'Oz' trial veteran wins victory over judge

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The Independent Online
DANNY PENMAN

Felix Dennis, one of the defendants in the Oz trial, had his revenge yesterday on the Old Bailey judge who jailed him in 1971 for obscenity.

The trial captivated the nation a generation ago when the three editors of the underground magazine Oz were accused of conspiracy to corrupt, and of obscenity. The magazine was famous, long before Viz, for sexually explicit cartoon strips and its endorsement of cannabis, but most of all for the trial.

Passing sentence on Mr Dennis, Mr Justice Michael Argyle told him: "You are younger than the other two and very much less intelligent." He then sentenced him to nine months' imprisonment for obscenity.

Mr Justice Argyle suggested in an article in the Spectator magazine on 20 May that Mr Dennis and his co-defendants had imported and peddled drugs to school children. He also implied that they were behind threats against his life which had obliged him to stay in a hotel during the trial guarded by armed Special Branch police.

Mr Dennis, now a wealthy businessman, immediately issued a writ for libel. Michael Nixon, Mr Dennis's solicitor, said the allegations in the article were "completely groundless".

He said Mr Dennis had never sold drugs to anyone and Mr Justice Argyle was given special protection because of death threats from someone unconnected with the Oz trial.

The Spectator and its editor, Dominic Lawson, apologised for the distress and embarrassment caused by the article and said they never intended to make such accusations.

The magazine and its editor agreed to pay, in lieu of damages, pounds 10,000 to the National Library for the Blind and a Down's syndrome charity on Mr Dennis's behalf. Mr Justice Argyle, 79, was also named as a defendant but the case against him was dropped.

The 48-year-old ex-hippie, who was imprisoned because the judge believed he could not pay a fine, spent only the weekend in jail after the Court of Appeal quashed the sentence. He then disappeared from view for three years before laying the foundations for a publishing empire estimated to be worth about pounds 150m.

Legend has it that the reference to Mr Dennis's intelligence spurred him on to building the empire founded on the back of the Kung Fu craze and its star, Bruce Lee. From there he moved to the US and began publishing Smash Hits, arranged merchandising deals for the films Star Wars, Close Encounters and ET before launching a raft of computer magazines.

In 1991 he received the Marcus Morris Award from the Periodical Publishers Association for his significant and long-standing contribution to the publishing industry. He now has a mansion in 450 acres of Warwickshire countryside, apartments in New York and London and owns part of the Caribbean island of Mustique.

Mr Justice Argyle continued as a judge and made many notable pronouncements such as "get out and go back to Jamaica" to a man accused of assault. He retired in 1988 but continued to campaign for a restoration of the death penalty.

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