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Girls Aloud net obscenity case falls at first hurdle

Prosecution offers no evidence

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A landmark case, which could have led to draconian new restrictions on what UK authors may publish on the internet – and elsewhere – has been dismissed.

Prosecution counsel were due today to open their case against Civil Servant Darryn Walker, aged 35, of South Shields, who was accused of publishing an allegedly obscene story online. Instead, they stood up in Newcastle Crown Court this morning and informed the judge that they would be offering no evidence. A statement may follow.

The story in question was published around two years ago on Alt Sex Stories Text Repository, a US-based archive of erotica which currently hosts around 400,000 stories of every shape, size and interest. Entitled Girls (Scream) Aloud, it focussed on the rape, mutilation and murder of the popular group Girls Aloud for – presumably – purposes of sexual arousal.

The Daily Star reported it to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) on the grounds that it could be criminally obscene, and the IWF referred the case to the police. Walker was arrested and charged. His trial was originally set for March of this year, but was delayed as both he and the prosecuting authorities decided to escalate the stakes by briefing top-notch barristers – Queen’s Counsel – to put their arguments.

The significance of this result cannot be underestimated. In the UK, the last major prosecution of a purely written work was for Inside Linda Lovelace in 1976. Following the failure of the jury to condemn that work as obscene, the Met Police backed off from prosecutions of wholly written material, expressing the belief that when it came to literature, if that work was not obscene, "nothing was".

Clearly, a successful prosecution would have overturned a 30-year presumption against prosecuting authors for purely written material, and potentially opened the floodgates to a spate of prosecutions against online authors.

That genie now appears well and truly back in the bottle – although the fallout from this case is likely to be much wider, and to have a number of quite important consequences for the law and how written material is policed in the UK.

In a statement to The Register this morning, a spokesman for the Met said: "It was felt that the content of the material and the fact that it made reference to a band popular with young people who may search on the internet for information about them made this case worthy of consideration for prosecution and officers worked closely with the CPS throughout every stage of the investigations."

Bootnote

Had the case gone to trial, your correspondent was due to give evidence on precisely the point made by the Met: at the time that the case first broke, one issue that became immediately very clear was just how difficult it was to find the site by chance. "Girls Aloud" by itself returns over two million Google hits – and the term needs refining using a range of very non-innocent words before you stand any chance of finding this story.

In effect, the more famous the target of a story, the more people who may be looking for them - but also, the harder it is to find any given story about them. ®

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