When Wesley Hall was arrested yesterday as he attempted to board a flight to Málaga, Spain, the arresting officer told him that he would be going to a London police station to face charges of “perverting the course of justice”. Wesley seemed surprised and a bit puzzled by this, so we thought an explanation of the charge and its potential implications would not go amiss.
What does the charge entail?
Perverting the course of justice involves someone preventing himself or another person (or persons) from receiving justice in some way, including: intimidating or interfering with a witness, juror, or judge; fabricating or disposing of evidence; or falsely accusing someone of a crime.
This is an indictable-only charge which must be tried before a jury in crown court, and in principle, it carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, plus a fine. This theoretical maximum sentence is intended to convey the seriousness of interfering with the proper functioning of the justice system, which underpins our entire social fabric.
In practice, however, the average sentence for this offence is much less.
Perverting the course of justice: Some recent examples
A 2007 appeal judgment said sentencing for perverting the course of justice should depend on three factors: the “seriousness of the substantive offence to which the perverting of the course of justice related, the degree of persistence, and the effect of the attempt to pervert the course of justice on the course of justice itself”.
In the 2014 phone hacking scandal, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of perverting the course of justice for having engaged in a conspiracy to intercept voicemails. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Matthew Scott, who blogs at Barrister Blogger, describes the 2017 case of Mark Webb, who laid false complaints against his innocent neighbour, Frances Avis. She had offered to take his Jack Russell terrier for walks, but then, as Matthew says, things started to turn rather weird:
Webb started to accuse Frances of trying to steal his dog. It was a ridiculous allegation, but their relations quickly cooled. One day, while they were talking, she pushed him on the shoulder. She is a small woman and the push was utterly insignificant. Nevertherless, Mr Webb – a man who knew his rights – complained to the police that she had assaulted him.
His complaint initiated her descent into a nightmare. The case went to court with Ms Avis charged with assault. There was no evidence of any injury but the magistrates convicted her of common assault, which does not require any such evidence. In many cases it is a relatively trivial conviction with a light punishment. It turned out to be very different here. By now Mr Webb was also accusing her of harassing him, and the magistrates decided to impose a restraining order, meaning that she had to keep away from Mr Webb and, crucially, not contact him in any way, or she would be committing a separate criminal offence.
It did not satisfy Mr Webb. He claimed that the “harassment” was still continuing. One evening she was sitting at home watching Coronation Street when the police burst in. She was arrested for making threats to kill Webb and his wife. That is a very serious offence indeed. The maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment, although it can also be tried by magistrates.
The allegation turned out to be that she had written, or got others to write, 19 letters to the Webbs some of them threatening them with death. One of the letters contained some crudely drawn pictures of graves marked “Mark” and “Suzie” and the letters RIP. As it happens, Frances is an accomplished amateur artist and, as she puts it:
“If I’d drawn it, it wouldn’t have been as bad as that.”
Others contained threats to burn his house down.
In addition, Mr Webb claimed that she had damaged his Jaguar and shouted threats to him in the street.
In fact Webb had written the letters himself in a bizarre and initially highly successful attempt to frame his neighbour.
Ms Avis was charged with breaching the restraining order, and was rendered effectively homeless, as her bail conditions prevented her from going near her own flat. After many months, the case came to trial again, and once again the magistrates failed to see through Mr Webb’s story.
Mr Webb made the mistake of pushing his luck: he completed a police-claim form for compensation from Ms Avis. The experienced officer in charge, who’d seen the phony “death threat” letters, noticed that the handwriting was very similar to that on the claim form, and drew this to the attention of the CPS.
Finally, Mr Webb was arrested and charged with perverting the course of justice. After much squirmage, he admitted his guilt. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison, along with a 10-year restraining order.
In this case, the nature of the offence was “incriminating an innocent person”.
Matthew Graham, Partner and Head of Criminal Law and Mental Health at Mowbray Woodwards, notes that sentencing can depend upon many variables, including the defendant’s previously good character.
Writing about the case of Mr Webb, he says,
The attempted stitch-up went on for many months and included giving evidence under oath in court. The consequence was that Ms Avis was arrested, locked up on various occasions, had to attend at court repeatedly and was eventually given a suspended prison sentence before it was all cleared up. A large amount of police time was wasted.
In Wesley Hall’s case, we have not yet heard whether he’s been charged, let alone any details of the charges he might be facing.
However, we think it’s important to understand the potential seriousness of a charge of perverting the course of justice—a charge which meshes very neatly with the known substance of the Hampstead SRA hoax and coverup.
Those who created and set the hoax in motion, it could be argued, are responsible for a massive, far-reaching, and terribly damaging attempt to pervert the course of justice, through false allegations and the creation of false evidence (the videos, drawings, and alleged diary entries supposedly made by the children). As for the duration of the attempted stitch-up, let’s just say that this blog recently marked its third birthday. ‘Nuff said?
As always, we remind our readers that it is an offence to engage in any discussion or speculation regarding Wesley’s charges which could interfere with his right to a fair trial.