Man wins damages over porn charges

A man who was charged with child pornography offences has won £20,000 from Hertfordshire Police for malicious prosecution.

Wedding photographer Jeremy Clifford was acquitted at St Albans Crown Court in April 2005 with no evidence being offered.



Mr Clifford, 51, was charged the previous July after his credit cards, email address and password were used on six occasions in 1999 to access a US-based website known as Landslide which provided both adult and child pornography.



After information was passed to the UK police as part of Operation Ore, Mr Clifford, of Louvain Way, Watford, maintained that his cards had been compromised and not used by him, but in October 2003 he was arrested and bailed.



In July 2004, he was re-arrested and subsequently charged with possessing indecent images of children.



At London's High Court today, Mr Justice Mackay said that he was satisfied that the arresting officer did not, at the time Mr Clifford was charged, have "any honest belief" that there was any supporting evidence for the possession charges other than the mere presence of "pop-ups" on the computer.



"He therefore in my judgment had no reasonable and probable cause, either on the basis of his own honest belief or judged objectively by the standards of a reasonable prosecutor in his position, to charge the claimant with the possession offences in July 2004."



He added that the officer brought the charges against Mr Clifford, who had been critical of the investigation and was threatening legal action, for an improper reason - as an attempt to bolster the case on another charge which was later dropped and to protect his own position.



Assessing the damages, the judge said that Mr Clifford was devastated by his arrest, which caused difficulties for his business and put a strain on his relationship with his wife.



There was no ordeal in the form of a criminal trial to be gone through but the numerous procedural court appearances - four before magistrates and seven in the crown court - caused him particular distress and fear of publicity.



He had suffered a major depressive episode after his arrest and still had symptoms of anxiety five years later.



He added that Mr Clifford's lawyers were right to emphasise the special nature of the charges, their destructive effect on his own feelings of self-worth and his relationships with his wife, family and business associates.



"Inevitably there must have been as I find rumours and leaks of information and an element of social stigma.



"Though these charges were never going to attract a custodial sentence they would have required him to register on the sex offenders' register."



Hertfordshire Police were ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings.

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