Friday, June 12, 2020

In Defence of Alan Jones

Broadcaster Alan Jones was arrested in a Piccadilly toilet in 1988 and charged with 2 offences: 'outraging public decency' and 'committing an indecent act'. Appearing in the Marlborough Street Magistrates Court the following day the more serious charge was dropped and Jones plead Not Guilty to the other.
Within days the Metropolitan Police dropped the other charge. Jones eventually received £70 in legal costs.

So many people have used the episode to batter Jones without knowing the facts behind the story. Whispers was working at the time on a London "listings " magazine with a 250K circulation. The magazine LAM was popular with ex-pat Australian & New Zealanders as it was one of the few publications readers could find news from back home. The editor dispatched us to find out more.

We had actually never heard of Alan Jones having lived in London for so long but we knew the West End and Soho like the back of our hands. We worked around the area and partied there in the small afternoon drinking "clubs" like Muriels where artist Francis Bacon held court most afternoons. One thing we knew you never ever did- was use the infamous Piccadilly Circus toilets for a call of nature. The toilets were notorious and many a hapless man had been nabbed by police for similar alleged offenses as Jones was.

This was a pretty nasty aspect of British "policing". A younger good looking constable would hang about in plain clothes and spot a likely candidate. Perhaps a look in the wrong direction, lingering just a little to long at the urinal. Perhaps like Jones, wearing one of his beloved pink pullovers. The PC would signal his pal waiting outside who would enter and the 2 would bust the unfortunate candidate with both claiming to have "witnessed" an immoral and illegal act.
Truth wasn't necessarily a factor. Many a suburban businessman, gay, straight, bisexual or closeted had been nabbed over the years.

The suspect was then bundled off to a police station, charged and bailed to appear the following day in a Magistrates Court with a friendly warning from the desk sergeant that it was their right to plead innocence although pointless with two police witnesses and "wouldn't it be a shame" if their local newspaper was informed that a prominent citizen had been arrested for such a sleazy act in a toilet. Why not just cop the fine and a brief lecture from the Magistrate and return home where no-one would be the wiser.

No-one knows if any claimed innocence- until Jones was arrested. To the Powers That Be in The Met, alarm bells rang. Jones had support. Rupert Murdoch for one and a Minister of State Lord Jeffrey Archer and the cat was out of the bag publicity wise. Not that that would prevent that section of UK policing that loved to prosecute a pop star, a celebrity, an MP (preferably Tory) or a member of the House of Lords. If the charges could stick they would proceed.
 An unknown (in the UK) Antipodean shock jock would have little chance.
But there was a problem. With Jones top lawyers and a brief would be brought into the matter to defend as Jones was adamant at pleading Not Guilty.
This meant a top QC, the sort of one who would easily vivisect a couple of  hapless constables and rip to shreds their so-called "evidence" let alone what was usually a false claim by both that they had both witnessed an illegal act. A Not Guilty result was not how it was all meant to go. This was someone who was not going quietly to his fate and slink off into the shadows.
And the media: while Jones' arrest was big news in Australia it hardly touched the sides in the UK. But Jones had pals. Rupert Murdoch for one. With two top newspapers in Britain, The Sun and The Times.

And thus the matter was shelved.

While the clamor died down an undercurrent in British politics began. A group of MPs started to demand more information on this so-called practice which looked for all the world like a nasty act of "policing" by The Met's notorious Vice Squad- a squad already believed to be riddled with corruption and involvement in Soho's sordid sex and pornography trade. How many men had been arrested? How many had plead guilty or not guilty?. Had any officers perverted the course of justice by giving false statements?. A really bad Pandora's Box was about to be opened as MPs demanded a formal inquiry. This was a matter that was not necessarily going to work to The Met's advantage.

The Met caved in.  The West End Vice Squad was disbanded and the practice of "pretty policeman" hanging around toilets and busting hapless gents ( a practice banned in NSW in the 1960s after several scandals) was banned for ever. And that really was all down to Alan Jones. His enemies really should think twice when they snigger about this episode in his life. He was after all legally innocent and charges had been dropped within days. And he possibly saved a lot of innocent men from future illegal arrests.