Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A look at the Michael Turner case (aka Michael Le Vell - aka soap star name Kevin Webster)

At the Crown Court sitting in Manchester, the case of R v Michael Turner was heard by His Honour Judge Henshall and a jury.  Turner, probably better known as the actor who plays the Coronation Street character Kevin Webster, was charged with sexual offences.  He was acquitted by a unanimous jury on all counts - BBC NEWS Manchester 10th September

The events prior to the trial are of some of interest.  Turner was originally arrested in September 2011. By December 2011 the Crown Prosecution Service had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial and no charges were brought at that time.  In February 2012, the victim’s mother made a formal complaint about the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision not to charge him and the victim gave further information to the police in March 2012.  However, it was not until February 2013 that the CPS had reviewed the case and concluded that charges should be preferred.  It was in October 2012 that the revelations about the activities of the late Jimmy Savile came to public notice.

Charging suspects:

It is for the CPS to determine whether charges should be preferred.  In reaching 'charging decisions' the prosecutors apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors  with its evidential and public interest stages.  The prosecutor must also consider other relevant material such as the Director's Guidance on Charging 2013 and any guidance relating to specific types of case.

CPS - Recent developments:

It is interesting to note two developments dating from June 2013. 

A)   The CPS has been consulting on the Interim Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse: Public Consultation.  See the video of the present Director of Public Prosecutions talking about the interim guidelines.

B)   A further CPS consultation on the Interim Guidance on the Victims' Right to Review Scheme: Public Consultation closed on 5th September.  This guidance will now be reviewed in light of the responses received and final guidance will then be published.  The scheme gives effect to the principles laid down in Killick and in Article 10 of the European Union Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.

Of course, it remains to be seen how frequently the Review scheme is used.  The review process is part and parcel of greater recognition that victims have rights but reviews will extend the stress and anxiety of the criminal justice process from the suspect's perspective.  The time from arrest to the CPS decision relating to charge can, on occasions, be lengthy - as in Turner's case.  

The decision to charge Turner:

Turner's acquittal has been followed by a considerable amount of comment - (see the selection of links below).  The decision to charge him was reached after applying a perfectly proper process which permitted complaints.  Also, the complainant gave the Police further information in March 2012.  Even though the final decision to charge was taken after the Savile revelations, there seems to be no reasonable basis to conclude that those revelations had anything to do with the decision to charge Turner.

If the CPS decision-maker concludes that the evidential and public interest tests are met then a charge should follow.   When allegations of serious sexual misconduct are made, they have to be properly investigated and brought to court (subject to the charging tests already referred to).  Fairness to victims demands no less. 

Fair trial - involves testing the evidence:

When the matter is before the court, the defendant is entitled to a fair trial and this requires robust testing of the prosecution evidence.  Cross-examination of the accuser has been the subject of adverse criticism in recent times but it is a necessary part of the fair trial process.  If, as an example, the defence is that complainant is lying, then this has to be tested - a process which requires skilled counsel. See the post by Nigel Poole QC - What are Barristers for?  Cross examination is subject to legal and ethical limits and the judge should ensure that the limits are applied.  Special measures can also be applied to assist in the reception of evidence.

The future:

Where does Mr Turner now stand?  He is not guilty of the charges.  His character was revealed publicly as part of his defence.  He has drunk heavily and had extra-marital affairs - referred to as 'one night stands.'   These may be seen as undesirable things to do but they are not criminal.  It is to be hoped that he can pick up his life to the full and not suffer from the abysmal mentality of 'there's no smoke without fire.'  Let us remember that our law starts with a presumption of innocence (innocent until proven guilty) and so, if guilt is not proved, the person remains innocent.


Should defendants in this type of case be given anonymity in the way that victims of sexual offences are offered anonymity?  Discussion of this can be found on Carl Gardner's Head of Legal blog 24th May 2010 - We must see justice done (more on rape and anonymity).  Those who argue for anonymity for those charged are motivated by the undoubted damage which can be done to an individual merely by being charged and, in particular circumstances, teachers are granted anonymity - see post of 29th September 2012. Nevertheless, in February 2013, Maura McGowan QC argued for anonymity for rape defendants.


Manchester Evening News 11th September - Top CPS prosecutor denies 'celebrity witch-hunt' after Michael Le Vell acquitted of child sex charges

The Guardian 11th September - Michael Le Vell: the CPS had no choice but to prosecute

Telegraph 11th September - Michael Le Vell - CPS defends prosecution of Coronation Stree actor

Independent 11th September - The Michael Le Vell verdict is in, but all the lessons are still to learn

Other comment:

The [Justice] Gap - Felicity Gerry - Dark Secrets and Allegations

Parliamentary Briefing Paper on Anonymity  - contains extensive analysis of the anonymity question in relation to suspects / defendants in sexual cases

Chris Jefferies: Criminal suspects should not be named 

BBC News UK - Michael Le Vell cleared: should rape suspects get anonymity?


  1. On the question of anonymity, there appears to be a one-sidedness which offends against fairness. In general, the case for not naming an accuser ( can they be called victims if their accusation is not upheld?), is to assist accusers in coming forward by offering the protection that being unknown brings. But if the charge they make is not upheld they still retain protection. The defendant is named ab initio, and as we have seen in the Turner case their whole life is subject to forensic examination in the full light of publicity. The only case that has been advanced for naming the defendant seems to be that this will bring forth other accusers hence strengthening the case against the defendant. Even yesterday this was being used - illustrated by the Stuart Hall case. But in that case additional accusers would not have affected the outcome because he pleaded guilty to the initial charges. Returning to the Turner case, his life has been publicly trashed and only time will tell whether he can put it together again, whilst his accuser is safe behind her anonymity. That is the unfairness. Both accuser and defendant should be treated in the same way, that is the fair way.

    1. I am also uneasy about the term 'victim'. If the whole story is concocted then, of course, there is not a true victim at all. Often there is a crime 'victim' because a crime has been committed in relation to that individual. However, it by no means follows that this 'victim' is the victim of the person accused. This needs to be constantly borne in mind otherwise repetition of the word 'victim' can become prejudicial.

  2. If he did not do it - which only he and the complainant know - then he is the victim of a false accusation.

    All defendants should be entitled to anonymity unless and until they are convicted.

    1. This would be the ideal solution but even here there can be difficulties. Take the case of Nigel Evans, who resigned yesterday as Deputy Speaker. He faces a number of charges including rape. It is difficult to see how a person in such a high profile public position could avail himself of anonymity or how it could be enforced. Nevertheless, He should have that right until the case is over. On a slightly different point, should not the defendant have anonymity until a verdict is delivered - whether of conviction or acquital. Lets reduce the degree of secrecy in our judicial system.

  3. There would have to be a get-out if either party was so high-profile that the evidence would either identify them or would limit it to so few people that it would be unfair to the other members of the group. But that is rare.

    I don't see why an acquitted defendant should not remain anonymous for life. That's not secrecy, that's privacy.