentence entirely fitting. He is reported to have told the presenter that manual work would give him cause for reflection on his actions, adding:
“Any violence in any relationship when people should be able to rely on each other is a serious breach of trust.”
But many commentators do not agree. For example, Sandra Horley, the Chief Executive of women’s domestic violence charity Refuge said: “We are disappointed with the sentence. Awarding a mere 140 hours of community service does not send a strong public message that domestic violence, or threat of violence, is as serious as any other violent crime.”
I second that. Justin Lee Collins may not exactly be a household name, but he is still a comparatively high profile figure. A tougher sentence might have sent a clearer message about some very unpleasant behaviour.
Photo by Ugg Boy 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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