On 13th October 2015 at Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court permission was sought by the Metropolitan Police force in London to destroy works by artists in a paedophile investigation which had led to imprisonment. Amongst the artists named were Graham Ovenden, Pierre Louÿs and prints from the photographer Wilhelm von Plüschow.
Following the magistrates permission to destroy these works, a decision now pending an appeal by a barrister representing Graham Ovenden, The Earl of Clancarty tabled a question on 21st October in the House of Lords.
Unlike any others who had commented upon this case I think it would be wise here to describe from the police records some of these images because we can then all argue around what we know and not what we think we know. The seizure list from the Metropolitan Police has entries such as the following:
PC Tower computer: 2802 indecent images/ pseudo images manipulated within Photoshop browser on this computer. (Exhibit EM/6)
The comments by the Lord Chief Justice in 2013 trial R v Ovenden describes one image presented in the case as follows:
Depiction of a girl, naked lying on her back on a bed. Legs apart with an erect adult penis inserted into her vagina. There is semen on her vagina. Legs are held apart by a male adult hand. There is another penis near to and above her head being squeezed by another adult hand. (Image 52)
Clancarty was seeking to save the works cited by the police from destruction. Rehearsing the usual moral outrage, mention was made in the short debate by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara of D H Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Oz Magazine, both of which faced bans in the face of public moral outrage in the last century.
Baronness Bakewell put the liberal position clearly:
“My Lords, I endorse what has been said about this matter of principle. The aesthetics of this country and its art cannot be determined by the magistracy. This is an important decision of principle regardless of what is in this collection. The collection does not have to go on display; it simply does not have to be destroyed. Do not forget that the magistracy ordered the seizure of paintings by DH Lawrence which are now collected and are of great value everywhere.”
Finally for the British Government Baroness Shields concluded:
“I agree that the optics of this are concerning. I think the best route forward is to convene a group and to come up with a creative solution, as the noble Lord suggested, because the Government cannot intervene in the judicial process. We need another route in order to protect and save the art. There are works of art in this collection that relate specifically to individuals and are child sexual abuse images. Noble Lords will agreed that they should definitely be destroyed.” (Government record citation: HL Deb, 21 October 2015, c666.)
This discussion pulls up several points on art, what we consider art, who we consider artists and how Governments work. The last is the easiest to deal with. The House of Lords concluded they had no right to overturn a Magistrates decisions and that a committee would be formed to discuss the general attitude to the destruction of works considered art. The House of Lords was the highest court in the United Kingdom until 2005 and heard appeals from all the lower courts including Magistrate Courts.
The case is going to appeal on the basis that some of the seized works are over 100 years old and were never considered paedophilic by previous generations. Or if they were they have been accepted as part of the canon of photography for the entirety of the past century. We intend following this appeal and writing further.
Daniel Nanavati, UK Editor
Volume 30 number 3 January / February 2016 p 23