Not Saussure

October 19, 2006

Violent Internet Porn IV: Murder conviction quashed

Filed under: civil liberties, Law, UK — notsaussure @ 6:04 pm

The BBC reports that

A man has had his conviction for the murder of a teacher formally quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Graham Coutts, 36, from Hove, East Sussex, was jailed for life in 2004 for murdering 31-year-old Jane Longhurst, who was from Brighton.

Earlier this year five Law Lords sent the case back to the court, saying the murder conviction was unsafe and inviting it to be quashed.

A re-trial will take place at the Old Bailey on a date to be fixed.

It was this case, it will be remembered, that caused Ms Longhurst’s mother to launch a successful campaign for a ban on violent internet porn, a proposal with which I and many others took issue for various reasons.

I’ve had a look at the House of Lords’ judgment and I have to say I hadn’t fully realised the circumstances of the case.   Essentially, Mr Coutts and Ms Longhurst were in a consensual sexual relationship;

    6.  The appellant [Mr Coutts] said that he had been fascinated by women’s necks for about 20 years, but that he had no interest in violence and his fetish did not extend to strangulation. He testified that on 14 March 2003 he and the deceased had had consensual asphyxial sex and her death had been a tragic accident. He had put his hand around her neck, and she had squeezed his hand to tighten his grip. He had then, with her consent, tied a pair of tights round her neck and tied a knot in them. At some point he had closed his eyes and released the tights. He did not know how the deceased had died.

    7.  The prosecution led evidence to show that before and after 14 March 2003 the appellant had visited a number of pornographic websites, showing violence towards women. Reliance was also placed on certain websites and on repeated visits by the appellant to the storage facility where the body of the deceased had been stored to suggest that he had necrophiliac propensities.

The jury were offered a choice between guilty and not guilty of murder; the option of manslaughter by reason of Mr Coutts’ gross negligence was not put to them, though the judge had asked counsel for both sides if they wanted him to.   They’d both declined, and the question for the Lords was whether he should have put this alternative verdict to the jury anyway.  

The Lords thought he should have, and that’s what the retrial is about.

In the judgment, Lord Hutton says

if one of the appellant’s sexual partners in the years between 1989 and 1997 had died as a result of his putting tights round her neck and pulling them tight and there had been no additional evidence, as there was at his trial, of his visits to pornographic websites showing extreme violence towards women under headings such as "asphyxiation and strangulation" and his visits to the place where he had stored the body of the deceased, which suggested that he had necrophiliac propensities, I consider it to be clear that if he had been charged with murder the defence could have advanced a case of some force that he had not intended to kill or cause grievous bodily harm and was, at most, guilty of manslaughter.

It is clear that there was evidence at the trial which enabled the Crown to advance a strong case that the appellant deliberately and intentionally killed Jane Longhurst to satisfy his fantasies of sexual violence. But I also consider that there were parts of the evidence to which I have referred above which raised the reasonable possibility that he lacked the necessary intent either to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm and that he was guilty of manslaughter.

That is, there’s certainly a case to be made that Ms Longhurst’s death was the result of horrible accident as a result of a consensual, though very dangerous and almost certainly illegal (because of the risks involved) sexual act.   His porn viewing habits had, it seems, nothing necessarily to do with the poor woman’s death; if you’re interested in a particular sexual practice, then that’s a sort of porn you’re likely to want to to look at.

One can quite see why Ms Longhurst’s grieving mother doesn’t want to accept the possibility that her daughter died because of an accident resulting from a consensual act, and would rather it was murder done by ‘a porn-obsessed killer’.   But it seems perfectly likely that Mr Coutts’ (and also Ms Longhursts?  I don’t know) taste in porn may not have had anything to do with it.


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