Ignore his fame and the tale of Dave Lee Travis is all too familiar

He attacked his complainants as liars and fantasists, not unique behaviour among defendants accused of sexual offences

Jane Merrick@janemerrick23
Wednesday 24 September 2014 18:42
Dave Lee Travis leaves Southwark Crown Court after being found guilty of indecent assault
Dave Lee Travis leaves Southwark Crown Court after being found guilty of indecent assault

Dave Lee Travis isn’t the only 1970s-era DJ to possess an inflated sense of self-importance. But when one of the world’s greatest living politicians has described you as a “lifeline” that made “the world much more complete”, as Aung San Suu Kyi did shortly after her release from house arrest, it is easy to see why the former Radio 1 presenter adopted such an alarming, deluded grandeur in the dock during his trial for indecent assault.

“If I like someone I will hug them and give them a kiss because the whole world needs that,” Travis said, trying to excuse his inappropriate behaviour as if he was some kind of UN peace envoy rather than an ageing pest who, during his decades at the BBC, had a reputation for being an “octopus”. Maybe the endorsement of Suu Kyi led him to think that, by the time he was standing in court, he could write the rulebook on what was acceptable and what was not.

Even before the case got to court, shortly after his arrest in 2012, he dismissed the accusations against him as merely “squeezing the boobs of a couple of women” – trying to make clear that he wasn’t another Jimmy Savile because there were no children involved.

Yet despite his celebrity, Travis is not a special case. He attacked his complainants as liars and fantasists – both in the first trial, in which he was acquitted of 12 counts and the jury failed to reach a verdict on the remaining two, and in the second, concluded this week, in which he was convicted for the indecent assault of a young woman working on The Mrs Merton Show. This behaviour is not unique among defendants accused of sexual offences. Victims of rape and sexual assault have to live every day with what Victim Support describes as a “blame culture” – not blame of the defendants, but the victims themselves, who fear going to the police or giving evidence against the perpetrator because they will not be believed.

This is why the UK has one of the lowest rates in Europe for conviction for rape and sexual assault: according to the Government’s own figures, fewer than one in 30 victims can expect to see her or his attacker brought to justice.

After the initial horror of the offence, there is the trauma of going to police and then – even with the anonymity afforded to sex crime victims – having to testify in court against the attacker. It cannot be the case that victims are any less believable in the UK than they are elsewhere in Europe, so the shockingly low conviction rates must be to do with the lack of support all the way through the criminal justice system. Victims must be reassured that they are going to be believed and that the court system gives them all the protection they need through the evidence process.

Particularly with “historic” cases, where there is little DNA evidence, it is her (and it is usually her) word against his. And with the celebrity cases connected to Operation Yewtree, juries are put under pressure by expensive legal teams to take the word of a famous DJ, TV presenter or publicist over a junior production assistant or teenage fan.

A point about Suu Kyi and that “endorsement”. I looked up what she actually said at the time, in an interview with Radio Times in 2011, about listening to Travis’ A Jolly Good Show from her house in Burma. She couldn’t even remember his full name – “Dave Travis”, she called him.

And it wasn’t the DJ she enjoyed – it was the contributors. “I would listen quite happily because the listeners would write in and I had a chance to hear other people’s words” – true stories of real people. Fitting, then, that it was a true story that damned him.

Paxo’s back to get us out of an election night mess

One of the most memorable moments of the 1997 election night coverage was Jeremy Paxman telling Cecil Parkinson: “You’re the chairman of a fertiliser firm. How deep is the mess you’re in at present?” When Paxman quit Newsnight earlier this year, it was thought this kind of genius one-liner would be gone from political broadcasting for good – and we would be left with him scowling at hapless students on University Challenge.

But thankfully Channel 4 has ridden to the rescue by signing Paxo up for what looks like the closest-run General Election for years. Ian Katz, the editor of Newsnight, who earlier this month criticised Paxman’s style, is wrong to say political programmes have changed. Election night wouldn’t be the same without Paxo, so he gets my vote for 2015.

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