Exhibit A – the “child pornographer”

This blog seeks to expose some of the myths about our present criminal justice system, myths that have risen to prominence again following publication of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) consultation paper Transforming legal aid. Myths that have been fed to the media, and the public, by the MOJ.

First, I covered the myth of  the “fat cat” lawyer. Then I went onto the myth of the “scumbag criminals” and I promised to tell you about a few of my husband’s clients. Not the proper scumbag criminals that you read about in the press, but the ones whose stories don’t often get told. The ones who are victims of police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) blunders and this finger pointing, blame gaming society that we now live in. These are the people who, under the proposed changes to our criminal justice system, would probably be advised to plead guilty and end up with a criminal record and possibly serving time.

NB this is a true story. Certain details that don’t relate to the factual and legal process have been changed to protect those who were involved.

In the beginning

Exhibit A was a retired man, in his early 70s. Married for over 40 years. Never been in trouble with the police in his life. He’d kept up with technological developments was something of a “silver surfer”. He had a laptop and enjoyed using the internet for pursuing his hobbies and keeping in touch with his family and friends.

One day his laptop wasn’t functioning as it should do. He took it to his local computer repair shop. The geeks there went to work. In the course of their work they found a number of images of naked children. As all law abiding, paedophile paranoid citizens would do, they called the police. Let’s face it, who isn’t paranoid these days, when we read so much about paedophiles on every street corner? The police came and had a look at the images. They took the laptop away and made written descriptions of the content of each of the images.  Exhibit A, a bewildered old man, was arrested and taken away for questioning.

Interviewed & charged

The interview transcript shows that the police kept saying to him “you’ve got child porn on your laptop” and he kept saying “no, I haven’t!”.  “You’ve got pictures of naked children, posing provocatively with each other” “no, I haven’t, I don’t know what you are talking about”.  The written descriptions of the images were passed to the CPS. On the basis of these written descriptions, Exhibit A was charged with possession of level 1 child pornography. Level 1 is the lowest level, it does not involve sexual activity but must involve provocative and sexual poses. Because he had never been in trouble in his life and wasn’t thought to be dangerous he was bailed on condition that he wasn’t alone with any children. He went home.

Exhibit A knew he was innocent. But he also knew that, despite what they say, most people believe people are “guilty until proven innocent”, particularly in this age of paedophile paranoia and hysteria. He didn’t want his friends and neighbours to find out and ostracise him, or worse. Because he couldn’t see his beloved grandchildren alone he made up a lot of cock and bull stories over the next few months, to avoid having to tell people what has going on.

A provocative bucket

One evening, a few months later, I was at home with my husband. He was quietly working at the kitchen table, surrounded by piles of paper. I was pottering. The radio was on in the background. I didn’t know what he was working on, often he doesn’t tell me until or unless it starts kicking off.

Suddenly, he shouted “a bucket! What is “provocative” about a f*&$ing bucket?”. I didn’t know either and asked him to explain. It turned out that he was working on yet another child pornography case, that of Exhibit A. He was reading from the police description of one the pictures, the descriptions that had been passed to the CPS, the descriptions on which the CPS had made the decision to charge. The pictures themselves weren’t in the file. The descriptions were certainly sinister, but the bucket was incongruous. Something wasn’t quite right. My husband said “I need to see these pictures”. He emailed the solicitor and asked him to request access to them. Over the next few weeks the request was repeated. My husband became angrier as time passed.

His day in court

The day of the trial came round. As is customary, my husband linked up with his opposite number, the in house CPS barrister. The prosecutor asked if Exhibit A was going to change his plea to “guilty”. “Not till I’ve seen the pictures!” said my husband.  Eventually the police produced the pictures and the two barristers went off to have a look at them. Until this point the CPS barrister hadn’t seen them either. The two barristers looked at each other. They didn’t need to say a word.

