MP paedophile claim trial: Judge considers verdict

Mike Hancock outside Southampton magistrates court
Mike Hancock outside Southampton magistrates court
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THE judge in the trial of an election candiate accused of falsely claiming Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock is a paedophile today retired to consider his verdict.

District Judge Anthony Calloway adjourned the proceedings at Southampton magistrates court just before lunch.

He told the defendant Les Cummings: ‘It is now up to me to make my decision.

‘I am aware how important this is to you.

‘I need to take a little time over this because it’s all very well do things quickly for you but it’s got to be done, as best I can make it, correctly.’

The verdict is expected at around 3.30pm today.

Making her closing speech in the trial of Cummings, who made the paedophilia accusation in an election leaflet, 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 Southampton magistrates 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.’

Earlier, Eric Butler gave evidence at the trial, in which Cummings is accused of producing leaflets falsely claiming Mr Hancock is a paedophile.

Mr Butler said he went to the MP at his office in Albert Road, Southsea, because he needed advice about getting a visa for his fiance, Ekaterina Paderina.

He said he was alone with Mr Hancock when the MP made the remark.

Mr Butler told Southampton magistrates: ‘I was a bit alarmed because he said how attractive she was and no question about it, she was beautiful, and that I liked young women, and I said yes. I was 32 years older than Ekaterina.

‘He told me the age of consent was 14 in Russia and I thought bloody hell, he is a bit forward.’

Mr Butler said he contacted Les Cummings to tell him about the incident after he received the leaflet accusing Mr Hancock of being a paedophile.

Alison Morgan, prosecuting, said the conversation had not happened.

Mr Butler said: ‘Well you wasn’t there, you don’t know. It did happen.’

He added: ‘I didn’t think it was at all the thing that an MP would say to me and I was amazed that he would know a thing like that.’

Shamed former councillor Jezz Baker has given evidence at the trial.

Mr Baker,a councillor for Hilsea from 2002 to 2008, who was jailed in 2009 for corruption, said he had seen Mike Hancock with a young girl, known as Miss A, at a casino in Portsmouth in 1983.

Mr Baker said he was cashing a cheque when someone pushed him out of the way.

He said: ‘When I grabbed the hand of the person that was pushing me and turned round to see who it was it was Mike Hancock.

‘He was with someone.’

Mr Baker said he knew the girl and believed she was 14 at the time.

He said: ‘At that moment in time when he pushed me away he had his arm around her and she was cuddling close to him.’

Mr Hancock gave evidence against Mr Baker when he was jailed for corruption.

Asked by Alison Morgan whether his version of events had been accepted in court Mr Baker said: ‘It wasn’t accepted overall but I still stand by what I said at that time.

‘A lot of innocent people are found guilty and I am one of them.’

Asked if he was sure his evidence about Mr Hancock and the girl in the casino was true he said ‘100 per cent.’

Asked if he had told anyone about Mr Hancock and the girl before the 1984 election Mr Baker said: ‘Well not to any authorities no.

‘At that stage I was not involved heavily, I was involved in politics, I was involved working for the Conservative party but at no stage at that time would I have been looking to go to the police or anything in that case.’

Asked if he and Cummings had a shared dislike for Mr Hancock he said no.

When Miss Morgan said it was not true he said: ‘Yes, it’s 100 per cent true.’

Asked if he was angry at Mr Hancock for giving evidence against him he said: ‘No, not at all.’

Asked why he didn’t tell the girl’s parents he said: ‘I didn’t go to them because as I said I didn’t have anything to do with the family.’

Mr Hancock told the court yesterday 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 court has heard 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 says that 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 has admitted having “a few” extra-marital affairs but denies 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 is 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, whose address cannot be published because of an order made under Section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, denies the charge.