Absurd prosecutions for alleged child pornography are as alive and well in England as in the United States.
Stephen Neal was convicted in November 2010 of “level one” child pornography charges for possessing four books that included photos of children that the prosecution at his trial described as “indecent images.” The prosecution did not allege there was any evidence Neal had ever done anything improper with any child — only that the books constituted child pornography.
However, Neal had bought all of the books from a bookshop in Walthamstow, a suburb of London, England. Furthermore, the books are available on Amazon.com in England (and the United States.) The books include images by professional photographers and are considered artistic. Two of the books are “The Age of Innocence” by David Hamilton, and “Still Time” by Sally Mann. One of the 5-star reviews on Amazon.com’s UK website describes “The Age of Innocence” as a “A beautiful and inspiring work of art.” A 1-star review described it as “Startlingly banal and irritating.” A 5-star review of “Still Time” raved, “This book has been a true inspiration to me. I had lost interest in taking photographs until flicking through this.” What is missing from the reviews is the suggestion there is anything “indecent” in the books.
Even though Neal was prosecuted for possessing the books, neither the bookshop where he purchased them, or the publishers were prosecuted. Neither was Amazon.co.uk, nor any other book seller or art gallery in England prosecuted for selling the books.
The 59-year-old Neal appealed and England’s Court of Appeal quashed his guilty verdict and barred his retrial. Lord Justice Richards stated when the Court’s ruling was announced:
“It is, however, very unfair for a person in the position of Mr Neal to be prosecuted for possession of the photographs in these books in these circumstances. If the Crown Prosecution Service wishes to test whether the pictures in the books are indecent, the right way to deal with the matter is by way of prosecuting the publisher or retailer — not the individual purchaser.