My husband went to find his client. He gave a reasonable, measured, description of the photos, omitting the sinister overtones that the police had given them. The pictures were of young children in a garden on a hot summer’s day, playing with water pistols, hoses, buckets, paddling pools, balls etc. It looked like they are having a whale of a time, running about, splashing, laughing, smiling and shrieking. The children are all naked. He asked Exhibit A if he knew anything about them. “Oh yes” he replied “they are my grandchildren!”. The police written description was so far away from reality that Exhibit A had not been able to recognise his own photos. It transpired that the grandchildren had all come over to visit him and his wife one day. It had turned out very hot and the children had all ended up playing with water outside. As we all know, you can’t predict the British weather so they’d not brought their swimmers. That was why they were naked.

In court the Crown offered no evidence. The case was closed. Exhibit A went home a free man.

Why this story should matter to you

  1. Finger pointing – Exhibit A’s nightmare began because someone pointed the finger. This happens ALL THE TIME these days. We could all fall victim to it. For anything. From child pornography to giving someone a bop on the nose.
  2. Police & CPS inadequacies – these don’t have to be deliberate. We can all be a bit overzealous, or have a bad day, forget to double check something, suffer a lapse in judgement etc. and often it won’t have serious consequences. In Exhibit A’s case these factors combined to mean that all that stood between him and a prison cell was his lawyer.
  3. Cost to the public purse – much has been made of the MOJ plans to save £200million from the legal aid budget, never mind that these calculations are based on out of date figures and fundamentally flawed. How much do you think that Exhibit A’s case cost the taxpayer? Not just in legal aid, but in police time, CPS time, court time. Multiply that by the number of spurious and nonsensical prosecutions that happen every year.
  4. Other costs – what about the costs that can’t be measured? The costs to Exhibit A’s emotional and physical health. The costs to his family relationships.
  5. What if this happened to you? Or to your grandson, son, brother, father, uncle, grandfather? Would you want them to be able to choose the lawyer who is going to give the best quality service and act in his best interests? Or, as per the MOJ plans, be allocated the services of a lawyer who just happened to be the cheapest?

Help save our justice system

As things stand the proposed changes to the criminal justice system are going to be brought in under secondary legislation, without any debate. The minister responsible has refused to meet with Michael Turner QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association to discuss the proposals. The media appear to be keeping the story very quiet, or conflating it with other MOJ proposals.

The Save UK Justice e-petition needs 100 000 people to sign it in order for there to be a debate in parliament. If you have not already signed the petition please do so, and ask your friends and family to do the same.

Our next scumbag criminal will be Exhibit B – the “murderer”


  1. Kate Sutton · · Reply

    Big brother is not only watching you , he’s also scarily stupid!

    1. Exactly! That is why we need good lawyers. Thanks Kate.

  2. Chris · · Reply

    It appears to be common practice amongst some police forces to use the copine scale when categorising images rather than the SAP scale. The cynical amongst us would say that this is because it makes it easier to classify an image as level 1 using the copine scale than the SAP scale because there it doesn’t need to contain erotic posing – just a naked child is sufficient regardless of the context. To make matters worse, there are far too many solicitors on both sides who blindly accept the police categorisation without conducting their own assessment.

    1. Thanks for your comments Chris. It is so important that different perspectives are taken into account when looking at issues like this.

  3. This is so scarily true.

  4. I believe the police officer who wrote the initial report, should be made to pay compensation, to the elderly gentleman, I would suggest half his police pension for life, and then issue a public apolagey.

    1. Thanks for your comment Anthony. The penalties you suggest would certainly help focus the minds of investigating officers!

  5. Stuart Smith · · Reply

    Not only on the subject of child sex, but on firearms, the stupidity of the British Police, supported by retarded politicians who are uneducated about firearms, make life hell for the lawful pleasure shooter.
    They jump to conclusions most always wrong, and they are always right, do not apologise at all, lay bill to you for thousands of £s. Time for a change on all fronts.

    1. Thanks for your comment Stuart. I imagine there are lots of people who would take issue with your use of the word “retarded”, but that in itself does not invalidate the points you make. Please keep spreading the word about the petition.

      1. Who cares that they used the word “retarded”?! That’s exactly what those morons are, and political correctness shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid characterizing them as such!

