+Comment A homeless IT consultant will learn today whether his challenge to a draconian order, which forces him to tell police in advance if he is going to have sex, will succeed.
John O'Neill, 45, must tell the cops 24 hours in advance even if he only plans on “kissing” or engaging in “sexually explicit conversation” – but has never been convicted of any criminal offence.
North Yorkshire Police is opposing O'Neill's application for the interim Sexual Risk Order (SRO) to be scrapped, which is being heard today at York Magistrates' Court, and is asking for it to be made permanent if his challenge fails.
O'Neill is banned from using the internet via any device which police cannot later check. He must also reveal the PIN for his phone to police so they can trawl through it at will. The terms of the SRO mean he must physically hand over for inspection any electronic devices he uses, sometimes every other day. He is also banned from using or owning “forensic wiping software”.
He was cleared of rape following a retrial – in which he said the verdict was unanimous – last November.
North Yorks Police convinced Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC to impose an SRO after he described O'Neill as a “dangerous individual” following his acquittal, according to the Telegraph.
“My chief objection is that the police are simply ignoring the verdict and treating me in every practical sense as though I was found guilty,” O'Neill told the newspaper. “The sweeping obligations, which are entirely unlawful, make life, especially work, utterly impossible. The injustice of being punished and stigmatised for a crime that never took place can't be put into words.”
The restrictions on his phone and internet usage have left O'Neill unable to work or claim benefits, he argues, claiming that he was advised to declare himself unavailable for work because the SRO forces him to physically hand over any communication device he uses. This, reported the BBC, prevents him from applying for any jobs involving an office computer or telephone.
Local paper the News and Star reported that O'Neill, a former English literature mature student and a father of two, has an interest in sado-masochistic sex. This was brought up at his November retrial, including a witness statement by a doctor with whom O'Neill had discussed his fantasies.
He claims the doctor misunderstood what he was saying and it appears she contacted police to inform them of a “confession”.
O'Neill, who arrived at court this morning unshaven and wearing jeans and an open-necked shirt, is representing himself because, as he reportedly told journalists present, losing his entitlement to benefits also deprived him of legal aid. A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman denied, to the BBC, that this was the case.
According to Gov.UK, his case does qualify for legal aid, but whether or not he fulfils the financial hardship criterion is not known.
+Comment: How the hell is this legal?
Sexual Risk Orders are a civil order which became available to police and the National Crime Agency in early 2015. Police employees can apply to a magistrate to impose the order. The law allows police to apply for the punishment to be imposed in cases where the defendant is found not guilty – merely being in a case where the court “deals with” you as a defendant is enough. Its automatic minimum duration is two years and it can be renewed indefinitely.
Guidance issued to police by the Home Office on how to impose an SRO states that the defendant should have committed “an act of a sexual nature” – and then goes on to say: “The term intentionally covers a broad range of behaviour. Such behaviour may, in other circumstances and contexts, have innocent intentions.”
It also states: “It is not necessary for the defendant to have a prior conviction for a sexual offence in order to apply for an SRO” before explaining what should and should not be imposed by an SRO:
An order, whether full, or interim, can only contain restrictions on the behaviour of the defendant, i.e. it can only require them not to do something. It cannot require them to comply with conditions requiring positive action. Neither the courts nor the police will, at any stage during the application process for the order, or as part of any order granted, be able to require the defendant to take any part in any assessment or receive any support or counselling. Any such actions would be on a purely voluntary basis.
It appears that the insane requirements on O'Neill to report sexual activity in advance and to hand over phones etc to police on demand do not comply in any way with this section of the guidance.
An ongoing problem with Home Office guidance being issued in place of proper laws is that by its very nature, police employees can freely ignore and even contradict a guidance document without any comebacks or penalties for doing so.
Even so, from the lack of precise guidance on what can and cannot be imposed under the terms of an SRO, it appears police have total freedom to impose whatever arbitrary conditions they feel like – and the unlucky victim's only recourse is to take them to court.
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