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Girls Aloud obscenity trial delayed

Legal arms race holds things up

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Readers expecting the long-awaited and landmark "Girls Aloud" obscenity trial to start last week in Newcastle will have to wait a little longer.

Last year Darryn Walker, a 35-year-old civil servant from South Shields was charged with publishing obscene material in respect of a story he posted up on the alt sex story repository (NSFW). This included descriptions of the brutal rape and subsequent murder of well-known girl group Girls Aloud.

A member of the public reported his story to the Internet Watch Foundation, who passed the matter on to the police. They, in turn, investigated and decided to recommend a prosecution be brought.

The significance of this case is that although a number of prosecutions are brought each year under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the proportion of prosecutions that focus solely on written material is very small. As far as we are aware, the last time written material featured in court was in respect of Lord Horror, back in 1991: the last and possibly only time a charge of obscenity was upheld against purely written material was in the case of the Little Red Schoolbook in the early 1970s.

If a not guilty verdict is returned, matters will continue much as they are now: there exists a law that may be used against written obscenity, but it is virtually unused and unusable. On the other hand, if a guilty verdict is returned, everything will change: for starters, any would-be porn writer, based in the UK, and writing stories that attract tags such as "rape" or "paedophilia" (or even "necrophilia" or "bestiality") will be looking over their shoulders for some time to come.

UK regulation of the internet could extend much more broadly into the written word - some mainstream authors, particularly those who have made a career out of the violent end of the "crime procedural" novel, might also reconsider some of their more lurid descriptions.

The above is conjecture. However, a spokesman for Mr Walker’s solicitors, Kidd Spoor Taylor, explained to El Reg that at a directions hearing in January, the defendant made it known that given the seriousness of the case he would be represented by Queen’s Counsel – senior lawyers with, usually, at least ten years' experience.

Not wishing to be out-gunned, the Crown Prosecution Service also gave notice of its intention to field a QC. Such is the demand for our learned friends – who often earn in the region of £3,000 per day – the original trial date was put back.

If no other matters intervene, the trial is now set for five days in Newcastle Crown Court, starting on 29 June later this year. ®

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