Candidate found guilty of paedophile slur against MP

Mike Hancock outside Southampton magistrates court
Mike Hancock outside Southampton magistrates court
Louis Makai. Picture: Sussex Police

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Election candidate Les Cummings has been found guilty of falsely describing Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock as a paedophile.

After a three-day trial, he was convicted by a judge of making or publishing a false statement about the MP’s character or conduct with the purpose of affecting the return of the election.

District Judge Calloway said: ‘I have concluded in this regard I have no doubt that the allegations contained within the leaflet are untrue and I so find.’

He added: ‘I have no doubt that Mr Cummings feels strongly about how he was treated as a child and I understand that fully but I believe that his campaign for what he describes as justice has turned unto a vendetta that has ultimately warped his judgement.’

District Judge Calloway described the leaflet as horrendous. He fined Cummings £500 with a victim surcharge of £15.

Mr Hancock was not in court to hear the verdict. Yesterday, he told District Judge Anthony Calloway, sitting at Southampton magistrates court, that he was horrified and sickened at the accusation that he was a paedophile.

Cummings distributed the A4 leaflets when he stood against the Lib Dem for the Portsmouth South constituency in last year’s general election.

The prosecution said that in them he falsely claimed Mr Hancock had an affair with a 14-year-old schoolgirl who fell pregnant and that he had been seen kissing her in a Southsea casino.

The prosecution said that the leaflet – which was produced in April last year – also falsely stated that Mr Hancock had slept with a girl in Romania while doing work for the charity Mencap in the country.

Mr Hancock described that allegation as hurtful to him and the people he worked with.

Mr Hancock admitted having ‘a few’ extra-marital affairs but denied ever having any sexual involvement with anyone aged under 17 or anyone who was still at school.

He also denied allegations that he was corrupt and associated with known criminals.

Cummings stood against Mr Hancock as an independent candidate for the Justice and Anti-Corruption Party in last year’s general election.

Mr Hancock obtained an injunction which prevented further circulation of the leaflets the day after they were delivered in the Portsea area of Portsmouth on April 22.

Mr Hancock, who is also a councillor for Fratton, was later returned as MP for Portsmouth South with an increased majority.

Cummings was arrested in July last year in connection with the leaflets and released on bail.

Cummings was accused of making or publishing a false statement about the MP’s character or conduct with the purpose of affecting the return of the election.

The 66-year-old denied the charge.

The court heard Cummings was abused while he was in care as a child and in 2006 he set up the Childrens Cottage Homes Justice Project to demand an apology from Portsmouth City Council for the abuse.

He said that it was during his quest for an apology from the council that he was told by his former electoral agent Leonardo Ciccarone that Mr Hancock was a paedophile.

Cummings said: ‘I was told that Mike Hancock had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl.’

Asked if he was given any details about other relationships involving Mr Hancock he said: ‘Yes, that he had made trips to Romania and that whilst in Romania he had been seen with children in bed.’

He also said he got some information from a woman who knew Mr Hancock.

Making her closing speech earlier today, prosecutor Alison Morgan said: ‘Whatever lay behind Mr Cummings’ feelings towards the council and Mr Hancock at the time of this offence there can be no doubt that this defendant held deep seated grievances by the time of the election in May 2010, grievances that he wanted addressed by any means.’

Miss Morgan told the court that Cummings was looking to discredit Mr Hancock and had admitted he wanted to ‘hold the council’s feet to the fire’.

She added: ‘Michael Hancock is not a paedophile. He has told you that in the witness box and there has been no credible evidence called to the contrary by the defence.’

Miss Morgan said Cummings did not have grounds to believe the accusation.

‘We respectfully submit that you may conclude that there is an appropriate sliding scale in cases of this kind,’ she said.

‘The more serious the allegation, of which this allegation must be at the top end of the scale by the use of the word paedophile, the more serious the word used and the allegation made the greater care that should be taken by any reasonable person before believing it, accepting it and acting upon it.

‘This was little more than speculation on this defendant’s part to serve his own goal.’

Heather Norton, defending, in her closing speech for Cummings, said the onus was on the prosecution to prove to accusations in the leaflet were false.

She said: ‘The statement is that Mike Hancock is a paedophile which is based upon two matters.

‘Firstly that he had an affair with a 14-year-old girl and secondly that he was seen in bed with children in Romania.

‘The crown must prove that each of those are false.’

Miss Norton said the court only had Mr Hancock’s evidence that he was not a paedophile and they had not called the woman, Miss A, who he was accused of having an affair with when she was a child.

‘That failure to call her is a significant one,’ she said.

‘It does mean that you only have Mr Hancock’s word that the allegation is false.’

Miss Norton said the crown also had to prove that Cummings did not believe the statement that Mr Hancock was a paedophile.

She said: ‘The strength of his conviction I suggest cannot be denied.

‘This is not a statement that was made on a whim on a day. It’s something which it is quite clear he has been inquiring about, thinking about and investigating about for a period of months if not years.

‘What cannot surely be disputed is that he genuinely believed what he was saying and believed that which he had been told.’

She added: ‘Mr Cummings is not a person who has simply taken what he has been told at face value and then done nothing with it.

‘They take steps to check that information. He goes to check it.’