As Robert Duvall didn’t quite say, I love the smell of an acquittal in the morning. Nothing else in the world smells like that. Granted, I’ve only enjoyed the olfactory pleasure vicariously, but as a barrister there are few feelings as gratifying as taking the fight to the state on behalf of a client and walking out of court with the prosecution’s nads dangling from your triumphantly raised fist.
While his acquittal came late on a Monday afternoon, there’s no doubt that DJ Neil “Dr” Fox knows what I mean. I say there’s no doubt because he has told us as much. In the vogue du jour, no sooner was the case concluded and the not guilty verdicts entered than Fantastic Dr Fox was perching on the court steps and addressing the awaiting press pack.
The usual sentiments were all there. Pleased and relieved. Thank you to my legal team. Friends and family who stood by me. Yada yada yada. And then he went one further. And said this:
“I strenuously denied all the allegations. I have been vindicated”. He followed this up with what might be interpreted as a gossamer-veiled threat: “A lot has been said and written about me that needs to be addressed and rectified.”
You’ll have heard all this before; we’ve seen it repeatedly over the past few years where celebs of yore have been acquitted of serious sexual allegations. The trajectory is the same – the CPS is roundly booed for its Salem/McCarthyite proclivities by the acquitted sleb, Paul Gambaccini is wheeled out on the radio to deplore the gullibility of the prosecution agencies and, finally, social media gets involved to hail the acquittal as calcified proof that the complainants were malicious, lying, celeb-baiting, compo-hunting fantasists of the very worst kind.
Well let’s pause there.
Because what is unusual in this case is that, due to Mr Fox having elected to be tried in the magistrates’ court, rather than the Crown Court by a jury, we have a full written judgment in which the bench, chaired by the Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle, explain in detail their findings.
And if I were Dr Fox’s media advisor, I’d suggest he perhaps temper his public declaration of vindication before he ends up looking about as clever as when he was persuaded to draw a genetic equivalence between paedophiles and shellfish.
Because while there is reason to question the vim and vigour with which the police and CPS pursue certain types of allegations – the manner in which the Exaro saga has unfolded is a particularly unedifying case in point – as far as Dr Fox is concerned, it is plain that the allegations against him were anything other than malicious. Far from it – the court took the time to emphasise, repeatedly, their belief in the accounts of the complainants, and concluded that, in respect of a number of the charges, they were sure that Neil Fox had acted in the way alleged. The acquittals arose largely because, given the passage of time, the court could not be sure of the precise context of the acts, and therefore whether they amounted to “indecent” or “sexual” within the meaning of the relevant legislation.
I shan’t rehearse the judgment in full. But I would urge that you read it. The reasoning is in places somewhat tortuous, but this is not a case where, on any of the charges, the complainant was disbelieved. The converse in in fact was true – on most charges the court rejected Neil Fox’s evidence that the incidents never happened, on one of the charges stating that they were “sure that Mr Fox has lied to us”.
“We heard evidence about 10 allegations from six women. We believed each of the complainants. The question we must ask is whether we are sure of the facts alleged, sure of the context in which they occurred, and sure that they amount to criminal offences.
In the case of the most recent allegation, we are sure it happened but are not sure that it amounts to the criminal offence of sexual touching. In the other cases, we either cannot be sure the incident occurred as described, or we cannot be sure that in the context it was a criminal offence, namely indecent assault, or in one case sexual touching.
This is not to go back on our original assessment that we believed the witnesses and accept that they had attended to tell us the truth as they remember it. Nor should this verdict be taken as a criticism of the decision to bring this prosecution. It was a strong case and one that needed to be brought to the court for determination.”
In short, the court was sure “that his behaviour on some occasions crossed the line of acceptable behaviour”. On charge 3, the court was sure that he had grabbed the complainant’s breasts, causing pain and distress, albeit the motivation may have been “a joke in poor taste” or “bullying” rather than sexual. On charge 5, he simulated sex with a female co-worker, causing her to feel distressed, belittled and humiliated. Ditto charge 7. On charge 8 he kissed the complainant against her will. It was just that, for the reasons set out at length, the court was not sure that these acts in context were sufficient to found convictions for indecent or sexual assaults.
So remember this when Foxy declares: “I have been vindicated”, because it’s a peculiar kind of vindication. A sort of, “The court was sure that the allegation that I denied on oath was true. BUT it couldn’t be sure that my grabbing the boob of that lady was “indecent” within the meaning of s.14(1) and Schedule 2 of the Sexual Offence Act 1956. So there, suckers. Pure, sweet vindication.”
I don’t seek to rain on Dr Fox’s chips. He has been acquitted of sexual offences, and no doubt that, to him, is the top and bottom line. But we have here, unlike in inscrutable jury trials, the benefit of a nuanced judgment setting out the findings of fact. And if the Doctor is to embark upon a series of media interviews in which these acquittals are used as sticks to beat the CPS or to suggest that the complainants were liars, I shall be here, quietly beating my drum to remind whoever will listen that, while Mr Fox is not guilty, a criminal court found beyond reasonable doubt that he had touched a series of women, without their consent, in a way that caused them some considerable distress. And that, most importantly, this was a case that, as the court itself held, it was entirely proper to bring.