  6. Bang on the money… Well done

  7. This is such a good example of why people need lawyers who are on the ball.

    1. Thanks for your comment Bill. Keep telling your non-legal chums.

  8. It seems to be the case that this government, with all its powers, have no regard for the fundamental human rights in which the law imposes on us all. It may be a little bit far fetched, but perhaps if one of those millionaire career politicians actually realised the issues what real people go through. Great example of why we need good lawyers who think before acting; why we need passion driven law students coming into the law profession who are aware of what this ConDem government are doing to the legal sector in this country; and further why we need to respect the barristers who work tirelessly for their clients day in day out. This story just goes to show that none of us know what is around the corner.

    1. Thanks for your comment Ben. Best of luck with your studies. My husband suggests you consider practising in areas other than crime!

  9. Mark Smith · · Reply

    Brilliant piece that I was alerted to via @brianmoore666 I have a picture of my daughter & cousin such as this case of exhibit A – very scary this can happen, Daughter at University doing Marketing and her cousin doing LAW at Oxford! I’m signing, well done to you.

    1. Thanks for your comment Mark. My husband has some career advice for the cousin – avoid practising in crime!

  10. Tom (iow) · · Reply

    So have the police officers in this case faced any charges for the false evidence they gave? I expect I already know the answer though. I really wish I could trust the police, but if I ever did have children it seems my honest duty would be to teach them that asking for help from the police would be a mixed, and risky, prospect.

    1. Yes, as you suspected you do already know the answer to your question Tom 😦 Thanks for your comments.

      1. Do you all not have the right in the UK to take legal action against the police & other authorities for lying about the content of the images and seeking to falsely prosecute and otherwise officially-victimize this poor silver surfer?! Where’s the accountability?! Why do people tolerate this insanity???

  11. […] May: EXHIBIT A – THE “CHILD PORNOGRAPHER” (A barrister’s […]

  12. John Smith · · Reply

    This is not a very well-argued piece, I am afraid.

    You do offer some explanation right at the beginning as to why legal aid in these cases is good. Because these people may end up pleading guilty without it. This needs to be much clearer throughout. Your first 4 bullet points in your conclusion are irrelevant at best.

    Particularly the third point. Of course spurious prosecutions like this cost a lot. Where does legal aid fit into this picture? The rather lazy implication throughout is that if legal aid is cut, spurious prosecutions will increase. That is nonsense.

    I basically agree that legal aid is important because otherwise innocent people may end up going to jail. But to conflate it with the problems of policing and prosecutions is misguided.

    1. Thanks for your comments John. It is not my intention to argue, simply to tell the story so that the public can relate to it. Legal aid, policing and prosecutions are all parts of the same justice system; they are all related.

  13. “What if this happened to you? Or to your grandson, son, brother…”. This strikes a chord for me, as police did try to fit up my brother in this way (he was able to definitively prove his innocence before formal charges were brought, but it was still scary).

  14. Bluecat · · Reply

    I can’t believe it possible that a prosecution over images could go to trial with neither the CPS nor the defence lawyers having actually seen those images, and the guy who took them not being able to recognise what images they were talking about! Astonishing. Lucky the over-zealous police who wrote up the description did not delete the word “bucket” and that it flagged up a suspicion in your husband’s mind.
    This is a great blog and your tales from the sharp end are beautifully written and very clear. I’ve only just cottoned on to what is happening to the legal system in this country thanks to a small piece in Private Eye – absolutely terrifying! I’ve signed and shared the petition and will continue to tell people about this as there seems to have been very little stated in the media.
    Good luck!

  15. […] Being a member of the Politics Society with a strong interest in the Law, I do wonder what the government is doing as it cuts Legal Aid. For anyone who would like a brilliant example as to how changes to Legal Aid could really mess things up – the final inspiration for my post, read here. (Others along the same lines can be found (D) here, (B) here and (A) here) […]

    1. Thanks for the heads up Nick. It does sound like my story doesn’t it. Still, all in a good cause. And as one of the other commentators said, this happens a lot more than people realise. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a different case entirely!

  16. Reblogged this on jedjones1 and commented:
    Given that the one person who matters most in all this is the child in the picture, shouldn’t her wishes be taken into account when she speaks out?

    What if she doesn’t want her material censored or the viewers prosecuted?

