A Note on Russell Brand and “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

At the Spectator, Sam Leith notes support for Russell Brand from among the “alternative news” influencer crowd (links added):

Elon Musk and Jordan Peterson; Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson; GB News’s Calvin Robinson (‘What is their motivation?’) and Bev Turner (‘This proves you are winning. You’re a hero’); George Galloway (‘I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I smell a giant RAT); even the Telegraph‘s Allison Pearson, before the reports were aired or published, mused that ‘my first reaction is to wonder why They [sic] are trying to silence the person’. Laurence Fox, grotesquely, quoted Pastor Niemoller.

In some cases, it is not clear whether the commentators believe that Brand has been falsely accused, or just that he has been singled out unfairly. Several of the above have histories of making lurid allegations against others without much concern for due diligence – Musk infamously once called someone “pedo guy” in a fit of pique and more recently forced Twitter’s former head of site integrity go into hiding, while just a few days ago Carlson (who claims Brand has been targeted due to his views on drug companies and Ukraine) conducted a risible softball interview with the discredited figure of Larry Sinclair.

Leith also addresses how the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is currently being bandied about “as if criminal conviction was now the minimum standard of verification for a newspaper investigation”. Certainly, in some cases (such as that of Calvin Robinson) the phrase seems to be a mantra deployed to dodge any need to engage with the story. However, some warnings about “trial by media” are more general and principled – particularly vocal on this point is Harvey Proctor, who was vilified based on a ludicrous and incompetent police investigation triggered by the liar and hoaxer Carl Beech.

The problem with “innocent until proven guilty”, though, is that it does not reflect how we assess what may or may not be pertinent information in everyday life, rather than when following the narrow epistemological principles imposed on juries. Even in law, the civil standard of a finding is “balance of probability” rather than absolute proof. We can all think of cases where an acquittal in a criminal case was more a matter of doubt rather than exoneration. Of course, it is important to be especially careful and fair-minded in relation to sexual allegations, due to the special circumstances of accusers whose identity is protected and the exceptional stigma that is attached to such crimes – but that doesn’t mean we can’t ever form a view about a particular situation.

In the case of Russell Brand, one accuser made a statement at a rape crisis centre the day after the alleged encounter occured in 2012, and she has what appears to be a text message from him in which he apologises for what occurred. It is reasonable to regard this as a case to answer, and then to draw adverse inferences if a credible answer is not forthcoming. We may then draw futher inferences about the likelihood of other allegations that can probably never be proven in court either way, such as that during one consensual sexual encounter he forced his alleged partner (a 16-year-old girl) to perform a sexual act against her will.

As regards the allegation of “grooming” a 16-year-old, this is not actually illegal unless and abuse of authority is involved, and so the issue of a criminal standard of proof doesn’t even apply – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have reputational ramifications.

UPDATE: Laurence Fox has expressed the view that Brand must be innocent based on supposed statistical probability: “If Russell Brand has shagged over a thousand women, one would expect more than a 0.4% allegation rate.”

5 Responses

  1. The tone, content and prominence, the no-smoke-without-fire presumption of wrong-doing, the sheer makng a meal of it, and the lack of balance of and in the BBC’s own reportage of this storm in a tea-cup, to which we’ve been exposed, would tend to prejudice potential jurors, making it impossible for the suspect of obtain a fair trial, if, eventually, he is prosecuted for any of his manifold alleged crimes. That is a disservice to the victims of his alleged crimes, if there were any crimes and victims, as well as to the suspect himself.

  2. Bartlolomew has become the Star of the internet!

  3. So if in a civil case the owneship of a cow can’t be decided beyond reasonable doubt:

    What do you do with the cow?

    You’ve got to decide one way or another.

    Or do you chop it nearly in half?!

    Can you sink any lower with your ridiculous Woke commentaries.

    If I was a Conspiracy Theorist I’d think you’d been bought out by the “Democrat” CIA!!!

  4. You might be right:

    The minimum standard for newspapers has dropped to fishing for unverifiable historic false allegations from anonymous sources.

    And, no, numbers of similar allegations aren’t even evidence:

    Never mind proof!

    Some studies suggest that up to four MILLION people in the US believe or claim to have been abducted, probed, penetrated, even impregnated, by aliens:

    No, not illegal aliens:

    Extraterrestrial ones!

    What does THAT Prove?!?!

    After particularly sensational murders, when the culprit earns a jail term, if not the death penalty, and not compensation, there can be HUNDREDS of people making false confessions!!!

    What does THAT prove?!

    Whoever is writing this blog, it clearly isn’t the person who made it famous!!!

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