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Monday, June 29, 2009 

Girls (Scream) Alone.

The prosecution against Darryn Walker, the author of the story "Girls (Scream) Aloud", has collapsed without a jury even needing to be troubled by any of the evidence. Despite having had since last July to come up with a case, although it seems it didn't come to the attention of the press until last October, the Crown failed to offer any evidence after Walker's defence demolished any hope of a conviction.

It does now appear that as I wondered back then, the key factor in Walker being charged was that his story mentioned the very real girl group Girls Aloud. It's still unclear whether he first wrote the almost identical "Pieces of Candy", which has a fictitious girl group undergoing the same torture as the members of Girls Aloud do in their version, then adapted it, but regardless, it was his decision to make it "real" that led to his prosecution. According to the prosecution, it was undertaken under the fear that those merely searching for Girls Aloud might be unlucky enough to come across Walker's fevered writings, featuring the rape, mutilation and murder and all five members of the group, and so, presumably, be "depraved and corrupted" as the Obscene Publications Act requires for there to be a conviction.

The idea that either of those things was likely was always laughable. Walker's story was (and still is) contained on an archive for writing posted on the Usenet group alt.sex.stories, and even then is not easily found; search the website itself for Girls Aloud and it is not even on the first page. It is instead hidden away on the Kristen archives section of the website, which itself has a warning which states that it is filtered by most net nanny software, then on the "putrid" sub-section, which has a further warning. You won't find it on the list though, as it's been removed, presumably at Walker's request. The page itself though does still exist. Having jumped through these hoops, you then have Walker's own warning. However, by the simple fact that the CPS thought it was worth prosecuting someone for writing a bad story, the Streisand effect has taken over, with the story now mirrored and far easier to access. My post alone on the prosecution has had a large number of hits today, meaning that any intrigued younger reader wanting to read what all the fuss was about has had far more opportunity than they ever would have had before.

That truism alone, that when you try to ban something cultural you instantly make it more alluring and more desirable regardless of its quality ought to be enough to discourage the censors, especially in this age, from attempting to do so. Walker's story can hardly be defended on artistic grounds, but it can be on the grounds that it is highly unlikely, as the psychiatrist called to defend him argued, that it would turn anyone into a sexual predator. It's also completely true that it was only likely to appeal to those already interested in such material; if someone was simply searching for "erotic celebrity fan-fiction", which fills a rather specific niche on the internet for those who prefer words to pictures, they were likely to go for more easily available writing featuring the gorgeous pouting quintet, rather than that which also involved the sawing off of arms and breasts. Unpleasant as it doubtless is for those depicted to be written about in such a way by complete strangers who then share their fantasies with others, there seems to have been very little legal action taken against sites hosting such stories. Most will admit to the vanity of searching Google for their own name; whether stars themselves dig deep into the darker recesses of the internet and discover such writing is another matter entirely.

Walker though should certainly have never been prosecuted. It raises questions, not only of those who authorised the prosecution, but also of the Internet Watch Foundation, which initially brought the police's attention to the story. Supposedly, why they simply didn't block access to either the page or the site as a whole is because it's hosted overseas and because there is no international agreement on what is obscene, quite rightly, yet as we saw during the Wikipedia/Scorpions debacle, that didn't stop them then. Presumably the page was reported to them, unless they themselves came it across during one of their own trawls, and they decided that it was so terrible and so shocking that the police had to be involved. It certainly makes you wonder about those who are in charge at the IWF; if the likes of "Girls (Scream) Aloud" makes them rush to involve Inspector Knacker, what do they go through at the sight of "2 girls 1 cup" or even the video of the death of Neda? This is, it needs stating again, a completely unaccountable body that doesn't just censor child pornography, but also material that "incites racial hatred", potentially breaches the OPA, as Walker was accused of, and now "extreme pornography", since the law came into effect in January. The law has already been used, although it seems mainly to prosecute those selling beastiality DVDs along with pirated blockbusters.

Quite how much it cost for Walker to be brought to trial, let alone the police and CPS time dedicated to considering whether he should be charged over fantastical words he wrote is irrelevant when it comes to what it has done to the man himself. Regardless of his own sexual predilections and fantasies, and that he wrote such things is no indication whatsoever that he is partial to acting out anything like that his protagonists do in his stories, his life has quite possibly been ruined. Anyone now "Googling" for him when he applies for job, having lost his as a civil servant when he was charged, will soon discover he was up before the beak on the charge of writing perverted stories about a popular beat combo, which is likely to do wonders to his chances of finding employment. It ought to be ridiculous in 2009 that anyone writing fiction, even if it is fiction which features real people, should be charged with obscenity; that someone should be potentially ruined because of it is not just ridiculous, it's disgraceful. No thought however seems to have been put into this before charging was proceeded with, just as no one at the IWF presumably thought through the consequences when they boggled at the original submission to them. This ought to lead to a reform of our obscenity laws, yet if anything they seem likely to be tightened further still.

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Excellent piece, read this twice last night and even got my girlfriend involved.

It's hard to see what the difference is between this and, say, JG Ballard's Crash. Er, well, apart from not being as good, maybe. I think it probably was necessary to use the real names of Girls Aloud to best make the point (it seems) he was making.

To me, the case seemed a direct throwback to the days of censorship and when folks got their collars felt for distributing "indecent material". In those days the criteria for prosecution was whether or no the material in question could corrupt.

Hmmm...considering that the Victorians used to cover the legs of tables and pianos just in case their curvy nature inflamed the passions of moustachioed Victorian gentlemen and corrupted them, then it can be argued that any inanimate object can corrupt, so can any form of media. So we might as well all be locked up for being perverts.

The bottom line is that this bloke has lost his career over this persecution (note: I didn't use the word prosecution as I believe they are trying to pillory the wrong people on the net) and his life isn't going to get any better for a while.

A pathetic waste of money.

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