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Dave Lee Travis and Operation Yewtree
Sifting the gropers from the rapists
Saturday 27 September, 2014 Moderation doesn't rank highly on the list of attributes likely to sell papers. Outrage and scandal are far better bets. The tone of the tabloids' coverage of the Dave Lee Travis case was therefore to be expected.
Travis was arrested by officers working on Operation Yewtree, the investigation set up after the Jimmy Savile scandal. He made his first crown court appearance on the same day as Rolf Harris and William Roache, both of whom were charged with far more serious sex offences, and so found himself tarred with the same brush.
Roache was acquitted of rape, Harris was convicted of a string of offences and jailed for five years. The jury in Travis's case cleared him of 12 charges, but could not reach a verdict on two others. Rather than let the matter drop, the CPS decided to go for a retrial. They also introduced a fresh charge of sexual assault and it was on this solitary count that Travis was convicted on Tuesday. He had grabbed the breasts of a woman involved in the production of the Mrs Merton spoof chat show.
Men should not go round grabbing women's breasts uninvited. Whatever Travis's protestations after the case, he has and had a reputation at the BBC for being a serial groper and an arrogant dinosaur to boot. Unlike most of the celebrities caught up in the Yewtree net, Travis's objectionable behaviour was not restricted to the 70s "when things were different", but has allegedly continued into what should be the more enlightened era of the 21st century.
Travis doesn't see himself like that. He feels that he, rather than the woman he groped, is the aggrieved party. And in giving voice to those feelings after his court appearance yesterday, he not only revealed himself to be self-delusional and out-of-touch, but also provided the papers with the chance to be outraged.
They didn't need much encouragement. If we look at the coverage after his conviction on Tuesday, we can see that it was way over the top in relation to the single charge on which he was found guilty. The Mirror, which didn't put the story on the front, started its inside page lead: "Convicted pervert Dave Lee Travis..."
As Travis's legal team kept trying to get across, he wasn't in the same league as Savile or Harris or Stuart Hall or Max Clifford.
Yet somehow the tabs - and to an extent the broadsheets - have established a pair of default "celeb sex offender" positions that take little account of the severity of the crime.
Those who are acquitted - Roache, Michael LeVell - are treated to "Why was he ever charged" coverage, which examines the cost of the prosecution, the traumas experienced by the defendant and his family/friends, and random assertions about witch-hunts.
Those found guilty - Clifford, Harris and now Travis - are arrogant perverts who treated their victims and the justice system with contempt and are now getting their comeuppance. In these cases, women who came into unwelcome contact with the offenders are wheeled out to tell how disgusting they were.
What has to be remembered is that in each case these approaches were completely interchangeable until the moment the verdict was announced.
Travis yesterday showed as much respect for these "rules" as he did for the women he groped (yes, he was convicted of only one charge, but a man who has kept his hands to himself all his life is hardly going to start mauling a woman in a TV studio at age 40). Instead of showing contrition and slinking out of court, he thrust out his chest and stole the papers' line about the whole shebang being a waste of money.
Was it a waste of money - or worth the expense? The cases certainly did not cost "millions" as Travis asserted. The Mail and Sun put the cost at £1m, the Mirror says the two prosecutions cost £100,00 each.
Even if they agreed with Travis about the expense, they would have been hard pushed to justify the argument in the light of the disingenuous "millions for one conviction" line peddled at the end of the phone-hacking trial. But that equally makes it difficult for them to say it was worthwhile.
The judge's sentencing remarks yesterday suggest that he thought the case worth bringing - as did his comment after the verdicts on Tuesday that all options remained open.
That prompted the flurry of headlines on Wednesday saying that Travis faced jail. Of course he didn't. It would be preposterous if every man who groped a woman's breasts were sent to prison.
He does, however, face the prospect of a number of claims against him in the civil courts, where the burden of proof is lighter.
And if he finds his hands wandering again over the next couple of years, you can bet your life he'll be back in court before you can say "Hairy Cornflake" - and then he really would face jail.