Monday, 23 August 2010

Ray Gosling and "A Waste of Time"

On 15 February 2010, an Inside Out documentary was was broadcast in the East Midlands.

In the broadcast, the veteran journalist and gay rights activist Ray Gosling appeared to make an emotive but vague confession.

You can see it here.

Last week the Crown Prosecution Service announced it was advising that Mr Gosling be prosecuted for the offence of wasting police time:

"The Special Crime Division of the Crown Prosecution Service has advised Nottinghamshire Police that television presenter Ray Gosling should be prosecuted for wasting police time. Mr Gosling was served with a summons for that offence today.

"Helen Allen, senior lawyer in the Special Crime Division, said: "Mr Gosling was arrested by Nottinghamshire Police on suspicion of murder following his appearance in a television programme in which he confessed to killing a former lover who was dying of AIDS.

""He was interviewed several times by the police and detectives conducted an extensive investigation into the allegation. The police were in contact with the CPS during the investigation and a file was passed to the Special Crime Division on 28 July 2010.

""The police established that there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of proving that Mr Gosling's confession was false and asked the CPS to consider whether he should be prosecuted for wasting police time, given the amount of work they had to carry out to establish what had happened.

""After careful consideration of all the evidence I decided that Mr Gosling should be prosecuted for wasting police time and advised the police to obtain a summons to that effect. The summons for him to appear before Nottingham magistrates on 14 September 2010 was served on Mr Gosling when he answered his police bail today."

The offence for which Mr Gosling is now summoned is set out in section 5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967.

The offence is as follows:

"Where a person causes any wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making to any person a false report tending to show that an offence has been committed, or to give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property, or tending to show that he has information material to any police inquiry, he shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for not more than six months or to a fine of not more than two hundred pounds or to both."

The CPS guidance on when the offence should be prosecuted is here.

The relevant section reads:

"Proceedings may only be instituted by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions: s.5(3). Consent may be granted after charge but must be before a plea of guilty is entered or summary trial. Consent must be obtained before proceedings are started by way of summons.

"Examples of the type of conduct appropriate for a charge of wasting police time include:

-false reports that a crime has been committed, which initiates a police investigation;
-the giving of false information to the police during the course of an existing investigation.

"The public interest will favour a prosecution in any one of the following circumstances:-

-police resources have been diverted for a significant period (for example 10 hours);
a substantial cost is incurred, for example a police helicopter is used or an expensive scientific examination undertaken;
-when the false report is particularly grave or malicious;
-considerable distress is caused to a person by the report;
-the accused knew, or ought to have known, that police resources were under particular strain or diverted from a particularly serious inquiry;
-there is significant premeditation in the making of the report;
-the report is persisted in, particularly in the face of challenge."

The CPS prosecution decision seems counter-intuitive, and indeed it is problematic in a number of ways.

First, a piece to camera which is subsequently broadcast does not seem to me to be a "report" within the meaning of the offence.

Although the 1967 Act does not require the report to be to a police officer, for the word "report" to be extended to include such a broadcast piece seems to stretch the word to the point of meaninglessness.

Second, it is not clear that the content of what Mr Gosling said was sufficiently precise for it to be a statement "tending to show that an offence has been committed".

In fact, it seems too vague to be a report of an offence, if it is even a report in the first place.

Third, the offence requires mens rea (a guilty intention) the time the "report" is made; there is no evidence available that such an intention was present at the time of the actus reus (culpable act).

And fourth, apart from all the above, one cannot easily see the public interest in prosecuting Mr Gosling.

The last thing which seems to be appropriate in these circumstance is the use of the coercive force of the law against Mr Gosling.

It appears that this is another misconceived and illiberal decision of the CPS, an entity of course which believes it is somehow in the public interest to prosecute Paul Chambers, but did not bring any charges at all against the thug PC Simon Harwood whose assault on Ian Tomlinson preceded his victim's sudden death.

All round, the prosecution of Mr Gosling appears flawed and contrary to the public interest.

Indeed, it seems to be an injustice in the making.


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mrdrummerman said...

Does Mr Gosling not have the right to remain silent in this case?

Adam said...

The CPS press release ( states the offence as summonsed was that "On 16/02/2010 at London caused wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making to Bill Turnbull a false report tending to show that an offence had been committed".

