Extreme porn acquittal puts prosecutors in the dock

CPS criticised for being out of touch and threatening personal freedoms after barrister is cleared

To Simon Walsh, the week-long case at Kingston Crown Court, Surrey, represented the humiliating exposé of his private sexual life, and the near-end of a successful legal career.

Yesterday the 50-year-old, once tipped as a future London mayoral candidate, was found not guilty on charges of possessing extreme pornography. He also received a letter from the Bar Standards Board to say he was free to practise as a barrister again, a small step to restoring a reputation tainted by the charges.

After a week of graphic evidence, it took the jury of six men and six women just 90 minutes to find Mr Walsh – a magistrate and City of London alderman – not guilty on all counts, a decision he and his lawyers describe as a triumph of common sense. Crucially, the acts depicted in images found in Mr Walsh's email were legal and involved consenting adults.

And the case led to claims that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was out of touch with a society that no longer believes the state should legislate about the private lives of adults.

It follows two other recent cases in which the CPS was accused of bringing prosecutions which threatened personal liberty and freedom of expression. Earlier this year Michael Peacock, an escort, was cleared of obscene publication in relating to gay-porn DVDs, and last month Paul Chambers, won his appeal against a conviction for tweeting about an airport bomb in frustration. In Mr Walsh's case the prosecution was based on the relatively new Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which outlaws pornography depicting acts which would cause "serious harm to the anus, breast or genitals".

"To use this law to prosecute people who are in possession of images of private sexual acts between consensual adults which are legal to perform is nonsensical," Mr Walsh's lawyer Myles Jackman said yesterday.

Mr Walsh's Hotmail account was originally examined in April last year after the openly gay barrister was inaccurately accused of being involved in a child pornography ring.

Police found images on his email of men anal fisting and using "urethral sounds".

The accusations had a devastating effect on his career. He was sacked from his post as aide to the London Mayor Boris Johnson, lost his position with the London Fire Authority and volunteered to withdraw from practising as a barrister.

Before the court, Mr Walsh insisted the images he had sent were of consensual sexual acts and nobody was harmed, adding: "I know the limits and I respect them".

The jury was in agreement and cleared him of five charges of possessing extreme pornographic images.

A sixth charge, of possessing an indecent image of an under-age boy, was also dismissed after the defence claimed the person featured was over-age, and that Mr Walsh could not recall opening the file anyway.

After the verdict, the legal commentator David Allen Green described the case as a "shameful and intrusive prosecution".

Mr Jackman, of Hodge Jones and Allen, said he would ask the CPS to review its guidelines on prosecuting such cases in light of the verdict as well as elements of consent in Section 63.

A CPS spokesperson said: "Possession of images that depict acts likely to cause serious injury is illegal and the CPS prosecutes the law as it stands. We do not make the law and cannot change it."

But Jane Fae, a writer and co-convenor for Consenting Adult Action Network, retorted: "The CPS claim they are just following the law but they are there to balance public interest and decide whether or not to prosecute, In this case they have wrecked someone's life and career for no reason."

Mr Jackman said that Mr Walsh was "looking towards putting his life back together again, step by step".

Cleared: High-profile cases the prosecution could not defend

Simon Walsh

A barrister and a former aide to Boris Johnson, Walsh, 50, has been cleared of possessing extreme pornography. The jury did not believe the images showed practices likely to cause injury to the anus or genitals.

Paul Chambers

The 28-year-old tweeted he would blow up Doncaster's Robin Hood Airport "sky high", leading to a successful prosecution that left him £1,000 out of pocket. The High Court overturned the conviction in July.

Michael Peacock

A 53-year-old male escort, Peacock was charged under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 for distributing materials likely to "deprave and corrupt" the viewer. He was found not guilty by a jury earlier this year.

Trial on Twitter...

Mr Walsh's lawyer, Myles Jackman, whose Twitter username is @obscenity-lawyer, gave an account of the trial via Twitter...

* I may have made legal history as the first acting solicitor granted permission to live tweet during a live trial! #PornTrial

* HHJ - Walsh - Standing for public office doesn't mean I give up my right to a private life. #PornTrial

* SIMON WALSH IS NOT GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS. #PornTrial

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