    Click to access PressKit_PASSION_DESPAIR.pdf



  17. Given the axiom that child images are criminalised to protect the child in the picture (besides “looking at pictures a monster makes”), and “the child must always be believed”, you would think the voices of these former models and their parents would be heard and taken into account. Instead, they’re suppressed.

    In her blog, Shekinah Pierson (former Sandi Model from Webe Web) insists no one should go to jail or be criminalised for looking at her pictures. Her father, Jeff Pierson, is serving 5 years in jail against her will for photographing her.

    The video is part of her campaign for his release and to clear his name.



    Click to access PressKit_PASSION_DESPAIR.pdf


    1. Thanks for sharing these Jed. I know a lot of parents wrestle with these issues nowadays. I read about one who thought to strategically place some bubbles on their child, so that there was no nudity in a bath time fun photo. We are where we are.

      1. Does this mean that my dear old elderly mum, who’s so terrified of “authority” and subservient to it that she would’ve waterboarded her own children if directed to by an agent of the State rather than stand-up for and protect us and risk being accused of non-compliance, would be charged with creating and possessing child pornography for having taken a couple of pictures of my younger sibling and I when we were 7 and 3 years old, respectively, sitting in the tub taking a bath together (when we were suffering from chickenpox)?

  18. […] I tried to add this comment to this blog entry, but the site repeatedly failed to respond (post awaiting moderation, this blogger has banned you, down for maintenance, or whatever): https://abarristerswife.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/exhibit-a-the-child-pornographer […]

    1. Jed, sorry you have had trouble adding your comment. Other commentators have complained about site being unresponsive. I only “censor” very abusive posts and those from journalists or people just wanting to make contact rather than commenting.

  19. In the last few days, this blog entry has become 100 times more relevant and the reputation of British justice 100 times more vulnerable.

    My article:


    “How can it possibly be in the public interest to prosecute people for viewing these images, even if they’re value-judged as ‘indecent’ and technically illegal?”

  20. Thank god I’m able to fix my own computers. I don’t want paranoid people rummaging through my files thank you very much.

    Still I agree with your point the system is flawed and we shouldn’t be removing safety mechanism we should be adding more. Poor guy was a curious lawyer away from doing time.

    1. Thanks for your comment Fuxy. I wouldn’t want anyone rummaging through my files either. Not that I have any naked children photos to worry about!

    1. Thanks for your comment Charlie. I’m comforted to know that it is not just us Brits who are paedophile paranoid…sort of!

  21. In the US, the police usually show more (not always) common sense here because of the threat of action under federal Section 1983 (summary: deprivation of rights under color of law). Many an ambulance chaser would LOVE to have a decently-staffed PD pull a stunt like this because the old man here would be able to do figure eights in the department’s parking lot in a new Ferrari by the time they were taken to the cleaners.

    1. Thanks for your comment Mike T. Do any UK lawyers know what, if any, is the UK equivalent to this federal law? My husband is still on his way back from court so I can’t ask him!

  22. Whilst I agree in general with the content of your blog and disagree with most of the transformation of justice proposals, i do agree with the introduction of price competitive tendering as a way of reducing the costs of the legal aid bill. What are your thoughts on this aspect of it?

    1. Thanks for your comment Will. My thoughts on PCT? Here are a few:

      1. If the MOJ had a good track record in competitive tendering I think there would be a lot less uproar about it. I’m sure you’ve read what the NAO said about the court interpreting contract fiasco? If not, see, for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/sep/12/nao-criticises-court-translating-contract This is still having a knock on effect for lawyers today. Some having to resort to Google translate and Babelfish to communicate with their clients.

      2. Another aspect is that the “market fundamentals” proposed fees, short timetable for implementation, fragmented market etc. mean that it might not be such an attractive investment as it looks. There won’t be much profit. The Law Society commissioned Deloitte to do some work on it. I’ve not read the whole report myself but Legal Futures states that it questions the viability of “using alternative business structures (ABSs) as a means to offer criminal legal services under the government’s price competitive tendering (PCT) scheme”. You can check out the article here http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/deloitte-warns-government-abss-solution-criminal-legal-aid-reform

      3. I know that some lawyers have said that another, straight cut in fees would be preferable to PCT. The MOJ could get the same savings with less upheaval and still allow defence lawyers to remain independent and maintain client choice. The lawyers could try to fund the cuts with “efficiency savings”. Those that haven’t already cut everything to the bone might be able to, at least!

