On 14th September 2014 there was a ‘Radio 2 Live Show’ in Hyde Park. During a performance by Paloma Faith, Lisanne Beck (47) and Simon Murphy (48) sought some alternative entertainment.
Ignoring the concert, they engaged in what is still known in court-reporting circles as a ‘sex act’, in this case it was Ms Beck giving Mr Murphy oral sex.
Both denied this, saying that Mr Murphy was asleep and Ms Beck was trying to wake him up. However, the jury at the Old Bailey found them both guilty of Outraging Public Decency on the 12th August 2015 after a two-day trial.
There aren’t any guidelines for sentencing for this offence. The nearest analogy perhaps would be exposure under s66 Sexual Offences Act 2003 (see page 129). For someone masturbating in public, this would be a Category 2 offence, giving a guideline of a Community Order.
Here, although the offence was described as ‘repulsive’, and there were children around, it seems that a financial penalty is the best way of dealing with this – the public humiliation for the couple is probably the real punishment, and is certainly a deterrent.
What is the offence?
Outraging Public Decency. Although this is a ‘common law’ offence, meaning that it has come from judges not Parliament, it is an either way offence.
The Law Commission has recently issued a report into the offence (as well as the offence of Public Nuisance). It’s worth a read if you’re interested in that sort of thing, but it also has a good summary as to what was required to be proved.
There must be an act which satisfies the following conditions :
“(1) it must be lewd, obscene or disgusting to such an extent as to outrage minimum standards of public decency as judged by the jury (or other tribunal of fact) in contemporary society;
(2) it must occur in a place which is accessible to or within view of the public; and
(3) two or more persons must be present during the act or display, whether or not they are aware of the act or display or are outraged by it”
Clearly (2) and (3) are satisfied in this case, the issue for the jury would have been (1).
If the jury accepted the defence, then there would have been no question – this would not have come within the legislation.
But even if the jury disbelieved the couple (which they did), then they would still have to be satisfied that it was not just ‘lewd, obscene or disgusting’, but lewd, obscene or disgusting to such a degree as to outrage the minimum standards of public decency.
This is really a question for the jury, as representatives of us, the people. It is probably not so clear cut that there is only one answer – it will depend on the circumstances. To my mind a similar act committed at 2am on a relatively quiet street may not be (although I could be wrong about that of course). But it is perhaps not surprising that the jury concluded that this fell within the sort of behaviour that is criminally prohibited.