Savile Case Led To 'Persecution', Lawyer Says

Savile Case Led To 'Persecution', Lawyer Says

The "persecution of old men" in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal is wrong and the age of consent should be lowered to 13, according to a leading barrister.

Barbara Hewson said the child sex abuse crimes of the disgraced television presenter Stuart Hall were "low level misdemeanours".

She also said the law that guarantees anonymity for those who complain of sex abuse should be scrapped.

The leading human rights barrister at London chambers Hardwicke said: "The post-Savile witch-hunting of ageing celebs echoes the Soviet Union."

Her comments in the online magazine, Spiked , came as Scotland Yard's Operation Yewtree continued its inquiries into allegations involving Savile and others, many of whom have been high-profile names.

It has led to the arrest of Rolf Harris, the former pop star Gary Glitter, DJ Dave Lee Travis, comedian Jim Davidson and PR guru Max Clifford. All deny any wrongdoing.

She claims the witch-hunting is the result of the "do-gooders" and "moral crusaders" who have infiltrated "Britain's law-enforcement apparatus".

She goes on to name these "moral crusaders" as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC).

Both charities take part in Operation Yewtree.

In the article, Ms Hewson said: "But the low-level misdemeanours with which Stuart Hall was charged are nothing like serious crime."

She added: "Ordinarily, Hall's misdemeanours would not be prosecuted, and certainly not decades after the event.

"What we have here is the manipulation of the British criminal-justice system to produce scapegoats on demand. It is a grotesque spectacle."

And she concluded: "As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are remove complainant anonymity, introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions and reduce the age of consent to 13."

Peter Watt, director of the NSPCC helpline, said: "These outdated and simply ill-informed views would be shocking to hear from anyone but to hear them from a highly experienced barrister simply beggars belief.

"Stuart Hall has pleaded guilty to abusing children as young as nine years old, we think most people would agree that crimes of this nature are incredibly serious. Thankfully the law, and most people, are very clear on this matter.

"To minimise and trivialise the impact of these offences for victims in this way is all but denying that they have in fact suffered abuse at all. Any suggestion of lowering the age of consent could put more young people at risk from those who prey on vulnerable young people."

In a statement Hardwicke Chambers said they were "shocked by the views expressed".

"We did not see or approve the article pre-publication and we completely dissociate ourselves from its content and any related views she may have expressed via social media or any other media outlets."

Ms Hewson's comments also sparked a Twitter backlash. She posted: "So now someone wants me raped and another wants me 'hunted into obscurity'-Visceral, very nasty stuff."

Ms Hewson is regularly ranked as a Leading Junior by The Legal 500 in the fields of public and administrative law, human rights and civil liberties, and professional discipline and regulatory law, according to her chambers' website.

She has won cases in the European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court and High Court of the Republic of Ireland.