Perverting the Course of Justice

When I was a very young lawyer I as part of my duties I attended and observed a trial of policemen who were charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice. One of the policemen was Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher. I attended the trial almost every day, and for the days when I did not attend, I read transcripts of the day’s proceedings and analysed them. D/S Pilcher was, at the time that the charge against him was concerned, running the Drugs Squad at Scotland Yard and was in the habit of arresting famous rock musicians, some of whom alleged that he planted evidence against them.

D/S Pilcher’s trial was not concerned with a famous rock musician (except very peripherally in the work I did) but it was alleged against him that he had planted evidence. He was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to four year’s imprisonment. His superior, whose name escapes me now, was found not guilty by the jury, a finding which the trial judge at the time described as merciful.

Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice is a serious offence. It carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. It is part of a group of conspiracy offences, and more properly I suppose, should be regarded as conspiring to attempt to pervert the course of justice because you cannot pervert the course of justice if the course of justice has ultimately run true and un-perverted although you may conspire to attempt so to do. If you have actually managed to pervert the course of justice, as did Geoffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitkin, you are usually charged with perverting the course of justive and perjury, which is usually the way in which justice is perverted.

It has just been announce that a number of people associated with the press and with News International, including the former News of the World Editor Rebekah Brooks, her husband, Charles, her personal assistant and her chauffeur, have been charged with actually perverting the course of justice. The police have gathered evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service have analysed it and the Director of Public Prosecutions have overseen the decision making, which has resulted in charges being made.

A number of famous people have been found guilty of perverting the course of justice. Of course, it is terribly important to bear in mind that these people are presumed innocent, and are entitled to that presumption being made, until the time a jury convicts them, should that happen. I have no doubt that unlike many accused of serious crime, these defendants will assemble a fine and expensive legal team to advise them and to defend them.

The charges arise out of allegations that telephones were hacked by certain people at the News of the World. Phone hacking is a crime. When enquiries were made by police into allegations of phone hacking the prosecution will doubtless allege that there was a cover up, in popular parlance, or in legal language a conspiracy to pervert (or attempt to pervert) the course of justice.

Like D/S Pilcher of the Drugs Squad, these defendants will have, through their work at News International, upset many celebrities and made enemies of many famous people while making friends of their enemies and enemies of their friends. That is the nature of journalism: they are used and often abused but do a fair amount of using and abusing themselves. When the wealthy fight the wealthy the rest of us pull up our chairs and watch with bated breath. If England allowed the trial to be televised, which it does not, there would be millions watching it.

I must not comment about the matter beyond what I have done. It is fundamentally imperative that these defendants get a fair trial, because without a fair trial our justice system is worthless and that would in itself pervert the course of justice. The fact that ‘tis sport to see the engineer hoist with his own petard should not enter into our thinking at all, for justice is more serious and important than the self-indulgence of sport.

 

9 Responses

  1. Hi Robert,
    Pilcher’s superior was Victor Kelaher

  2. Yes and Kelaher was found not guilty, a verdict that the judge described as “merciful” if my memory serves me well

  3. They let Kelaher off the hook because of a ‘nervous condition’. If you are interested, I can send you a newspaper clipping. A real blast from the past.
    Paul.spendel@tip.nl

  4. It must to be hard to exactly why the jury found Kelaher not guilty.

    • He pretended he suffered from a nervous breakdown, although he was caught redhanded. His colleagues Pilcher, Lilley and Prichard were sentenced, whereas Acworth and McGibbon were acquitted too.

  5. Hi Robert,
    Two months ago I published a book in the UK, co-written with Terry Rawlings, called ‘Brian Jones. The final truth’. We got to the bodem of the cover up regarding his death in 1969. If you are interested in Scotland Yard and The Rolling Stones it’s an interesting read and somehow related to the subject above.

  6. Interesting. I used the character of Pilcher in my (fictional) book A Song From Dead Lips in which it’s hinted that he planted drugs during the Lennon/Ono bust – which it’s pretty likely he really did. I’m now on the third in the series and considering including again him in that – but doing things that were also fictional. He’s dead now, but I’m guessing I would be on dodgy legal grounds if I suggest he took part in illegal activities for which there is no evidence at all?

    • You can defame the dead without fear of consequences. It might be unjust, but the right to sue in defamation terminates with life in English law, although if you publish your book in France the consequences might not be the same.

    • Interesting. Thanks. I’m left to tussle with whether I think it’s fair to do this when he almost certainly has living relatives.

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