Not the sharpest tool in the Tory box
Even the strongest supporters of jury trials accept that sometimes juries get it wrong. Or, rather, the prosecution and defence cases and/or the conduct of the trial were so poor that the jury could not help but come to the wrong (guilty) verdict. So there is nothing wrong – if you believe that a miscarriage of justice has occurred – to campaign for its overturning. If people, including MPs, had not done this – many infamous miscarriages of justice (from Stefan Kiszko, to the Birmingham 6 to, most recently, hundreds of sub-postmasters) would have remained unchallenged. Nor is there anything dishonourable in standing by a friend. Unwise and insensitive maybe. But not necessarily dishonourable.
Still, there are ways of doing so that don’t make you look like, at best, a complete numpty and, at worst, as someone condoning appalling crimes. Crispin Blunt – in his two statements issued in response to the conviction of Imran Khan MP (his “friend“) for the sexual assault of a child (a 15 year old boy) – seems to have decided that Prince Andrew’s approach to such matters should be his model.
Let’s take his first statement. Forget for the moment the intemperate/passionate (delete to taste) tone and the somewhat pompous reminder of his former (completely unmemorable) role as Justice Minister and look at its content. His first mistake is to admit that he only attended part of the trial. It turns out that he was not present when the prosecution presented its case and when the victim gave his evidence. His second is to announce that he was ready to give evidence about “the truly extraordinary sequence of events” leading to his friend’s trial (presumably resulting in the “international scandal” with “dreadful wider implications” for “millions … around the world“. (This last gives it a certain Austin Powers flavouring. But it does nothing for its credibility.)
What it does do is beg a few questions. The most important one is this: If he had relevant evidence, why did the defence not call him? Was it perhaps that he had no such evidence? Or that it was irrelevant? Or that, for other reasons, he might not have been the best of witnesses? And, if so, what might those reasons have been?
His third mistake is the reference to “lazy tropes” about LGBT men. If by this he means “similar fact evidence” presented by the prosecution, he should know (what with being an ex-Justice Minister) that such evidence is not allowed to be presented to a jury without the judge ruling this, after legal argument by both prosecution and defence. If the judge got it wrong, this will be dealt with on appeal. But if he hasn’t, this seems like an attempt to suggest that Khan has only been prosecuted for being gay (with the “Muslim” card being thrown in for good measure) Really?
Then he decided to get his shovel out and really get digging by saying that Khan “should not have been charged, let alone convicted, 14 years after an event that was minor on any scale“. Oh dear. Did he just admit that the event happened?
Understandably, fury has focused on his dismissal of the offence. Sexual abuse of a child is not a minor offence. What makes his comment even worse is that this was sexual abuse of a boy. In the concern about sexual violence perpetrated on women and girls, sexual abuse of boys risks being forgotten and not taken as seriously as it should be. It is hard for victims to speak up and they often feel shame precisely because it is not given the publicity and concern it should receive. And this MP has just reinforced all this with his revoltingly casual and cruel dismissal of a serious crime and his total indifference to the victim.
Imran Khan has been expelled from the party. Will Crispin Blunt follow? We may soon face the prospect of 2 by-elections, with the possibility of the first being in a safe Tory seat.
Meanwhile, we can marvel at the spectacle of the apparent survival (so far) of a PM wounded but not (yet) fatally so by Partygate while 2 of his MPs manage to set fire to their own careers through their own dreadful misjudgments.