One of the casualties of the ‘Plebgate’ affair, but not in the way you may expect, was PC James Addison. His phone was examined as part of the investigation into ‘Plebgate’. No action was taken in relation to that, but it transpired that he had “sent other officers “disgusting and offensive” images that included bizarre sex acts and scenes showing defecation“.
For this, he was prosecuted for 11 offences of Publishing an obscene article under s2 Obscene Publications Act 1959. He was sentenced on 14th May 2014 to a £6,000 fine (and presumably a Victim Surcharge – a healthy £120).
What is the offence?
It’s not a common offence – you will rarely see it in practice. It perhaps shows a level of looking for an offence to prosecute if we’re going to be honest. But anyway –
Whilst ‘publishing’ has connotations of a formal process, in fact someone publishes an article if he “distributes, circulates, sells, lets on hire, gives, or lends it, or who offers it for sale or for letting on hire; or, in the case of an article containing or embodying matter to be looked at or a record, shows, plays or projects it, or, where the matter is data stored electronically, transmits that data“. So that covers it.
An article is obscene if, where there are more than one of them “the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons“. What were the images? We don’t know, other than that part set out above. We do know that they did not involve “children [or] animals.[he fell to be sentenced] on the basis that there were no obviously unwilling participants in the film“. They were obtained and sent by him for the purposes of amusement (what I believe the kids would call ‘banter’ in fact) rather than out of any other motivation.
By his plea of guilty, Mr Addison accepted that the test was met. It does seem pretty surprising that it would ‘tend to deprave and corrupt’ the other police officers that he sent them to, but as I say, we haven’t see the images.
This is not an offence that is covered by the Sexual Offences Guidelines. It is an either way offence (maximum sentence of 5 years) and is so rare that it is not covered by the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines. That means we’re pretty much in the dark as to what the proper sentence should be.
We have a factsheet on fines. What we would note is that this seems pretty high. Especially as he will be losing his job with police, it may be that there would be an appeal against this.
Why is this a crime?
Good question. If it’s all photos of a consensual activity involving adults, then it’s hard to see why it is a criminal offence to have such pornography, or indeed send it to anyone else (if they are happy to receive it). The 1959 Act is badly out of date and should probably be repealed. However, if anything, we are getting less and less tolerant of such material (see s18 Criminal Justice and Courts Bill).