David Aaronovitch: Vote now – are the Hamiltons guilty?

'There is absolutely no need for this case to come to trial; some phone polling should do the trick, and save us the expense'

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One image will stay with me this summer.

One image will stay with me this summer. It is the photograph, published last Sunday, of the anonymous Miss A who – she has claimed – was assaulted one night last spring in an Ilford flat by three people, two of whom were the Hamiltons.

"But how," you rightly object, "can she be anonymous (as a rape complainant should be), if someone has printed two million copies of her photograph?" Well, you see, they did and they didn't. The snap was pixillated. Through the distortion you could make out that Miss A was between 10 and 90, built neither like Hattie Jacques nor Kate Moss, and blonde-haired. Showing something, promising more, it was better than nothing.

By now the only people who don't know about the Hamiltons are the two Japanese soldiers still holding out against the Allies in a remote corner of eastern Borneo. And if they know what civilisation has in store for them, they'll stay put. Otherwise they may be required, upon being bathed and given new clothes, to venture an opinion on who they think is lying – Neil and Christine or Miss A – just like the rest of us.

The Hamilton affair is unusual, even for this country. What generally happens in cases of alleged rape is that the "victim" makes a complaint to the police. They then investigate things to try and ascertain the truth of the allegations, including speaking to the alleged perpetrator. If they think they've got a strong enough case, said malefactors are arrested, brought before a jury, and then the evidence is carefully weighed and judgment delivered. During this time the public are generally aware only that a crime may have been committed, the names of the accused (should there be charges), and the reports of the trial itself.

Not this time. Courtesy of the press we know the exact nature of Miss A's complaint. Having met a man called Philip through the internet, the "mother of two" (a lecturer at a local college), found herself,on 5 May last year, at 55 Avenue Court, Ilford, expecting to meet him again. In fact she was alone with a 60-year-old man who spiked her drinks and then let the Hamiltons through the front door. Miss A said she recognised them from newspapers and TV, as well she might (as Edgar Lustgarten would have said).

The next part of her story is a mixture of the Evremonde outrage from A Tale of Two Cities (you know, where the aristos violate the peasant girl), the Starr report on the Lewinsky affair and one of those accounts of alien abduction. I am going to spare you some of the more disgusting details, in case you share your newspaper with your impressionable parents. But the tone can be judged from her claim that the woman alleged to be Christine Hamilton, had looked her up and down (as she was lying on the living room floor) and asked, "Have you ever had sex with another woman before?" Then, "she hitched her dress up. She didn't have any underwear on. Then she sat on her face".

If you're confused about who, by this time, was sitting on whose face I should add that Miss A's accounts have all been relayed to the media "through her mother". She tells her mum, mum presumably writes it down, and then tells journalists. A bit like a medium. Meanwhile the accused have rebutted the allegations directly. The flat owner has said he has never met the Hamiltons in his life and has added, "I am supposed to have got down on my knees to have sex with her despite the fact I can't because I suffer from dreadful arthritis."

The Hamiltons have alibis galore, which have been given almost simultaneously to the police and to the press. Said their lawyer: "We are also coming up with details of the use of their credit cards on that Saturday – respectively in Waitrose and Marks & Spencer and Snappy Snaps...

"So unless they were helicoptered out it seems impossible for them to have actually taken part in this incident." Actually a helicopter is by far the least far-fetched part of this story. Because we also have verbatim testimony provided by the Hamiltons to the police, and then – unbelievably – by the Hamiltons to the media. This included the exchange in which Neil's brief asks police, "has she said whether Mr Hamilton was circumcised or not?" (What is it they do at Snappy Snaps?) And Christine tells the plod (as she calls them) that she has made only one visit to Ilford – to address a charity lunch of the League of Jewish Women. And this was held in a local synagogue apparently, and not in the living room of a nude, arthritic 60-year-old.

A newspaper tracked down Miss A's former husband (Mr ex-A?) who told them that she was a fantasist. So that was a strike against her. And, in one of the great tautologies of our time, the same source also told readers how police had gone to interview Miss A again after having subjected her belongings to "DNA tests on male sperm". Well, that's the sperm to test, if you ask me.

But why do I come into it? Why do we need to know all this? Because we are deciding the case, that's why. The evidence is being presented by newspapers, via the Hamiltons and Miss A's relatives, and we are making up our own minds who is guilty and who isn't. There is absolutely no need for this to come to trial; some phone polling should do the trick.

After this we should perhaps thank the Saudi authorities for making unnecessary a trial of the three Britons accused of recent non-fatal bombings. The televised confessions of Les Walker, Jamie Patrick Leigh and James Cottle saves a great deal of mucking about. As the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said just before the men publicly admitted their guilt: '"It gives me pleasure to announce that the investigators have identified those who committed the bombings in the city of al-Khobar and at the Euromarche and in front of the Jareer bookshop in Riyadh. They were all British citizens.''

Case closed. The prince and his police forces have done the work, decided who was guilty, now the culprits have admitted it in front of everyone, all we need is a sentence. In a more progressive country the appropriate punishment could also be decided by a telephone poll of TV viewers.

They could be given three options: imprisonment, mutilation or death, say. Since sentences in Saudi Arabia are carried out in public and often televised, the vote would have the unique property of deciding both the men's fate and the evening's programming schedule. Fancy a beheading? Or more in the mood for a lashing followed by a sit-com? But they are such stick-in-the-muds down in Riyadh. Now, given the week's evidence, I know how I would vote in both cases. I have decided, after weighing up the evidence, that the Hamiltons are not guilty. Their accuser is clearly a loony, and that's that. I have also decided, on balance, that the Saudi three probably are guilty, for no better reason than I cannot imagine a friendly, civilised state terrorising three respectable British nationals into making entirely false confessions. What kind of people would do that? It's too far-fetched.

But my vote is pixillated. You can't quite make it out – it counts but it doesn't. When the makers of Big Brother finally inveigle two or more of their charges to eat of the apple of sin in their prefabricated Eden, you will see everything clearly except the genitals. Those too will be pixillated. It's how unworthy desire copes with shame.

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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