On 10th July 2015 the High Court ruled that “Freddie Starr groped a 15-year-old girl while she was attending a Jimmy Savile show“.
What are the consequences for the celebrity? Will he go to prison? The short answer to the latter is ‘no’ – this was not a criminal case.
There was an allegation made by Karin Ward that Mr Starr ‘groped’ Ms Ward in 1974 (when he was 31 and she was 15).
Ms Ward stated that Mr Starr “attempted to give her what was known as “a goose”. This occurred when a man “would put his hand under a girl’s buttocks and give it a squeeze and usually say ‘goose’ and, at the same time, reach for her breasts and say ‘honk, honk’“.
Apparently, according to Ms Ward, this “behaviour was normal for men at the time“, but “she recoiled because his smell reminded her of her stepfather, who had sexually assaulted her“.
This was not a jury trial in the Crown Court however, as the CPS had decided last year not to prosecute on the basis that there insufficient evidence on all the thirteen complaints bar one. For that sole case, there was no public interest in a prosecution.
It is assumed that Ms Ward was one of these, but we do not know which one.
Ms Ward gave an interview to Newsnight where she named Mr Starr and gave the account as set out above. It is not clear whether she attempted to use the CPS Victims Right to Review Scheme. She did not initiate a private prosecution.
Mr Starr sued Ms Ward for libel, due to what he said was the false allegation in that Newsnight interview.
What happened in Court?
The Judge was deciding whether or not the allegation made by Ms Ward was true. If it was not, then she would have had to pay damages to Mr Starr.
It was for Ms Ward to show that her allegation was true, and to show this on the ‘balance of probabilities’ – i.e., that it was more likely than not that events happened as she said.
This she managed to do. The Judge said that Ms Ward “has proved that it was true that he groped her – an underage schoolgirl – and humiliated her by calling her a ‘titless wonder’“.
As a consequence, Mr Starr will have to pay Ms Ward’s legal costs. Apparently these were estimated to be ‘close to £1 million’. For those who are used to legal aid, this is an inconceivable amount – it would have been about 1% of that had it been a criminal legal aid case.
Does this mean he’ll go to prison?
Firstly, there is a much lower standard of proof in a civil case – balance of probabilities rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.
Secondly, the issues are different. In this case, for example, there would have been no consideration of what Mr Starr’s state of mind was.
As a lawyer, I probably shouldn’t say this, but the best advice is not to go to court unless you can possibly avoid it. Mr Starr has learned this lesson in a very expensive way.
He had very little to gain by bringing this legal case, and a lot to lose. And here, he has lost big. Although this does not have any impact on his good character in the sense understood by criminal lawyers, and it is emphatically not a conviction, there is now a finding of a civil court that Mr Starr sexually assaulted someone and then lied about it.