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Extreme porn law on the ropes

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A stunning reversal for police and prosecution in North Wales may herald the beginning of the end for controversial legislation on possession of extreme porn.

The case, scheduled to be heard yesterday in Mold Crown Court, was the culmination of a year-long nightmare for Andrew Robert Holland, of Coedpoeth, Wrexham, Clwyd as the CPS declined to offer any evidence, and he left court a free man. The saga began last summer when, following a tip-off, police raided Holland's home looking for indecent images of children. They found none, but they did find two clips, one involving a woman purportedly having sex with a tiger, and one which is believed to have depicted sado-masochistic activity between adults.

Despite Holland's protests that he had no interest in the material, and that it had been sent to him unsolicited "as a joke", he was charged with possessing extreme porn. In a first court appearance in January of this year, the "tiger porn" charge was dropped when prosecuting counsel discovered the volume control and at the end of the action heard the tiger turn to camera and say: "That beats doing adverts for a living."

The clip was therefore deemed to be "unrealistic" and out of scope as far as extreme porn legislation was concerned. The court then turned its attention to the allegedly more serious clip involving adult interaction which, it has been suggested, featured some seriously unpleasant application of sharp objects to genitals.

In March, following advice from his legal team, Holland pleaded guilty to possessing one extreme porn clip and was stunned to be told that he might face a prison sentence. Holland then spoke to members of Consenting Adult Action Network and sexual rights organisation Backlash, who put him in touch with their legal adviser, Myles Jackman of Audu and Co in King's Cross, London.

Jackman, a solicitor specialising in extreme pornography offences, advised Holland that contrary to previous advice, there were grounds for pleading not guilty.

On this basis, Holland took the unusual step of applying to the court for permission to "vacate his plea". This is a technical device whereby an individual may go back on a guilty plea at any time before sentencing.

In May, His Honour Judge Rogers, sitting at the Mold Crown Court granted Holland leave to vacate his plea from guilty back to not guilty. Holland was therefore due to stand trial again yesterday. He was expected to call several expert witnesses who would have challenged the characterisation of the clip as "pornographic", arguing instead that the content was intended to be a form of extremely bad taste joke and not sexual in nature.

The CPS, however, declined to offer any evidence, and the matter is at an end.

A spokeswoman for Backlash told The Register: "Had he not contacted Backlash in the first place he would have been sentenced for an offence which he may have been misadvised that he did not have a defence for."

Jackman added in respect of the original Tiger porn case: "It is ridiculous and dangerous that the CPS are trying to criminalise the possession of dirty jokes."

The significance of this case is that it is the first extreme porn case to have been defended. In almost all previous cases, defendants had also been charged with a number of more serious offences, and it is possible that their legal advisers felt that it was not worth defending the lesser charges. There is also some evidence, from our own database of extreme porn cases, that lawyers, unfamiliar with the detail of this new law, are advising defendants to plead guilty inappropriately.

We spoke to Holland after the case yesterday and he declared himself very relieved. Due to the sexual nature of the case, he has been barred from contact with his daughter since the case began and he is now determined to re-establish contact. He told us: "Now I can start to put my life back together."

The CPS has not yet commented on this matter, or on the fact that on each charge, it was not until the day of the court appearance that it decided the evidence to hand was inadequate. ®

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