The Sun reported on 23 September 2015 that “lewd leftie Lord Sewel” would not be prosecuted following the reports in their newspaper that he had engaged in Class A drug use.
Readers will no doubt remember images of the Labour Peer wearing an orange bra believed to belong to a prostitute, making disparaging remarks about high profile politicians and snorting a white powder from a table and from a prostitute’s breast.
Following the allegations, Lord Sewel resigned from the House of Lords but retained his title. He was interviewed under caution but the Homicide and Major Crime Unit issued a statement confirming no further action would be taken:
“The Metropolitan Police Service launched a criminal investigation into allegations of drug-related offences involving a member of the House of Lords on Monday, July 27….Following a review of all the material, including a forensic examination of an address in central London, there is insufficient evidence to proceed with this investigation and the matter is now closed.”
Quite why the major crime unit was involved is unclear; the images suggest the possession of cocaine for personal use and at the very worst, so-called “social supply” at a very low level. Even if Lord Sewel had supplied the two women present with cocaine, whilst that may be charged as supply – a more serious offence than simple possession – it is at the very lowest level. Applying the Drugs Guideline, it would be Category 4 Lesser role, with a starting point of 18 months, and a range of a community order to 3 years. With guilty plea and some mitigation, the sentence would likely be very short and possibly suspended. One wonders whether in fact there would have been a public interest in prosecuting (putting aside the tabloids thirst to see the privileged fall from grace).
As to the lack of evidence, it is difficult to comment. The Sun article speaks of a “forensic investigation” – this conjures images of men and women in white coats combing Sewell’s flat for traces of cocaine. It is not quite as simple as that, as “forensic” merely means for use in court proceedings (forensic science, forensic accounting etc.) and so it isn’t clear how extensive the investigation was and exactly what was investigated. Assuming that Sewel gave a no comment interview (or denied possession and/or supply) we would have expected the video to have been sufficient for a charge, however perhaps, again, the public interest test would not be met. A caution might have been a better solution, prior to announcing that no further action would be taken, as Sewel might have accepted that given the video evidence looks rather damning.
In the end though, we do not have all the information and there may be some material fact of which we are unaware – as this is a fairly high profile case which the CPS would have known would receive media attention, they are unlikely to have taken the decision lightly and so, despite the inevitable criticism that will be levied at them for this decision, a degree of deference is needed to those who are in possession of all the facts.
We’d welcome a fuller statement on the evidential deficiencies in the case…but we won’t hold our breath.