Exaro wins battle to lift order for reporting ban on separate probe into former minister
By Tim Wood | 1 August 2015
Detectives are investigating Tory grandee Kenneth Clarke over an allegation that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy, Exaro can reveal.
The investigation by South Yorkshire Police into the former Conservative cabinet minister was raised during a preliminary hearing at the Old Bailey in the case against Ben Fellows, who was cleared on Thursday of attempting to pervert the course of justice by falsely claiming that Clarke had indecently assaulted him.
But the jury in the Fellows trial was not told about the other historical allegation against Clarke because the judge, Mr Justice Peregrine Simon, ruled that it would take too long for police to investigate it. At the preliminary hearing, five days before the start of the Fellows trial, the judge said: “The complaint relates to a man who alleges that when he was 14 he was subjected to a serious indecent assault by two men, and one he recognised later as being Ken Clarke.”
The Fellows case could not be adjourned indefinitely, he ruled, because there was no timeframe on when the police investigation into the other case would be completed. “It could be years,” he said.
Exaro’s reporter was the only journalist in court.
The judge made an order at the time to prevent reporting of the development because of the risk of prejudice to the Fellows trial.
Clarke told the Old Bailey that the allegation by Fellows against him was “preposterous”, adding: “I have never had the compulsion to grope a man.”
At the end of the trial, Exaro asked the judge to lift the order. The prosecution objected, and the judge invited Exaro to make written submissions in support of our request.
Exaro argued that there was no legal basis for continuing the order.
The prosecutor, Duncan Atkinson, withdrew his objection after he told the judge that there were not even any active proceedings in relation to the other case, meaning that no one so far had been arrested or charged.
Mark Watts, Editor-in-Chief of Exaro, said: “Our main argument was that the judge simply had no power to extend the order just because there was an ongoing police investigation into the other allegation.
“I am glad that the prosecution eventually agreed. A matter of enormous public interest was raised in open court, and our readers and the wider public have a right to know what was said.”
Following the lifting of the order, Exaro can reveal that on July 16 Bernard Richmond, barrister for Fellows, made an application to be allowed to introduce evidence of “bad character” in relation to Clarke.
Richmond said that the prosecution, under the disclosure process in court cases, had provided information to the defence about the other allegation against Clarke.
He also applied for an adjournment to give him time to interview the complainant.
In reply, Atkinson described it as “an ongoing investigation that is being conducted by South Yorkshire Police.”
He said: “The primary focus of that investigation has nothing to do with the matters concerning this court. The complainant’s name [Clarke] just came up incidentally.”
The second man who alleged abuse by Clarke, he said, had indicated that he would not talk to the Metropolitan Police Service, which investigated Fellows.
Atkinson said that South Yorkshire Police would not let a defence solicitor speak to the witness until the conclusion of its investigation, which could go on “for years”.
The judge summarised the other case, then dismissed the defence applications.
The trial against Fellows started as scheduled, nearly a fortnight ago. Fellows was cleared of a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice after claiming to the Met that Clarke “groped” him while working undercover in 1994 for ITV’s The Cook Report. Fellows was 19 at the time, but said that he was posing as a 15-year-old, and that the assault was filmed by a covert camera.
Richmond told the court that the officer in charge, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle, pressured Fellows into making a statement.
“Settle was saying do not worry, it is not going to have much effect. But it led my client into the dock of the Old Bailey,” Richmond said.
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