A man who allegedly wrote an internet story imagining the kidnap and murder of pop group Girls Aloud is being prosecuted under obscenity laws.
The prosecution of Darryn Walker is regarded as a historic test case which could affect censorship of the internet.
Walker allegedly described the kidnap, mutilation, rape and murder of the girl band in a 12-page story posted on a fantasy website (or maybe on Usenet newsgroups). The story was headlined Girls (Scream) Aloud.
Experts are claiming the action is one of the most significant obscenity cases since the trial over the novel Lady Chatterley's Lover .
It is expected to be the first test of the law since pornography became easily available online and is one of the first involving the written word in recent years.
Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications Unit brought the case after discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service. It had been made aware of the story by The Internet Watch Foundation, which monitors illegal online content, which itself had been
alerted last year.
The website where the blog was published is hosted abroad. But prosecution has been able to go ahead because the alleged author was identified as a UK citizen living in Britain.
The legal world is buzzing at the announcement last week of the prosecution of 35-year-old civil servant Darryn Walker for the online publication of material that Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) believe to be obscene.
This is the first such prosecution for written material in nearly two decades – and a guilty verdict could have a serious and significant impact on the future regulation of the internet in the UK.
The case originated in summer 2007, when Mr Walker allegedly posted a work of fantasy – titled Girls (Scream) Aloud - about pop group Girls Aloud.
The story describes in detail the kidnap, rape, mutilation and murder of band members Cheryl Cole, Nadine Coyle, Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh, and ends with the sale of various body parts on eBay.
The piece was brought to the attention of the Internet Watch Foundation, whose remit includes the monitoring of internet material deemed to be criminally obscene: they in turn handed details over to the Police.
The Met's Obscene Publications Unit are currently handling the case, which is due to come before Newcastle Crown Court on 22 October. At that point, Mr Walker will have the opportunity to enter a plea and, if he opts for “not guilty” the court
will set a date for a full trial.
The IWF said that it had passed details to police after being told of the site. Though it was not hosted in the UK, said a spokeswoman, the site did have UK links on it so a report was passed to police. [The author left a .co.uk email address for
A former civil servant who wrote an internet article imagining the kidnap and murder of the pop group Girls Aloud has been cleared of obscenity.
Darryn Walker was charged under the Obscene Publications Act after the blog appeared on a fantasy writing site.
He appeared at Newcastle Crown Court, but was cleared on Monday. His defence argued that the article was not accessible, and could only be found by those looking for specific material.
Walker's 12-page blog - Girls (Scream) Aloud - was brought to the attention of police by the Internet Watch Foundation.
David Perry QC, prosecuting, said: A crucial aspect of the reasoning that led to the instigation of these proceedings was that the article in question, which was posted on the internet, was accessible to people who were particularly vulnerable
- young people who were interested in a particular pop music group. It was this that distinguished this case from other material available on the internet. The CPS concluded, with the benefit of counsel's advice, there was a realistic prospect of
However, a report for the defence by an information technology expert said that it could only be discovered by internet users seeking such specific material.
A report from a consultant psychiatrist also said it was baseless to suggest that reading such material could turn other people into sexual predators.
Tim Owen QC, defending Walker, said : It was never his intention to frighten or intimidate the members of Girls Aloud. He had written what he had described as an adult celebrity parody and was only meant to be for an audience of like-minded
people. As soon as he was aware of the upset and fuss that had been created, he took steps himself to take the article off the website. This type of writing is widely available on the internet in an unregulated and uncensored form. In
terms of its alleged obscenity, it is frankly no better or worse than other articles.
The court heard that Walker had lost his job since his arrest.
Judge Esmond Faulks formally returned a not guilty verdict to the charge of publishing an obscene article.
Jo Glanville, editor of the freedom of expression group Index on Censorship, said the prosecution should not have been brought in the first place: Since the landmark obscenity cases of the '60s and '70s, writers have been protected from such
prosecutions and have remained free to explore the extremes of human behaviour. This case posed a serious threat to that freedom. In future, obscenity cases should be referred directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions before any prosecution
That Walker was cleared is not surprising. It was a ridiculous charge to bring in the first place. But it also testifies to the obsolescence of the Obscene Publications Act itself, a piece of nineteenth-century legislation that rests upon a
perception that some people are incapable of dealing with certain material without being adversely affected in some way.
As the dust settles on the Girls (Scream) Aloud trial, what are the implications for the future of obscenity law in the UK?
In the short term, the answer has to be not much . Had the trial produced a guilty verdict, then much would have changed.
It would have been the first successful prosecution of written material under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA) in over 30 years: it would have succeeded in respect of material that, however apparently appalling, is not that much more
extreme than hundreds – thousands, even – of similar works on and off the internet.
The door would have been open to a slew of similar prosecutions: more importantly, it would have had a serious chilling effect, putting on guard any budding writer thinking of dealing with the cruder, rawer side of erotic life.
Darryn Walker has suffered unemployment and vilification for writing a pornographic story. The censorious obscenity law that allows this to happen must be scrapped, say John Ozimek and Julian Petley
Authors across the UK breathed a sigh of relief on Monday, as a landmark prosecution for obscenity was dropped at the eleventh hour. The importance of this case cannot be underestimated. The alternative, a world in which this prosecution had gone
ahead and succeeded, would have changed the nature of the Internet (and publishing) in the UK for years to come.
It started with Star Trek fans writing stories about a Kirk/Spock love affair, and it quickly became a craze. Fantasy fiction, or fanfic websites now attract contributions from large numbers of obsessive fans, and new genres are
emerging at a remarkable rate: slash fanfic focuses on gay relationships (the Lord of the Rings characters provide particularly fertile ground), with femslash for lesbian characters; and then there's real person popslash ,
where the unlucky subjects are celebrities in the music business.
One popslash fantasy came to public attention this week when, most unusually, its author found himself in court. Darryn Walker's writing is darker than most. The 35-year-old former civil servant's story, a 12-page article called Girls (Scream)
Aloud , depicted the kidnap, rape and murder of each member of girl band Girls Aloud by their coach driver.