      4. I think that there are unexplored opportunities for savings across the whole system. Having studied systems theory I can’t see the logic in only cutting one aspect when everything is dependent on / related to each other to function (or disfunction) properly. I’m planning to cover my cost saving ideas in a future post.

      I’d be interested in your thoughts on mine.

  23. Why were the shop employees looking at Exhibit A’s photographs ?

    This is the equivalent of the carpenter looking through your photo albums while mending your shelves.

    In cases like this, one should seek “wrongful arrest and illegal detention”. Once we embarked on that route, It stopped us hunt saboteurs being randomly arrensted in the 1990s.

    1. I'm-encrypting-my-entire-hard-drive! · · Reply

      That IS a really good question! WTF, right? Wtf is some nebby, wannabe-hero pseudo-vigilante computer repair person doing snooping through a client’s private files?! Seriously WTF?!?!? Gah! I’m sorry but I am not that old and yet I already feel like “the world is going to hell” and an epidemic of mass-retardation is sweeping through Western society (especially UK and USA).

  24. engineer · · Reply

    Let me relate in a more proper fashion what happened here:

    Some criminal scumbags, seeing an opportunity to victimize someone without personal risk, hauled a 70 year old grandfather up on charges. They supported those charges with fraudulent descriptions of alleged crimes. They wasted a great deal of time and money, and they knew that the odds were that he’d be forced to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit.

    They attempted to destroy a man’s life, for the mere profit of boosting their stats.

    They had the means: Submitting falsehoods to the prosecutors. They had the motive: Career advancement. They had the opportunity: An “tip” from some guys who were probably incentivized under the table to report any prosecutable info they found.

    So long as these criminal scumbags can get away with attempting crimes like this– without repercussions and without risk of going to jail– they will continue to abuse and victimize innocent people.

    The problem here isn’t incompetence (let them prove it was incompetence and not fraud in court!) It was that the system gives violent thugs wearing badges and opportunity to abuse and prey on the innocent without repercussions.

    The “justice” system is itself organized crime.

    The fact that it sometimes prosecutes real criminals is immaterial to this fact.

    When a person with a badge kidnaps someone and puts them thru a torturous and abusive experience, it is NO DIFFERENT than when a person without a badge does the same thing. IT doesn’t matter if they call the kidnapping an “arrest” and it doesn’t matter if the torture is mental rather than physical. It is still a crime.

    And the problem is that the “justice” system incentivizes these crimes rather than prosecuting them.

    Further, government agents are both in a position of power with the opportunity to profit from exploiting people by violating their rights– and if they get caught whose going to “try” them? A government system… which, at least in the USA, seems to never find its own guilty.

    This is why government cannot enforce the law– it will never enforce it on itself, and it will use the law to commit crimes against people.

  25. Dave A · · Reply

    There’s something troubling me here. Everyone was relying on the descriptions, and it was only the bucket that flagged something. Given that, one can imagine pretty much what the descriptions were, and it’s clear they must have been deliberately designed to mislead. You could argue that descriptions concentrate on what is material to the charge, and leave out everything else, but clearly the context here was crucial. I can’t think of many better examples of perverting the course of justice. The policeman who did this is surely guilty of perverting the course of justice.

  26. Over here in the States we had a similar occurrence happen to us. Not quite as bad as this gentleman’s though.

    My wife went to a restaurant with our oldest (5 yr old) and baby. While she was getting ready to leave our oldest wanted to hold the baby, so she let her (our oldest is very responsible and stable). A lady at the restaurant didn’t like the way our child was holding the baby so she told my wife that she was a CPS required reporter. So, my wife took the baby and thought that was the end of it.

    Then the lady followed her out to the car while on the phone with the cops. So, they ended up waiting 1/2 hour for a police woman to get there. The police woman said she wasn’t going to report it to CPS since the baby was fine.

