IN the week in which both Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson received gongs from the Palace, it is perhaps timely to remember what Edmund Blackadder thought of people who receive honours.
Facing court martial for shooting his general’s prize-winning pigeon, our hero claims he has no fear of the hangman’s noose because he has England’s finest legal mind, Bob Massingbird, in his corner.
Another of the legendary lawyer’s clients had been found next to a dead body with a bloody knife in his hands, 13 eyewitnesses, and a note saying he did it.
But Blackadder explains: “Massingbird not only got him off, he got him knighted in the New Year’s Honours List. And the relatives of the victim had to pay to wash the blood out of his jacket!”
Crispin Aylett may not be in Massingbird’s league, but he is at least playing the same sport.
On Monday the barrister spoke at Preston Crown Court in mitigation for his client, the disgraced TV presenter Stuart Hall, OBE, who had earlier admitted more than a dozen cases of sexually abusing children. In any civilised society, everyone has the right to legal representation, even someone who has already confessed to a series of horrific crimes.
Pleas in mitigation are a necessary part of the court process, but that doesn’t make them pleasant on the ear.
And so it was on Monday when Mr Aylett rose to ask the judge to show leniency to his famous client.
The lawyer took the novel approach of pointing out that the former It’s A Knockout host may have been a paedophile, but he was at least a low-intensity paedophile.
Comparing Hall with fellow disgraced eccentric Jimmy Savile, Mr Aylett noted that while the DJ’s victims number 1,300, his client’s toll of misery was “all of 13”.
I’ve seen dozens of pleas in mitigation in my time, but never one as creative as that.
Imagine if someone tried that after their client admitted a motoring offence at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court.
“Yes, your honours, my client accepts that he was drink driving on the night in question. He doesn’t dispute that he was four times over the limit and was doing 60mph in a 30mph zone when he was stopped. But please bear in mind that my client did this only once – some people have done it a hundred times.”
Mr Aylett also played a more traditional card on Monday by assuring the judge that Hall was “frightened and bewildered” in the dock. The poor wee thing.
The speech seemed to work, with the judge jailing Hall for a mere 15 months – that’s just over one month behind bars for each young life he marred.
It’s important to remember the toll which this pervert took from 1967 to 1985 while he was a fixture on TV screens.
Preston Crown Court heard on Monday about a litany of attacks on girls as young as nine.
One victim was just 10 when Hall plied her with steak and champagne before groping her in a swimming pool. Another three girls were attacked after he lured them to his house for “elocution lessons.”
The court heard one victim describe how the TV star’s attack on her had “never gone away from my mind.”
And, for all this human suffering inflicted by a powerful man on defenceless children, the state will take just over a year of Hall’s life.
I’m glad the Attorney General announced on Monday afternoon that he would investigate the sentence handed down to the former TV star. Because, as things stand, I don’t imagine Hall’s victims feel that the system values their lives very highly.
Monday’s lenient sentence made me think back to one of the first murder cases I covered for the Examiner.
After weeks of trial, the defendants were found guilty and sent down – some of them for more than 20 years.
When I spoke to a relative of the dead man moments after the sentencing, I was struck by how elated he was by the length of the jail terms. He was talking much faster than usual, the words tripping off his tongue as he spoke of his delight at seeing the killers sent down.
It was only then that I realised what the old cliché about the importance of “justice for the victim’s family” actually means.
After the appalling injustice of the murder, jailing those responsible for decades was the state’s way of saying to the grieving family: “Your loved one mattered and the people who killed him will suffer for a long time for the pain they put you through.”
I don’t imagine any of the women abused by Hall bounced out of Preston Crown Court on Monday delighted with the knowledge that he would serve about five weeks for stealing their childhood.
The oldest of his victims have waited nearly 50 years for justice. They’re still waiting now.