That would seem to suggest it is the interview that Mr Gosling did with Bill Turnbull on BBC Breakfast was more significant than the Inside Out documentary. The Breakfast interview is on YouTube at I've not watched it completely yet but it might be worth reviewing that.

Bill said...

I'm very sympathetic to Gosling and don't think he should be prosecuted.

However, with regard to mens rea, might not a reasonable person conclude that, when Gosling was making the report, he would have anticipated police interest in his claims?

Would the fact of his proceeding in the expectation that a fruitless police investigation would ensue constitute intent? Or could he be said to anticipate the probable outcome of his actions while, at the same time, not intending them?

Apologies if that's a convoluted way of putting it!

jstreetley said...

I actually disagree with you here, because I think you've missed out an important part of the back-story; Mr Gosling's interview the day after broadcast on BBC Breakfast.

By sticking to the story in the ensuing media coverage, that to me seems to fulfil the report is persisted in, particularly in the face of challenge. That also fulfils the idea of reporting it "to someone", rather than to camera, as he clearly tells the Breakfast interviewers, thus not stretching the definition as you suggest.

Incidentally, I also think that by broadcasting such an admission, he presumably knew it would be taken seriously and be investigated and he presumably knew his admission was false. To me that is tantamount to knowingly and falsely reporting a crime to every viewer of the programme.

Mouse of Lords said...

This whole affair smacks of face-saving and not a little spite. Gosling's original "confession" attracted a fair bit of media attention. So did the announcement soon after that the police were holding him on suspicion of murder.

That investigation came to nothing. Cue annoyed police, and now this: an apparently flimsy and spiteful prosecution for wasting police time, as if to say, we couldn't get you for murder, so we'll at least get you for this.

Does that really sound so implausible?

simon said...

Whatever the rights or wrongs, Mr Gosling has had his 15 minutes of fame.
It is not in the public interest to add 5 years or so to that time.

mulhuzz said...

I suspect rather more that the reason the CPS are focused on the BBC Breakfast interview is that it was live, whereas the original 'confession' could have been edited in post-production (and, in fact, probably was, although not for any sinister reason.)

It seems to me also that there probably is a public interest in prosecuting Mr Gosling. The reason that the offense exists in statute is so that the police don't spend taxpayers money on investigating falsehoods which have been, whether intentionally or reckless, reported. Mr Gosling knew, or the ordinary man should have known, that the police would become interested in his statements when he made them, especially after he affirmed them when challenged by Bill Turnbull and therefore the mens rea of the offence, to my mind, is made out.

Whether the actus reus is also made out is an issue of law and the definition of 'report' as mentioned here.

I think, though, it should be pretty obvious that the police should be able to prosecute those who waste their time, espeically when there is so much public interest in public spending in the current economic climate.

Mr Gosling made these claims, in my opinion, to further his position on the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia. There were far more appropriate means for him to do so and he should now face the consequences of what he did. The police, it's often said, perform their duties by public consent. I for one didn't consent to their time being wasted.

Pauline Anne Badger MSc. said...

False confessions can apply for a number of reasons. Confabulation is another as to half-truths in stroke, dementia, and medical conditions that affect parts of the brain in cognitive neuropsychology.

If Ray Gosling wasted police time, what of Ministers who lie over expenses and are caught out?

What of Ian Brady who confessed to his solicitor and the police of killing a person that media took up as fact?

What of the persons he confessed to killing that took time to validate as cold cases that were never his doing - Veronica Bondi, Ben Marsden? Two of the 'Eleven Perfect Murders' he fabricated his involvement in. MEN. Oct.5th. 1965 issue.

All this shows that the reason that Ray Gosling did what he did was due to perhaps age and the facets of what causes 'false confessions'- as a performance exhibited.

To me, the obvious was apparent when he had to pause in the clip and then stumble over the next phrase. This show of output led me to see to my trained eye that he was like any other old person in a care home, or in society. Lost. Totally lost. Lost in memories of a past that he 'believed' he lived in, as a 'coat others wore'.

It was visible and palpable to see if you were looking at this from an academic point of view of the subject. A very tired old man who told the camera narratives when he should have been sat in front of a fire with a hot dinner.