    Christmas eve and who shows up at our door? CPS. I tell her that she can’t come in without a warrant. At which point she threatens to have armed men (or, in her words – the police) come and force their way in regardless and possibly kidnap our children (or, in her words – take away our children). She then asked to talk to my wife. I told my wife what happened. At which point we got scared and didn’t stand up for ourselves – who would when your children are being threatened?

    This is a very scary thing. My wife still gets nervous when she goes out in public with the children. And I do when anybody comes to our house when I’m not expecting anyone.

    This came on the heals of an acquaintance of our who had all 8 of her children kidnapped from her. CPS won’t tell them why their children were taken, no one is being charged, and she had to split up with her husband in order to “comply” with CPS – I put it in quotes because they weren’t told to do that, it was just implied. They have signed their rights away because they were told they would get their children back sooner that way. She now has the youngest ones back (4) and is still waiting to get custody of the others. No, I don’t trust the government.

  27. Mississauga Dad · · Reply

    The other frightening thing (or perhaps more frightening) is that this type of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ attitude is far more frequently applied to men than women. Whether it be child pornography (as in this case), child abuse, child murder, spousal abuse, spousal murder, rape, or any of a myriad of other heinous crimes a male suspect is always assumed guilty, especially in the court of public opinion, and must prove himself innocent whereas a women suspect is always immediately given the benefit of the doubt and it is immediately assumed that even if she did carry out the act in question it was because she was abused, or had some mental health syndrome or other. In fact in the case of many, many men the attitude of the justice system and the court of public opinion is ‘guilty even if proven innocent’. This ongoing travesty of justice has led to hundreds of innocent men who are driven to suicide because of the continuing harassment, abuse, and total ruination of their careers and personal life they suffer even after having been proven totally innocent of any wrong doing.

  28. @engineer The concerns you express are absolutely legitimate and the public debate on this is long overdue, but it’s still worth having one and campaigning to reform the system because we’re not quite living in a police state yet!

    Don’t victims of wrongful arrest have a civil remedy, at least in theory? There is always the police complaints commission which is supposed to be more independent than it used to be. Not all police are obsessed with government targets; many hate them. Don’t people join the police because they want to catch real villains rather than waste their time on cases like this?

    Operation Ore, nonetheless, is the scenario that you have described multiplied thousands of times over. IMHO conspiracy theory needs to be supplemented by ‘hysteria theory’ to explain this phenomenon fully. A police officer might sincerely believe he is pursuing a ‘dangerous pervert’ and helping to protect children, if he buys into the IWF/CEOP/media narrative of ‘child sexual abuse images’ and addictive slippery slopes corrupting people who look at pictures and turning them into evil monsters.

    The hysteria and populist pressure inhibits civil society from responding to the dangerous abuses of power in a civilised manner. Legal processes and principles are compromised on all fronts without challenge, even from Liberty, which makes people who find themselves in Exhibit A’s position especially vulnerable. Ore is the new Hillsborough but few people dare to question it, or Yewtree, for fear of being branded a ‘paedophile apologist’. Look what happened to Barbara Hewson. Classic McCarthyism.

    Thought crimes are not entirely new – obscenity laws have been in place since the Victorian era – but the Thought Police have never been so numerous and unrestrained. There have never been remotely as many convictions and cautions for ‘passive crimes’ (looking at pictures per se, as distinct from contact offences with children). People who are convicted, cautioned, and even falsely accused have never been outed and branded for life as monsters so publicly and virally since the Jews in Nazi Germany.

    An independent regulatory body that ‘watches the watchers’ needs to be created. So does one that monitors the extent to which the hysteria is flooding the media, affecting attitudes, pressuring people, distorting research, suppressing the truth, and poisoning the criminal justice system. Otherwise, this is the kind of ‘justice’ we will get:


  29. Another question worth asking. Why were the people even snooping on his computer to begin with. I wouldn’t do business with them again – just because you give them your computer to help fix doesn’t mean they have license to look at all your files. Another reason to encrypt all your data I suppose.

  30. […] This next piece is a little different from my usual reading but its an interesting piece none the less. It’s from a blog call A barrister’s wife – a behind closed doors view of the justice system. I was amazed at the story so thought I’d share it: Exhibit A – the “child pornographer”. […]

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